Monday, March 26, 2012

Mayan Languages

Mayan Languages.

Compared with many American languages, the Mayan languages are simple in construction. It is analytic rather than synthetic; most of its roots are monosyllables or dissyllables, and the order of their arrangement is very similar to that in English. It has been observed that foreigners, coming to Yucatan, ignorant of both Spanish and Maya, acquire a conversational knowledge of the latter more readily than of the former.
An examination of the Mayan languages explains this. Neither nouns nor adjectives undergo any change for gender, number or case. Before animate nouns the gender may be indicated by the prefixes ah and ix, equivalent to the English he and she in such expressions as he-bearshe-bear. The plural particle is ob, which can be suffixed to animate nouns, but is in fact the third person plural of the personal pronoun.
In the Maya Languages the conjugations of the verbs are four in number. All passives and neuters end in l, and also a certain number of active verbs; these form the first conjugation, while the remaining three are of active verbs only. The time-forms of the verb are three, the present, the aorist, and the future. Taking the verb nacal, to ascend, these forms are nacalnaci,nacac. The present indicative in the Mayan Languages are:—
Nacal in cah,I ascend.
Nacal á cah,thou ascendest.
Nacal ú cah,he ascends.
Nacal c cah,we ascend.
Nacal a cah ex,you ascend.
Nacal u cah ob,they ascend.
When this form is analyzed in the Maya languages, we discover that ináúca-exu-ob, are personal possessive pronouns, my, thy, his, our, your, their; and that nacal and cah are in fact verbal nouns standing in apposition. Cah, which is the sign of the present tense, means the doing, making, being occupied or busy at something. Hence nacal in cah, I ascend, is literally “the ascent, my being occupied with.” The imperfect tense is merely the present with the additional verbal noun cuchi added, as—
Nacal in cah cuchi,I was ascending.
Nacal á cah cuchi,Thou wast ascending.
Cuchi means, in the Maya language carrying on, bearing along, and the imperfect may thus be rendered:—
“The ascent, my being occupied with, carrying on.”
This is what has been called by Friedrich Müller the “possessive conjugation,” the pronoun [30]used being not in the nominative but in the possessive form.
The aorist presents a different mode of formation:—
Nac-en, (i.e. Naci-en)I ascended.
Nac-ech,Thou ascended.
Naci,He ascended.
Nac-on,We ascended.
Nac-ex,You ascended.
Nac-ob,They ascended.
Here enechonex, are apparently the simple personal pronouns I, thou, we, you, and are used predicatively. The future is also conjugated in this form by the use of the verbal binbinel, to go:
Bin nacac en,I am going to ascend.
Bin nacac ech,Thou art going to ascend.
The present of all the active verbs in the Maya languages usee this predicative form, while their aorists and futures employ possessive forms. Thus:—
Ten cambezic,I teach him.
Tech cambezic,Thou teaches him.
Lay cambezic,He teaches him.
Here, however, I must note a difference of ]opinion between eminent grammatical critics. Friedrich Müller considers all such forms as—
Nac-en,I ascended,
to exhibit “the predicative power of the true verb,” basing his opinion on the analogy of such expressions as—
Ten batab en,I (am) a chief.
M. Lucien Adam, on the other hand, says:—“The intransitive preterit nac-en may seem morphologically the same as the Aryan ás-mi; but here again, nac is a verbal noun, as is demonstrated by the plural of the third person nac-ob, ‘the ascenders.’ Nac-en comes to mean ‘ascender [formerly] me.’”
I am inclined to think that the French critic is right, and that, in fact, there is no true verb in the Maya language, but merely verbal nouns, nomina actionis, to which the pronouns stand either in the possessive or objective relations, or, more remotely, in the possessive relation to another verbal noun in apposition, as cahcuchi, etc. The importance of this point in estimating the structure of the language will be appreciated by those who have paid any attention to the science of linguistics.
[The objective form of the conjugation is composed of the simple personal pronouns of both persons, together with the possessive of the agent and the particle ci, which conveys the accessory notion of present action towards. Thus, from moc, to tie:—
Ten c in moc ech,I tie thee,
literally,I my present tying thee.
These refinements of analysis have, of course, nothing to do with the convenience of the Maya language for practical purposes. As it has no dual, no inclusive and exclusive plurals, no articles nor substantive verb, no transitions, and few irregular verbs, its forms are quickly learned. It is not polysynthetic, at any rate, not more so than French, and its words undergo no such alteration by agglutination as in Aztec and Algonkin. Syncopated forms are indeed common, but to no greater extent than in colloquial English. The unit of the tongue remains the word, not the sentence, and we find no immeasurable words, expressing in themselves a whole paragraph, such as grammarians like to quote from the Eskimo, Aztec, Qquichua and other highly synthetic languages.
