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2005-2006 Visiting Fellows

Documentation of Colonial K'ichee' Dictionaries and Grammars

Frauke Sachse, University of Bonn

Thanks to generous funding provided by the Friends of the University of Princeton Library and by the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies Inc. (FAMSI) I was able to spend time in February-April 2007 working with K'ichee' manuscripts from the Garrett-Gates Collection of Mesoamerican Manuscripts (C0744). The collection includes thus far unedited missionary grammars, dictionaries, and phrase books as well as various indigenous documents written in the Guatemalan Highland Maya language K'ichee'. K'ichee' is the language of the former kingdom of Q'umarkaaj (or Utatlán) that was conquered by Pedro de Alvarado in 1524. With well over a million speakers it is the largest language community of the twenty Mayan languages spoken in Guatemala today.

The context and objective of this research is the prospective plan to compile and edit a comprehensive Colonial K'ichee' Dictionary which would integrate the extensive Colonial documentation of the language found in archives and libraries in the United States, Europe, and Guatemala. Thus, my foremost interest was the transcription of the K'ichee' dictionaries and grammars in the Garrett-Gates Collection, but during the course of the project I extended my research interest towards other manuscripts from the collection, including testaments, land titles, and other miscellaneous K'ichee' texts. During my stay I transcribed, partially re-organized and translated manuscripts no. 106-166 (with the exception of ms. 163b which is written in Tz'utujiil) as well as ms. 201-203.

Dictionaries: The collection contains two eighteenth-century dictionaries (ms. 160 and 161) as well as a dictionary fragment (ms. 162). Manuscripts 161 and 162 turned out to be copies of the same dictionary – an analysis of individual copist errors proves that both manuscripts must have been copied from an earlier (third) version of a two-volume Spanish-K'ichee' dictionary of which ms. 161 preserves only the the first volume (Letters A-M), whereas ms. 162 includes fragments of letters F, M, N, and P. However, all versions must be Late Colonial as both dictionaries, ms. 160 and ms. 161/162, show signs of palatalization of velar stops which is thought to be a change that occurred in K'ichee after the 17th century (as suggested by Lyle Campbell in 1971). Both dictionaries contain a wide array of culturally significant terminology.

Grammars and Phrase Books: The two grammars or artes in the collection (ms. 164 and 165) are typical of the 18th century in that their treatment of the grammatical structure of the language is rather limited and concise. Both manuscripts are followed by catechisms, confessionals, and other liturgical texts in K'ichee' which reveal the main missionary purpose of these documents: priests copied concise grammatical descriptions and other texts they needed for clerical administration in K'ichee' speaking communities in Highland Guatemala. These data provide valuable information about the language of Christianization, i.e. how Spanish missionaries made use of K'ichee' terms and concepts to convert the indigenous population to Catholic faith. The phrase books ms. 163a and ms. 166 likewise cover mostly liturgical subjects and exemplary conversations in Spanish-K'ichee'. Ms. 163a was compiled for the missionary purpose, but by an indigenous author. Ms. 159 provides its user with a Spanish-K'ichee' guideline of how to address the political authorities and how to submit petitions; it was written for use by a K'ichee' speaker.

Testaments and Land Titles: The Garrett-Gates Collection contains a large number of testaments and land titles from the late seventeenth (ms. 201-203) and mid-eighteenth century (ms. 106-157). Manuscripts 106-157 were found to be part of one collection of notary documents written in K'ichee' that were compiled and preserved by the town scribes of Salamá, Baja Verapaz. The individual documents contain names of heirs and their family relationships, names of political authorities who sign the documents, descriptions of the inheritance including the exact extend of land properties as well as lists of the goods which are passed on. The notary documents allow us to reconstruct local genealogies and political history, the practice of inheritance in a eighteenth century Highland Maya town, as well as land ownership. I have been kindly invited to write a contribution about this collection of testaments and wills for the Princeton University Library Chronicle for which I would like to express thanks to the curator of manuscripts, Dr. Don Skemer, and the editor of the journal, Gretchen Oberfranc.

Other texts:  Furthermore, I transcribed and translated a nineteenth century text from Totonicapán which contains instructions and techniques for dyeing textiles. This text may be of interest in the context of current anthropological work about reviving the use of natural dyes in Highland Guatemala.

Acknowledgements: I would like to express my gratitude to the Friends of the University of Princeton Library as well as to FAMSI for generously funding this project. And I would like to thank the Staff of Rare Books and Manuscripts Collections for all their help and support and for making the research at the Reading Room such a pleasant and wonderful experience. I look forward to continuing my research and work with this collection.

Frauke Sachse
14 May 2007


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