Saturday, August 1, 2015

A Packing List for Posterity

Although my trip to Guatemala has come to end, and I've been back in the US for a month now, I hope that I can use my experiences to help anyone going in the future. To that end, here's a packing list for a linguist going to the field station for a few months!
  1. Documents:
    1. Passport (to keep safely) and a copy (to carry around). Visas are not required for US citizens staying under 3 months
    2. Other identification, such as a driver's license
    3. Sheet with important contact information 
    4. ATM card - this is the most convenient way to get money, Credit cards are seldom accepted and changing from US dollars is not convenient. ATM's can be found in most town centers, especially in supermarkets
    5. Insurance information
  2. Medicine:
    1. Over-the-counter pain medication (Advil, Aspirin, etc)
    2. Necessary vaccinations: Typhoid, Hep A (see the CDC website for specifics.) Note that the typhoid vaccine is less than 60% effective, so remember to still be cautious. 
    3. Antibiotics: Ciprofloxacin (aka Cipro) is a heavy duty antibiotic that is a must carry! To avoid picking up parasites and other stomach bugs, stay away from raw vegetables and unpeeled fruit (or make sure they are washed properly,) drink bottled water, and learn how to use a pila (a Guatemalan-style outdoor sink. Here's a helpful webpage with instructions: how to use a pila.)
    4. First aid kit (including thermometer, bandages)
  3. Clothing and Gear:
    1. Comfortable, modest daily wear. For women and men, clothes should be at minimum short sleeved and below the knee.
    2. Rain jacket: the rainy season in Guatemala stretches from May to October, with frequent showers that can turn into downpours
    3. Mid-weight jacket: a lighter jacket such as a fleece is advisable to carry. 
    4. Warm clothing: May to October is considered winter in Guatemala, and temperatures in the highlands range from about 60 -80oF. The lack of indoor heating makes layers and sweaters a must. 
    5. Sturdy shoes for wet and muddy roads, nicer shoes  for a semi-formal occasion
    6. At least one or two sets of clothes for a semi-formal occasion. 
    7. Sunglasses and a hat
    8. Socks and undergarments
    9. Sleep wear
    10. Water bottle
    11. Sturdy medium-sized backpack
  4. Toiletries:
    1. Toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, etc
    2. Travel-size shampoo, conditioner, body wash
    3. Travel-size towel
    4. Travel-size deodorant
    5. Tissues
    6. Wet wipes
    7. Sun screen and bug spray 
  5. Equipment
    1. Any necessary electronics: laptop, cell phone, chargers, recording devices, iPads, etc. 
    2. Headphones
    3. USB drives, storage drives
    4. Field notebooks, field guides, and dictionaries
    5. Camera and case (note: in some situations, a large camera might be too inconvenient or noticeable. Smartphone cameras are often better in those cases)
    6. Upon reaching Guatemala, it is advisable to buy a cheap, prepaid phone (known as frijolitos) and a prepaid internet modem. These are available in most towns.
Hopefully this basic list is helpful for preparing to go to the field station! 

Inspiration for the concept and format was from this blog

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Weekend at Lake Atitlán

For my final weekend in Guatemala, I decided to take up the invitation of some of the WK interns and finally pay a visit to the Lake - which I had drooled over only a week before. And it was a great decision - if only because I got a pretty solid understanding of how the folks who did the lunar landing must have felt!

After meeting the group in Tecpan (us weekenders: Grace, Christina, and Lauren) we caught the first of the three chicken buses that would take us to Panajachel. Affectionately known as 'Pana' to almost everyone, this is the biggest town on the lake. Consequently, it's also the most touristy. The main street is jam-packed with restaurants, hotels, and a bumper crop of little shops selling everything from hammocks to postcards to leather bags.
A glimpse of the available offerings. We were so overwhelmed by the profusion of choices - we didn't actually buy anything!
We ate lunch at a cute cafe with a tree growing through the roof - I had a tempeh (!!) sandwich with a mango smoothie.

