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Kerry Hull

A Comparative Analysis of Ch’orti’ Verbal Art and the Poetic Discourse Structures of Maya Hieroglyphic Writing
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Figure 16. Kerr 595.

Research Year:  2001
Culture:  Ch'orti' Maya
Chronology:  Classic
Location:  Jocotán, Guatemala
Sites:  Jocotán, Escobial, Amatillo, Kanapará Arriba, Las Lajas, Guareruche, Quebrada Seca, Pakrén, Titikopote

Table of Contents

Ch’orti’ Poetic Structuring
Couplet Deletion
Augmentative Couplets
Triplet Constructions
Poetics and the Hieroglyphic Script
Couplets and Parallelism
Triplets, Quatrains, and Polystylistic Phrases
Ch’orti’ Poetics and the Hieroglyphic Script
Metaphor and Couplets
Episode Peaks
Wings of the Eclipse
List of Figures
Sources Cited


This project, funded by the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. (FAMSI), focused on documenting forms of poetic discourse in Ch’orti’ Maya. The principal goal of this project was to record, transcribe, and translate the various prayers and oral histories which contain poetic structuring in Ch’orti’. This effort was in a large part motivated by the fact that such speech forms are rapidly disappearing among the Ch’orti’ today. The younger generation has largely abandoned the use of poetic discourse in conjunction with their ceremonial contexts. This project was an attempt to document to the fullest degree possible the various manifestations of verbal art (in their ritual performance whenever possible).

The second goal of this project was to gain an understanding of the structuring methods and poetic imagery associated with Ch’orti’ verbal art. The dominant use of poetic language in ceremonies assures the presence of archaic referents and highly metaphorical expressions that may not appear outside of these ritual contexts. Poetic structuring aids in the preservation of fossilized relationships between concepts through couplets and other devices. Ch’orti’ poetic forms of speech are themselves a boon for decoding the complex mythology and metaphors underlying Ch’orti’ ritual discourse.

The final goal of this project was to undertake a comparative analysis of Ch’orti’ verbal art and the poetic discourse structures of Maya hieroglyphic writing. Support from FAMSI made possible the fieldwork portion of this project necessary to gather sufficient data on Ch’orti’ poetics for this final comparative analysis. The research aim of this final stage in the project is to use the Ch’orti’ data as a kind of template for a large-scale study on the poetic discourse forms found in the hieroglyphic script. Current research (Houston et al. 2000) has shown that Ch’orti’ closely reflects the language of the Maya inscriptions grammatically, phonologically, and lexically. I believe that this tight-knit relationship between Ch’orti’ and the language comprising most of the hieroglyphic texts anticipates the presence of shared poetic features and metaphorical imagery as well.

The research for this stage of the project funded by FAMSI began in May of 2001 through January of 2002.  Further fieldwork will be carried out from January through July of 2002.  Fieldwork took place in Jocotán, Guatemala and its surrounding hamlets such as Escobial, Amatillo, Las Lomas, Las Lajas, Guareruche, Quebrada Seca, Suchiker, Pelillo Negro, Kanapará Arriba, Pakrén, and Titikopote. Data gathered from this portion of the project supported by FAMSI resulted in the collection, transcription, and translation of over 40 curing prayers from 16 different Ch’orti’ healers. Four non-healing related ceremonies were also recorded. In addition, 22 folktales from nine individuals were also collected and analyzed for poetic content. In terms of lexical content, the analysis of these texts resulted in the documentation of well over 100 archaic terms that are restricted to these ritual contexts and do not appear in any Ch’orti’ dictionary to-date. Once gathered, these texts, in addition to another 35 texts from previous fieldwork supported by FAMSI, then served as a basis for detailed discussions with these and other healers about their poetic forms, metaphors, and concepts related to healing. The summary presented below is a preliminary assessment of the data collected thus far.

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Submitted 03/04/2002 by:

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