Making Maya Linguistics, Making Maya Linguists: The Production Of Maya Scientific Expertise And Models Of Personhood In The Yucatan Today

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Anthropology of education
Linguistic anthropology
Social identification
Social studies of science
Yucatec Maya
Latin American Languages and Societies
Latin American Studies
Quantitative, Qualitative, Comparative, and Historical Methodologies
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In this dissertation, I explore what it means to be Maya in the Yucatan today. I focus my research on a higher education program in Maya linguistics where Maya is used as a language of instruction. To do this, faculty and students are creating the words and concepts with which to talk about linguistics ich maaya ‘in the Maya language’, something previously only done in other languages, like Spanish. This is about expanding the conceptual work that can be done in the Maya language, but it also about creating new scientific objects—new linguistics terminology; new categorizations of the language; and a new category of persons, native-Maya-speaking linguists. Through an eighteen-month ethnography, I follow linguists and their students to show how disciplinary linguistics knowledge is being created in the Maya language and how its creation produces and contests categories of Maya personhood. I begin broadly by exploring what it means to be Maya in Yucatan today through an analysis of diacritics of Maya personhood. I show how certain behaviors are linked to ideas about who Maya people are. For example, participation in advanced formal education is not widely associated with models of Maya personhood, thus when individuals pursue higher education, it can call their Mayaness into question. In light of this, some Maya individuals engage in practices to re-associate themselves with widely circulating diacritics of Maya personhood, such as speaking Maya in a way that is perceived to be more authentic. This brings me to interrogate a register of the Maya language, jach maaya, that many highly educated Maya individuals use. I then focus my attention on the creation of linguistics ich maaya, discussing its practice in the classroom and the one text published in Maya on a linguistics topic. Finally, I turn my attention to the creation of Maya linguists to look at the important identity work participation in higher education in the Maya language is affording students. Throughout, I take up notions of linguistic purism, language ideologies, and processes of social identification. I also situate the creation of linguistics ich maaya within broader discourses about indigeneity and modernity.

Asif Agha
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