Then we walked down to the pier to get a boat across the lake to the town we would be staying in - San Pedro la Laguna. But the boat we were shepherded into was half the price Christina was used to - and when Lauren asked for a receipt they told her that to get one the price would double. OK, we thought, Let's just hope for the best. Happily, we were dropped off without incident in San Pedro - albeit at a rickety little pier on the outskirts of the town. Ah, we concluded, this must be the reason for the lower price - these boat guys must not have permission to dock at the main pier.
The view from the Pana pier
A gorgeous lake day!
Walking into San Pedro, I was struck by how it was unlike any other place in Guatemala I had been before. With all of the trappings of a cute beach town crossed with a hippie spiritual sensibility, it didn't just feel like another country, it could have been an alternate universe!

Coming from places like Patzun and Tecpan, where foreign people are near to nonexistent, in San Pedro I couldn't help gawking at all the tourists. Shirtless men, women in bikinis, dreadlocks and tattoos - I hadn't seen any of that in almost a month! As we walked through the city to the hostel we wanted to stay at, the roadside vendors hawked crystals and tarot readings alongside the standard earrings and coin purses.

Upon reaching the hostel, we were told it was all booked. Oh well, we thought, this place is filled with hotels, undoubtedly we'll one that will take us! Four full hotels later, our spirits were noticeably damper. But we finally found a haven at Casa Felipe - a backpacker's hostel with a 6 bed dorm which suited the 4 of us just fine.

Then, the real work began. We had a lot of eating and shopping to do.
Smoothies, excellent smoothies. Perfect for recharging and getting ready to shop.

From the left: Christina, Grace, Lauren

Real pizza! With arugula!
At dinner, which was in a prime piece of real estate perched on the lake, we noticed a Ferris wheel looming in the upper slopes of the town. Inspired, we decided to track it down, along with the fair to which it belonged. After asking directions several times, we finally found it. The fair was in celebration of the feast day of San Pedro - the patron saint of the town.  Though it was mostly kid-based, we had to have a go on the Ferris wheel. 
At the fair.
Christina & I on the Ferris wheel. This was before the operator cranked the lever and sent the whole contraption hurtling around at about 80mph. At one point, I was coming out of my seat! And when the lights blinked out for a moment, I panicked. But here I am, alive and telling the tale!
Back at the hostel, we quickly fell int an exhausted sleep. Only to be awakened at around two in the morning by the snores of the 6th person in the dorm who had come in during the night. It was the noise level of a chainsaw. The next morning, Lauren said she didn't think she could have screamed louder! As you might expect, we were a bit sleep deprived that day. 

We spent Sunday morning in the next town over - San Juan. Smaller and quieter than San Pedro, San Juan was home to a host of women's cooperatives and independent artists. We browsed and purchased some more, and I filled a bottle with lake water for my cousin who collects water samples from around the world.

Then it was a tuk-tuk back to San Pedro, and a chicken bus back home!

I am so pleased that I got to go to the lake - it was one thing that I had wanted to do even before I got to Guatemala. And though it was not what I expected, it was a lovely time all the same.

Kaqchikel word of the day: choy (CHOYH) - lake.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Ergativity in Kaqchikel: Are subjects easier to understand?

As a dust storm blows in from the Sahara desert, it strikes me as a good time to stay indoors and write up an overview of the question which I hope to begin to answer with field work.
How the dust manages to get from the Sahara to Guatemala. Besides bringing a pall of opacity over the landscape, it also blows in a host of foreign bacteria.   
The project I am pursuing here in Patzun is building off the experiment conducted by - among others - Pedro (Dr. Mateo Pedro) and Masha (Dr. Polinsky), published as Ergativity and the complexity of extraction: a view from Mayan (2014.)

For a brief overview of ergativity, see my previous post: "A Dip into Syntax: Ergativity" - I'll be refering to it below. 

In their experiment, they used ergativity to test for a) the subject processing advantage (SPA) and b) whether case and agreement have equal weight in licensing grammatical function. I'll be focusing on the part a) portion. 

