Tuesday, February 2, 2010

New Plan: Be Trilingual. Learn Kaqchikel.

Today was so cool. Of course, it started out really frustrating, but then, really really cool.

I (sort of) took a class in Kaqchikel language!

This year at NPH’s school, they are requiring for the first time (because of a new government decree) that all students study Kaqchikel. Kaqchikel is one of the 21 Mayan languages still widely used in Central America, and it is spoken by nearly half a million people in central Guatemala.

Indigenous culture is so present in modern Guatemala (one of the things that makes this country so unique) that it’s impossible to not notice the importance of indigenous languages when you live here. There are 23 national languages in Guatemala, and Kaqchikel is recognized as one of them.

For most people in this area of the country, Kaqchikel is their first language. Spanish – what foreigners like me assumed to be the only really important language here – is only learned by many people as an afterthought. Kaqchikel is their native language. Learning Spanish is just for practicality’s sake. (In fact, the family I lived with in San Pedro only used Spanish when they spoke to me. Among one another, it was usually Kaqchikel.)

So, what the heck was I doing learning Kaqchikel this morning?

Well, I wanted to write a story for the website about the new Kaqchikel classes now being taught at the NPH school. For this, I wanted to talk to the two new Kaqchikel teachers here: Yami for Montessori and primary school, Tomás for middle school.

For some background info, one of the major reasons that things move so slowly here/nothing gets done quickly or efficiently/productivity is often painfully slow is because, at least here at NPH, there isn’t exactly a system for getting a hold of someone.

People don’t necessarily have offices. Few people have NPH email addresses (or internet around here), and even fewer check their email anyway. No office hours (so different from college!), no immediate email responses (so different from U.S. office culture!) – I’m definitely having to get used to this.

As a result, when it comes to writing articles I probably spend about 80% of my time wandering around, unsuccessfully finding the person I need to find, and 20% doing the actual interviewing/writing/editing/photographing/website updating (a.k.a. the actual work) once I find them. A giant portion of my days are spent checking and re-checking empty offices and asking a lot of “¿Sabes donde está ella? ¿Sabes donde está el?”

This was the frustrating part of my morning.

However, my mood does a complete 180° once I find the person I’m looking for. Yes, success. Check this off my list.

So this morning, I was pumped to catch Profe Tomás. I explained that I was writing an article, and he seemed super excited to help out. Now, here’s the part where I don’t know if we had a major language communication issue or not. We sat down, and he proceeded to give me a 20-minute Kaqchikel lesson. It was the real deal too: me taking notes, practicing my pronunciation, learning the Kaqchikel ABC’s. I kind of forgot where I was for a second. Oh wait, I’m supposed to be interviewing you right now, not practicing these new vowel sounds.

But Kaqchikel is cool! Here’s what I learned:

My cool Kaqchikel notes.

-Kaqchikel, like any other language, is divided into vowels and consonants. The word for vowel, k’uxatz’ib’, literally means “the heart of writing.” The word for consonant, ch’akultz’ib’, literally means “the body of writing.” Profe Tomás probably told me a thousand times – heart and body, you can’t have one without the other. That’s why you need both vowels and consonants to create language.

-In Kaqchikel, there are 10 vowels and 32 letters. ‘ is a letter. Yep, just that apostrophe. It’s a letter all on its own.

-In the Kaqchikel alphabet, there is no c, g, f, v, ll, ñ or h.

-The same word is used to mean “sun” or “day.” And the same word is used to mean “moon” or “month.”

-Consonants sort of remind me of music notes. You can have a b and a b’. The roughly translated idea is that b is “b simple” and b’ is “b glottalized.” Kaqchikel involves a lot of hacking and gagging sounds.

And this was the really really cool part of my morning.

Ok, enough nerdy linguistics blogging. Just thought I’d let you all know. Maybe I’ll come back to the States fluent in two new languages. :)


Georgia said...

SO cool! I want to learn.

shannon said...

Do you know of any on-line audio to be able to learn Kaqchikel basics? I will be spending the month of July on Lake Atitlan.

Unknown said...

Can you teach is more or is there a website where I can go and learn it?

Unknown said...

Can you teach is more or is there a website where I can go and learn it?

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