FAMSI Writing Logo

Link to enlarge Scribe from K1185 ©Justin Kerr MAYA WRITING

A Dictionary of the Chuj (Mayan) Language: As Spoken in San Mateo Ixtatán, Huehuetenango, Guatemala
by Nicholas A. Hopkins

Table of Contents

Grammar Notes
Dictionary Entries


The lexical data reported in this Chuj-English dictionary were gathered during my dissertation field work in 1964-65. My first exposure to the Chuj language was in 1962, when I went to Huehuetenango with Norman A. McQuown and Brent Berlin to gather data on the languages of the Cuchumatanes (Berlin et al. 1969). At the time I was a graduate student at the University of Texas, employed as a research assistant on the University of Chicago's Chiapas Study Projects, directed by McQuown (McQuown and Pitt-Rivers 1970). Working through the Maryknoll priests who were then the Catholic clergy in the indigenous areas of Huehuetenango and elsewhere in Guatemala, we recorded material, usually in the form of 100-word Swadesh lists (for glottochronology), from several languages. The sample included two speakers of the Chuj variety of San Mateo Ixtatán (including the man who was later to become my major informant).

In the Spring of 1962, as field work for the project wound down, I returned to Austin to finish drafting my Master's thesis, and then went on to Chicago to begin graduate studies in Anthropology at the University of Chicago, with McQuown as my major professor. I continued to work on Chiapas project materials in McQuown's archives, and in 1963 he assigned me the Chuj language as the topic of my upcoming doctoral dissertation. Over the next academic year I transcribed and analyzed the Chuj materials we had collected and prepared preliminary analyses of the phonology and morphology of the language.

At the end of the Summer of 1964, with support from a National Defense Education Act Foreign Language Fellowship, I went to Huehuetenango to begin field work on Chuj. By the end of August I had contracted an informant (Francisco Santizo Andrés) and rented a house in Huehuetenango, and we began work in earnest. From then until September of 1965 we worked an eight-hour day, six days a week, with occasional breaks when Francisco would go home and I would go to San Cristóbal de Las Casas, where Berlin and other anthropologists and linguists were working on their own projects.

We began by reviewing my preliminary analyses and correcting my errors of transcription, as well as my phonemic analysis. At the same time Francisco learned to transcribe Chuj in the technical orthography that we used at the time (using ¢ for the alveolar affricate, c with hachek for the alveopalatal affricate, x for the velar fricative, etc.). Over time I elicited Terry Kaufman's Mayan Vocabulary Survey list (a more or less 1400-item questionnaire covering basic vocabulary for Mesoamerican languages), and a Monosyllable Dictionary. The latter, apparently designed by Kaufman for the Chicago projects, took advantage of the CVC shape of most Mayan roots, and involved generating the list of possible CVC combinations and attempting to elicit vocabulary based on each. One advantage of this technique is that it elicits vocabulary that would otherwise not occur to either the informant or the investigator, including onomatopoetic forms as well as rarely heard lexical iterms. We also began to record narratives. Francisco would dictate a text to the tape recorder, operated by me, and then transcribe the tape (see Hopkins 1980b). I would go over the transcriptions and ask questions about the grammar and lexicon. All the lexical material gathered by these techniques was put on 3 x 5 slips and filed in the lexical file that is the basis for the present dictionary.

In February of 1965, the botanist Dennis E. Breedlove, who was working in Chiapas with Brent Berlin on Tzeltal ethnobotany (see Berlin, Breedlove and Raven 1974, Breedlove 1981), came to Huehuetenango to collect plants in the Cuchumatanes, including especially the Chuj-speaking region, where there was extensive cloud forest. We collected for two days near San Juan Ixcoy and the Captzin rocks, and then went on to San Mateo Ixtatán for four more days. Francisco and Dennis collected the specimens and Dennis recorded the botanical information, including the locality, altitude, etc. and remarks on the plants. Francisco and I recorded the Chuj names of the plants and their ethnobotanical classification (in terms of the categories 'anh, te', ch'anh, and 'ixim). According to my field notes we collected 1328 specimens in that field session (Br 8465-9793). These data went into my lexical slip files, and the results of this and other collecting trips were later published (Breedlove and Hopkins 1970-71). The botanical IDs from that publication are incorporated in this dictionary.

In May of 1965 Francisco and I carried out a two-week dialect survey of the area in which San Mateo Ixtatán Chuj was spoken, in the municipios of San Mateo Ixtatán and Nentón, collecting material from 17 aldeas and the town center, a total of 27 questionnaires. Several texts were recorded during this field season, and as usual, the transcribed material was incorporated into my lexical files. At the end of this dialect survey Francisco and I collected more plant specimens (H 0001-0038).