Much as its name suggests, SPA is a theory proposing that processing subjects is easier than processing objects. For instance, in:
1) The girl who lifted the boy was smiling vs.
2) The girl who the boy lifted was smiling
Sentence 1 on the left and 2 on the right. This and below pictures courtesy of Pedro Mateo Pedro.
Here, 1) which involves subject extraction is easier to process/comprehend than 2) which involves object extraction. This seems to support SPA, as subject processing is noticeably easier.

However, as I mentioned in my earlier post about ergativity, English (and other accusative languages) are not the best evidence for this. Since case/agreement and grammatical function cannot be separated in these languages, it is not clear whether subject processing is easier because of the subject postion (aka grammatical function) or the nominative case of the subject (case/agreement) the paper turns to ergative languages. 

The study looks at Ch'ol and Q'anjob'al which are both morphologically ergative languages. In these languages, the subject position (grammatical function) can be separated from case/agreement. This is because, in ergative languages, the subjects of intransitives (S) have absolutive case while the subjects of transitives (A) have ergative case.

Remember: "Her gallops" vs. "He hugged her"

Therefore, ergative languages are ideal for testing whether the subject position - independent of case/agreement - is inherently easier to process.

And in fact, the results of the study showed that in both Ch'ol (morphologically ergative) and Q'anjob'al (morphologically and syntactically ergative) SPA was strongly supported, regardless of case.

I plan to replicate the basic model of the study, albeit in Kaqchikel.

Now, let's talk about the methods of my pilot experiment (based on the methods of the Ch'ol/Q'anjob'al study (Clemens et al 2014.) 

For both languages, the researchers looked at 4 types of sentences with 4 types of gaps (below examples in Kaqchikel):
  1. Intransitive (S - absolutive subject - gap)
    1. 'Where is the squirrel that jumped [next to the rabbit]?'
  2. Ambiguous Transitive (A/O - ergative subject/absolutive object - gap)
    1. a) 'Where is the chicken that ate the snake?' OR
      b) 'Where is the chicken that the snake ate?'
  3. Biased Subject Transitive (A - ergative subject - gap)
    1. Where is the boy that picked the beans?
  4. Biased Object Transitive (O - absolutive subject - gap)
    1. Where is the tomato that the girl bought?
Each type of sentence is present in both perfective and progressive forms. The nature of Mayan language is such that both 2a and 2b are actually the same sentence, just with an ambiguous interpretation depending on whether they are parsed as having a subject or object in the position of the initial argument. 
Left: 2a; Right: 2b
All the pictures in this post and  in the experiment were drawn by Daniel Pedro Mateo.
The sentences in 3 and 4 could perhaps be interpreted as ambiguous, but since only one argument has animacy, they are semantically biased. For instance, the implausibility of 'Where is the tomato that bought the girl?' prevents the alternate interpretation of 4. 

Native speakers will be presented with a recording of several instances of each of the 4 types of sentences alongside a picture identification task, such as the ones pictured below. 
1. Intransitive: "Where is the squirrel that jumped next to the rabbit?"
2. Ambiguous Transitive: "Where is the dog that licked the cat?" OR "Where is the dog that the cat licked?"
3. Subject Biased Transitive: "Where is the boy who bought tomatoes?" 
4. Object Biased Transitive: "Where are the flowers that the boy picked?"
Hypothesis to support the SPA:
1. Both the gaps for intransitive, absolutive subject (S) and the transitive, ergative subject (A) should be processed faster and easier than the transitive object (O) regardless of case. 
2. Additionally, in the ambiguous sentences, the subject initial interpretation (for instance, 2a) should be favored over object initial (2b.) 

The results of the Ch'ol and Q'anjob'al experiment study supported the above. I hope to find out whether Kaqchikel will as well!

Things to Note: Kaqchikel differs from Ch'ol and Q'anjob'al in 2 major ways.

