Verbal art and performance in Ch'orti' and Maya hieroglyphic writing

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Hull, Kerry Michael

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This dissertation project set out to accomplish five primary goals: 1) to document oral narratives and ritual speech, in actual performance whenever possible, 2) to establish genre types in Ch'orti' oral narratives to gain an understanding of the structuring methods and poetic imagery associated with each, 3) to ascertain the features and use of poetic discourse in ritual contexts, 4) to carry out a large-scale study on the verbal art of the Maya hieroglyphs to determine the function of rhetorical devices within this system, and 5) to do a comparative analysis of Ch'orti' and hieroglyphic poetics in order to see if residual elements—be they linguistic, poetic, or cultural—could be of use to scholars in understanding certain aspects of the hieroglyphic script. This final stage of the project synthesizes all the data collected from Ch'orti' and that found in the hieroglyphic texts in order to draw comparisons between their poetic form and content. The overall purpose of this research is to advance our understanding of Ch'orti' narrative genres, oral narrative poetic usage, hieroglyphic verbal art, and the relationship at the level of poetic discourse between Ch'orti' and the hieroglyphic inscriptions. I also investigate specific issues regarding the sociocultural context of poetics in the Classic period in terms of the notion of recitation literacy. I not only argue that many hieroglyphic inscriptions were performed orally, but also that this performance could have entailed poetic elaboration whose realization depended on the individual circumstances of the occasion. The poetics features built into many hieroglyphic texts are shown to be opportune moments of strategic emphasis in most cases. At times, however, there are certain texts whose poetic content is so dense as to suggest works of "literature" for the ancient Maya. At this stage in the decipherment of Maya hieroglyphic writing I argue that it is in the arena of poetics and performance that we can more fully grasp and comprehend the indexical semantics of glyphic texts.