The fixed word, the moving tongue: variation in written Yucatec Maya and the meandering evolution toward unified norms
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This dissertation, a detailed case study of contemporary written Yucatec Maya at a critical period in its (re-)development, examines two interrelated issues: 1) language ideologies underlying allographic and orthographic variation in the language and 2) the multi-faceted nature of alphabetic writing as a technology, a form of linguistic code, a socially-located practice, and an individually-located competency. Yucatec Maya has had a written form for more than a millennium; alphabetic writing was imposed by Spanish friars in the 16th century. The writing tradition was suppressed and subverted but never completely extinguished; revalorization efforts are underway. Writing is an ideal locus for examining language ideologies because it is at once conscious and deliberate while at the same time drawing heavily on speakers’ unconscious attitudes and intuitions. Using diachronic and synchronic examination, my analysis focuses on three dimensions that operate at distinct levels of conscious reflection: 1) attitudes and activities regarding normatization and variation in written language, 2) the complex nature of alphabetic writing, sound/symbol correspondence, and ideologies underlying allographic preferences, and 3) orthographic challenges presented by a vowel-less pronoun with regard to word boundaries, which are irrelevant in speech but believed essential in writing. I demonstrate the influence of Spanish prescriptivist ideologies on written Yucatec Maya and argue that allographic and orthographic variation are not necessarily undesirable and in some circumstances may even be healthy and productive. I show that the conventional view of the alphabet as simply a matter of phoneme-grapheme correspondence is insufficient, and I present an analysis of allographs as multi-faceted entities with complex relationships to both phonemes and phones. The study uses data collected from participant observation, interviews and informal conversations with speakers and shapers of the written language as well as a broad sample of five centuries of Yucatec Maya documents, particularly ones published since 1980. This research contributes to theoretical work in language ideology and will be of direct use to those who are working on indigenous language maintenance and revitalization. It also adds to our knowledge about the alphabet as a dynamic cultural icon, about writing as social practice, and about literacy as individual capital.