  1. While Ch'ol has no syntactic ergativity, and Q'anjob'al has high syntactic ergativity - where no ergative arguments may be (A-bar) extracted, Kaqchikel falls somewhere in between. In Kaqchikel, certain constructions (wh-questions) prohibit ergative extraction but in others (relative clauses) it is permitted, and actually more prevalent (Stiebels, 2006.)
  2. Kaqchikel shows a different case alignment than Ch'ol/Q'anjob'al in the non-perfective aspect (Imanishi, 2014.)
Whether these differences will be reflected in my results is something I'll be keeping an eye out for. Especially the second difference:
These charts show the switch in absolutive/ergative alignment from perfective to non-perfective aspect. Note that in non-perfective aspect, the alignment changes to a nominative-accusative style. 
There you have it - the basics of the corner of Kaqchikel grammar I'm hoping to explore. I'm hoping to start running the study soon, stay tuned for how that goes!

Kaqchikel word of the day: kinäq' (KEE-nuq') - beans. A crucial word to know, since beans in all their forms are one of the pillars of Guatemalan cuisine. The ä symbol represents a lax vowel, which appear in Kaqchikel in correspondence to each of the five tense vowels (a, e, i, o, u).

Works Cited
1. Clemens L.E., Coon J., Mateo Pedro P., Morgan A.M., Polinsky M., Tandet G., Wagers
M. 2014. Ergativity and the complexity of extraction: A view from Mayan.
Natural Language and Linguistic Theory.
2. Imanishi, Yusuke. 2014. When ergative is default: A view from Mayan. Proceedings of the 32nd West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics.
3. Stiebels, Barbara. 2006. Agent focus in Mayan languages. Natural Language &
Linguistic Theory, 24(2), 501-570.
4. Heaton, Raina. 2015. The status of syntactic ergativity in Kaqchikel. Society for the Study of Indigenous Languages of the Americas. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Wuqu' Kawoq Goes to Paquip - and I tag along!

One of the many regular projects Wuqu' Kawoq runs is a childhood malnutrition program. A team from made up of doctors, nurses, and volunteers go out to small villages and detect, treat, and keep track of malnourished children. On Thursday, I got to go along with one group on their regular visit to Paquip - a village on the very north-west edge of the municipality of Tecpan. Located at the end of a twisty drive through the mountains, Paquip doesn't show up on Google Maps. But the views are gorgeous.
The view from the health center - with coffee plants in the foreground

Centro de Salud - The health center where Wuqu' Kawoq comes biweekly for health screenings. 
Besides checking for malnutrition, Wuqu' Kawoq was also doing women's health screenings - pap smears and birth control implants, for instance. However, I was sitting in on the children's checkups and didn't see much of the women's visits.

Children under two years of age were brought in by their mothers for height and weight measurements. If any of these children were detected as being unusually low in height or weight, they were brought in for a further consultation with the WK team. If the parent agreed, the child was placed into the malnutrition program. Starting from that day, at every biweekly screening, the parent received personal counseling from the WK health professionals on malnutrition and how to fend it off (not just addressing quantity, but also quality.) Additionally, they would receive food for the malnourished child - beans, eggs, oil, and fortified peanut butter.

On the day I was there, in addition to six of the "regular" malnourished kids, two other severely malnourished children were detected. One case was particularly striking - a tiny two-month old baby falling 3 standard deviations below average height and 4 sd's below average weight, his mother had 8 other kids, but was experiencing lactation failure for the first time with this newest child. WK gave the mother formula and began counseling her immediately. 

A lot of Kaqchikel is spoken in Paquip - it was fascinating getting to hear the language 'in the wild' so to speak. Definitely lots of body parts and food words were thrown around, and I was struck by the high frequency of Spanish lone words/code switching as well. WK works really well with the language situation - they always have at least one speaker on hand who talks to the patients and mothers in their native language. 

I didn't take any pictures of the malnutrition screenings - I didn't feel comfortable asking the women to be photographed when they were at a doctor's appointment. But after the screenings were over, I continued to tag along with the WK people to the nutrition class - where I did take pictures!