The position of words in a sentence is not dissimilar from that in English. The adjective ]precedes the noun it qualifies, and sentences usually follow the formula, subject—verbal—object. Thus:—
But transposition is allowable, as—
Taachiliu tzicicuyumuinic.
Generallyobeyshisfather,a man.
As shown in this last example, the genitive relation is indicated by the possessive pronoun, as it sometimes was in English, “John, his book;” but the Maya is “his book John,” u huun Juan.
Another method which is used for indicating the genitive and ablative relations is the termination il. This is called “the determinative ending,” and denotes whose is the object named, or of what. It is occasionally varied to al and el, to correspond to the last preceding vowel, but this “vocalic echo” is not common in the Maya language. While it denotes use, it does not convey the idea of ownership. Thus, u cħeen in yum, my father’s well, means the well that belongs to my father; but cħenel in yum, my father’s well, means the well from which he obtains water, but in which he has no proprietorship. Material used is indicated by [34]this ending, as xanil na, a house of straw (xan, straw, na, house).
Compound words are frequent, but except occasional syncope, the members of the compound undergo no change. There is little resembling the incapsulation (emboitement) that one sees in most American languages. Thus, midnight, chumucakab, is merely a union of chumuc, middle, and akab, night; dawn, ahalcab, is ahal, to awaken, cab, the world.
While from the above brief sketch it will be seen that the Maya is free from many of the difficulties which present themselves in most American tongues, it is by no means devoid of others.
In its phonetics, it possesses six elements which to the Spaniards were new. They are represented by the signs:
Of these the cħ resembles dch, pronounced forcibly; the ɔ is as dz; the pp is a forcible double p; and in the tħ the two letters are to be pronounced separately and forcibly. There remains the k which is the most difficult of all. It is a sort of palato-guttural, the only one in the language, and its sound can only be acquired by long practice.
]The particles are very numerous, and make up the life of the Maya language. By them are expressed the relations of space and time, and all the finer shades of meaning. Probably no one not to the manor born could render correctly their full force. Buenaventura, in his Grammar, enumerates sixteen different significations of the particle il.
The elliptical and obscure style adopted by most native writers, partly from ignorance of the art of composition, partly because they imitated the mystery in expression affected by their priests, forms a serious obstacle even to those fairly acquainted with the current language. Moreover, the older manuscripts contain both words and forms unfamiliar to a cultivated Yucatecan of to-day.
I must, however, not omit to contradict formally an assertion made by the traveler Waldeck, and often repeated, that the language has undergone such extensive changes that what was written a century ago is unintelligible to a native of to-day. So far is this from the truth that, except for a few obsolete words, the narrative of the Conquest, written more than three hundred years ago, by the chief Pech, which I print in this volume, could be read without much difficulty by any educated native.
Again, as in all Mayan languages largely monosyllabic, there are many significations attached to one word, and these often widely different. Thus kab means, a hand; a handle; a branch; sap; an offence; while cab means the world; a country; strength; honey; a hive; sting of an insect; juice of a plant; and, in composition, promptness. It will be readily understood that cases will occur where the context leaves it doubtful which of these meanings is to be chosen.
These homonyms and paronyms, as they are called by grammarians, offer a fine field for sciolists in philology, wherein to discover analogies between the Maya and other tongues, and they have been vigorously culled out for that purpose. All such efforts are inconsistent with correct methods in linguistics. The folly of the procedure may be illustrated by comparing the English and the Maya. I suppose no one will pretend that these languages, at any rate in their present modern forms, are related. Yet the following are but a few of the many verbal similarities that could be pointed out:—
Maya Languages.English.
cħab,to grab, to take.
pol,poll (head).
potum,a pot.
pul,to pull, carry.
So with the Latin we could find such similarities as volah=volo, ɔa=dare, etc.
In fact, no relationship of the Mayan language group to any other has been discovered. It contains a number of words borrowed from the Aztec (Nahuatl); and the latter in turn presents many undoubtedly borrowed from the Maya dialects. But this only goes to show that these two great families had long and close relations; and that we already know, from their history, traditions and geographical positions.