The collection of plant names inspired me to collect animal names as well, and to take notes on their native classification. Absent field work on the project, we consulted reference books, including Ibarra's Mamíferos de Guatemala, Alvarez del Toro's Reptiles de Chiapas, and Peterson's Field Guides to the birds. Many of the names had been collected through the Mayan Vocabulary Survey elicitation or the Monosyllable Dictionary. In the process of recording this information, I began to uncover the Chuj system of gender markers that partitioned the animals into coherent classes, and Francisco went through the lexical files and added the gender markers to the slips. The results of this investigation were published in the ill-fated Journal of Mayan Linguistics (Hopkins 1980a).

In Guatemala City I had acquired the topographical maps for the region of Huehuetenango (Dirección General de Cartografía, 1963; see Field Notes, 6-12 September, 1964) and Francisco and I pored over the maps place by place as I recorded the Chuj names, most of which were garbled in the Spanish versions (the locative yich, 'base of', for instance, was almost inevitably transcribed Ix-). I ultimately delivered to the Instituto Nacional de Geografía and to the Instituto Indigenista Nacional a corrected list, for what that was worth. My analysis of the formation of Chuj place names was later publshed (Hopkins 1972), and all the place names were added to my lexical files. The Spanish place names reported here are the official names, as registered in the Diccionario geográfico de Guatemala (Dirección General de Cartografía 1961-62).

A graduate student in Geology from LSU was living in Huehuetenango in 1964-65, and he identified some of the rocks and minerals we had names for. For the results of his study and related work in the Cuchumatanes by him and his colleagues, see Blount 1967 and Anderson et al. 1973.

In August of 1965, Dennis Breedlove and Brent Berlin came to Guatemala to collect plants and discuss further projects. With Francisco's help, they collected near Antigua and then again in the Chuj area, all together another 292 specimens (Br 11397-11689). Brent and I met with Chris Day, another Chicago graduate student (in the field working on Jacaltec while I was working on Chuj, see Day 1973), about a comparative study of numeral classifiers in the three languages, Tzeltal, Jacaltec and Chuj. Over the next few years we collaborated in a preliminary project, but never brought it to fruition. The plan was for Chris to compile and compare the vocabularies, Brent to write up the semantics (as in his 1964 and 1968 monographs), and for me to analyze the grammars. Only the grammatical analysis reached publication (Hopkins 1970). However, all the information I had generated about the Chuj numeral classifiers went into my slip files.

I returned to Chicago in September, 1965, to finish my graduate work and my doctoral dissertation (Hopkins 1967). I then took a job teaching Anthropology at the University of Texas in Austin, and continued to process my Chuj materials. I married Kathryn Josserand in 1970 and spent a year in Milwaukee, where she had been teaching, and then returned to Texas. In 1973 we left Texas for Mexico City, at the invitation of Angel Palerm to establish the Programa de Ling¨ística at the new Centro de Investigaciones Superiores del INAH that he directed (now CIESAS, the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social). Work on Chuj was abandoned in favor of field training and research on languages closer to Mexico City, especially Otomanguean languages. A few years later, because we had begun to follow the developments in Maya epigraphy, we began to work on Mayan languages again, but field work was on Chol, not Chuj.

I did not return to work on Chuj until 2005-6, when I received a National Endowment for the Humanities Documenting Endangered Languages Fellowship. This fellowship allowed me to prepare my Chuj materials for digitization and archiving at the Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America (AILLA, www.ailla.utexas.org). Now, in 2012, all my recorded materials on Chuj are archived. Along with my transcribed Field Notes and field Photos, a revised version of my dissertation, rewritten in modern practical orthography, will complete this collection.

The collection includes all the recorded and transcribed Chuj texts, some 40 samples of Chuj speech from eight Chuj settlements, some of which no longer exist. More than twenty of the settlements reported here as place names were abandoned or destroyed in the genocide of the so-called civil war (Manz 1988:83-89). It is my intention to add to the AILLA archive collection much of my written material as well, including extensive notes made while discussing grammar and lexicon with Francisco Santizo Andrés. All this material is to be freely available to anyone interested, and an electronic version of the present Dictionary will be added to the collection.

In the Summer of 2011, I dug out of a closet a wooden chest that contained four drawers of lexical slip files, untouched since about 1970. Over the next few months I transcribed the lexical entries into an electronic text file, rewriting the orthography into the now official Chuj script (Lenguas Mayas de Guatemala, 1988). I have attempted to make sure that these materials include all the data on plant and animal names, place names, numeral classifiers, etc., that I had previously published.

Click to download the report in PDF format:

A Dictionary of the Chuj (Mayan) Language  (2.05 MB)

The PDF files require Adobe Acrobat Reader.
To download the latest version, click the Get Acrobat Reader button below.

Get Acrobat Reader

Nicholas A. Hopkins
Jaguar Tours
Tallahasee, FL

Return to top of page