The nutrition classes took place in the village at the home of a local lady. The four participants are pictured above. From the left: Maria, Rosa, Francisca, and Sara. Each of them is a mother with a malnourished child, and enrolled in the malnourishment program with WK
To start off the class, the women help prepare a meal that they will all eat later. The day's menu was a chicken dish with onion, tomato, and bay leaf and a side dish of boiled acorn squash (guicoy)

Yoli, the instructor, (far right) teaches about the nutrients in the ingredients in Kaqchikel, focusing especially on important nutrients for pre- & post-natal health.
As the dishes simmer on the ceramic plates on the wood-fire stove and the house heats up, the lesson continues outside. Yoli puts special emphasis on the importance of feeding children normal food in addition to breast-milk after 6 months. Over-breast feeding
To complete the nutrition program, the women attend five classes. From talking to Grace and others at WK, they have noticed that the how well the women do in the classes noticeably corresponds to faster growth improvement of their children. By educating these women in addition to providing them with support through health care and food supplies, WK is pursuing the root of malnutrition in addition to its outward manifestations.
It was the last of the five classes for the program - here are the women after receiving certificates of completion!
I am so grateful to Wuqu' Kawoq for allowing me to come to Paquip and observe their projects. It was an eye-opening day - I'm left with immense awe and appreciation for the hard work and dedication of all the amazing people who make it possible.

Kaqchikel word of the day: aq'omanel (a-Q'O-ma-NELH) - doctor. Involves the fun consonant [q'] a back of the throat click, aka glottalized uvular implosive.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Peeking into the Future: The Site of the Field Station

One of my purposes here in Guatemala is to act as a pilot of the linguistics field station collaboration between the University del Valle de Guatemala and the University of Maryland. It's an exciting position to be in, and not just because I could come out of this coalmine a canary (on the contrary, I think I'm far more likely to strike a vein of gold,) but also because I get to see how such a project takes shape. And then report my observations!

To that end, Pedro took me to pay a visit to the UVG campus outside the city of Sololá - which is where the field station will be located.
Sololá is highlighted in red. Patzun is all the way to the right. Image courtesy of Google Maps

Sololá is perched high above Lake Atitlán, which is the deepest lake in Central America. Also, it is spectacular. Luckily, our drive took us along the ridge above the lake and Pedro was kind enough to stop off at a scenic vista so I could feast my eyes.
The view from the side of the road. Here's Aldous Huxley on Atitlán in 1938: "Lake Como it seems to me, touches on the limit of permissibly picturesque, but Atitlán is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It really is too much of a good thing." 

In the clouds
Upon arriving at UVG, Pedro introduced me to Dr. Jaime Roquel, the Executive Director of the Altiplano Campus (UVG has several campuses, including one in Guatemala City.) He was very welcoming and gave us a tour of the campus. It's a large area, divided into three main spaces. There is a main area for the classroom buildings, cafeteria, and auditorium. There are fields and greenhouses for the agriculture students. And there are garages and workshops for the engineering/mechanic students.The university offers degrees in social sciences, engineering, agriculture, and science & the humanities.
Some of the classroom buildings - and potential locations for the physical presence of the field station!

Another perspective of the lake from the very edge of the campus 
Pedro has many exciting ideas about the future of the field station. For instance, he would like to set up a language exchange adjunct where UVG students can interact with incoming students/linguists at the field station to trade knowledge of Mayan languages with English (for example), and vice versa.

Dr. Roquel, Pedro, and I

'No'j Tinamit; Universidad del Valle de Guatemala; Campus Altiplano'
Kaqchikel word of the day: tinamit (TEEN-a-MEET) - town, city. The "N'oj"in "N'oj Tinamit" probably refers to a day of the Mayan calendar. It's actually the day that corresponds to the one on which I was born! As a result, the 'Mayan name' with which I went by during Kaqchikel classes was Ixn'oj.   

