Link to enlarge K6042 (Las Bocas - Ceramic Vessel) THE FOUNDATION RESEARCH DEPARTMENT

A Grammar of the Yucatecan Mayan Language
by David & Alejandra Bolles



8.  Before continuing on with the various parts of speech it is well to point out that the Mayan language when spoken in the everyday setting is highly contracted. The main casualty of these contractions are vowels. Another casualty is the person trying to learn the language, because things start flying by so fast that it becomes close to impossible for a person who is in the process of learning the language to figure out what is being said. There are formal settings in which this propensity to contract is not so great, as for example at the tzol xicin (counseling) which is given to a newly married couple at their wedding party by the godparent of the occasion. In such instances there may be few or no contractions used in the speech. Also, fortunately for learners of the language, some people will take the time to use few contractions when they are addressing an outsider.

The amount to which the language will be contracted varies greatly with the individual speaker, although there are discernable regional differences as to the amount as well as the types of contractions which will be used. To start the reader off we will give a couple of examples of these contractions here:

tzimin horse (originally applied to "tapir")

The proper forms of plural of this noun, this noun as part of a demonstrative clause, and the plural of this noun as part of a demonstrative clause are:

tziminoob horses
le tzimino that horse
le tziminobo those horses

Almost no one would ever say these things this way however. Normally they would be said as follows:

tzimnoob horses
le tzimno that horse
le tzimnobo those horses

In all cases the second vowel i has been contracted out. Notice also that when the plural marker -oob has a final vowel attached to it that the reduplicated glottal-stopped oo becomes a simple o of regular length.

For the auxiliary verb tense indicator dzoc (immediate past perfect tense indicator) there are two things which can happen, although fortunately only one or the other can occur at any one instance. Either the oc can be contracted out and the dz combined with the following personal pronoun or the dz can be dropped. Dzoc, when no contractions are used, combined with the personal pronoun set gives the following:

dzoc in dzoc'
dzoc a dzoc a (verb)eex
dzoc u dzoc u (verb)oob

Example with the oc being contracted out:

dzin dzoc'
dza dza (verb)eex
dzu dzu (verb)oob

Example with the dz being contracted out:

oc in oc'
oc a oc a (verb)eex
oc u oc u (verb)oob

While none of these contractions in themselves seem to make the language incomprehensible, problems for the person who is learning the language do arise when contraction is followed by contraction. It might be noted that amongst the Maya themselves there is what seems to us to be a considerable amount of misunderstanding, more so to our mind than in the English or Spanish speaking worlds, often resulting in people becoming quite offended. Exactly what the sources of these misunderstandings are is not clear to us, but we wonder whether the highly contracted nature with which some people speak the Mayan language might not be a factor in these misunderstandings.


Complex Words

9.  The English language has gathered so many words from such a diverse collection of languages to express a wide range of concepts that it is no longer possible to trace the root meaning of many of these words unless we take the time to look up the roots from these various languages. A basic knowledge of German, Latin, and Greek provides a good start on understanding the makeup of the English language, but many other languages are involved as well. However, because we are so used to using complex words borrowed from these various languages it rarely occurs to us to look at the roots from which these complex words are built. Consider for example all those words which come from Latin which begin with the syllable "con-" / "com-" (with, together): combat, combine, combust, comfort, conceive, concern, concur, condition, etc., etc. These words are in fact built up from two or more individual words in Latin, but in English we would often not recognize the individual parts.

In the Mayan language this process of combining individual words to form larger concepts is still in force today. To give the reader an example of these complex words in Mayan we will look at one of the more common roots around which complex words are built. This word is ol, which means the metaphysical heart or spirit of a person or object. By combining this word with another the feelings of a person are described:

choco (hot) choco ol (hot tempered)
ci (good) ci ol (contented)
hak (surprise) hak ol (surprised)
ya (hurt) ya ol (sad)

These are only a few examples from a rather extensive list of the concepts using the word ol.

Unlike English in which the complex word tends to stay together as a unit, in Mayan parts of complex words, if we may call them that, will assume their proper positions in a phrase. Take for example for the concept ci ol (contented):

Ci a uoleex palaleex.     "You are contented, children."

The word ci is separated from the word ol and various grammatical changes which will be talked about in this grammar have been applied to ol.

From this example it can be seen that the idea of creating complex concepts from simple words is also part of the Mayan language, but that unlike the pan-European counterparts which tend to stay together as units, complex concepts in Mayan work within the grammatical rules of the language, which means that the individual parts of these concepts will accept grammatical changes as individual words.

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