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Goodbye Tecpan; Hello Patzun

Patzun is where Pedro & Ana live, and I'll be living with them for my remaining time in Guatemala. Which is flying by faster than I thought possible (and faster than my ability to blog; apologies about that!) 

Leaving Tecpan meant saying goodbye to my host family. Which was sad - look at how much cuteness I left behind!
Left to right: Sofia, Diego, Ixchel, Andrea
It also meant the end of Kabjajuj Ey Kaqchikel languages classes! After a final delicious lunch (estufado - a barbecue-flavored stew of every possible meat. From rabbit to beef,) we got our certificates of completion and had a small and sweet goodbye ceremony.
Grace gets her certificate from Ixim

The teachers and students of Kablajuj Ey 2015! Left to right: Iximnik'te, Grace, me, Ana, Pedro

Just the teachers. And cows.

Grace & I with Ixim - this should be rotated. It isn't. 
I learned a lot in class - a lot about Kaqchikel, Spanish and Guatemalan culture! Thanks to Ixim, Ana, and Pedro's capable teaching, of course. Ixim's breadth and depth of knowledge, combined with Ana's familiarity with English, plus Pedro's linguistics background and perspective made for an excellent experience. I hope I will be able to make use of what I learn as I construct my research and prepare to find out more about Kaqchikel. 

Ana & Pedro have a wonderful home and have been extremely welcoming to me. Their house is in one of the highest places of Patzun and has a breathtaking 360 degree view. I'm excited for the vistas these next weeks are sure to bring - Guatemala's beauty continues to astound me!

Taken from the house's roof

Kaqchikel word of the day: wakx (WAKSH) - cow or cows. The etymology is interesting here - it comes for the Spanish for cows, vacas. Somehow, the plural Spanish form came to represent both the singular and plural in Kaqchikel. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Mayan Ruins at Ixim'che

The name for Tecpan (the town I've been living in) in Kaqchikel is Ixim'che. This is because Tecpan was once under the rule of the Kaqchikel Mayans. They established their capital right outside of modern day Tecpan, and this is the site that is now commonly referred to as Ixim'che.

Ixim'che was the capital of the Kaqchikel Mayas from 1470-1524 CE. It is now an open air museum, which we visited today.

Ixim'che was founded after the Kaqchikel broke with their former allies, the K'ichee, and fled their kingdom. The land they built Ixim'che on was easy to defend as it was surrounded by deep gorges. This was useful as infighting and wars against the K'ichee continued. However, the new city was not destined to last long. When the first Spanish conquistadors arrived in 1524, the Kaqchikel allied with them initially, providing them with aid in their conquests of other Mayan kingdoms. However, a combination of smallpox and the increased demands for tributes by the Spanish led to a break in this alliance. The Kaqchikel abandoned Ixim'che, which was pillaged and burned by Spanish troops.

This is the ballcourt - where criminals, enemies, and other unpopular folks played for their lives. Two teams competed to get a heavy, hard rubber ball into a small hoop using only their elbows and hips. The losers were sacrificed.

Ana & Pedro

Yours truly!

The ruins are in a beautiful location, surrounded by the mountains, quiet and peaceful
 One of the altars for Mayan rituals. We came to it just as the ceremony had been finished. We met the 'counter of the days' who had done the ceremony - he actually turned out to be one of Ana's cousins (this was not so surprising - Ana's cousins are everywhere) Some of the offerings included bananas, Coke, and an (initially) live bird

The other side of the main alter. It was covered with yellow flowers - an unusual site according to Pedro and Ana

This butterfly was resting in the ashes of one of the altars. Apparently, they use a lot of sugar in the ritual (?) That's alse why you can see bees - which were swarming around. Don't miss the feathers from the former chicken! 
Kaqchikel word of the day: xex (SHESH) - the smell of raw egg. This was a very controversial vocabulary addition - Grace insisted that fresh, raw eggs did not have a smell. I think they do have a smell, but had never stopped to think about it. Nevertheless, this is an everyday word/smell in Kaqchikel. Do you think that raw eggs smell?