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ELDP Project Highlight: Documentation of five Zoquean languages spoken in Mexico

Today on the ELAR blog, we are featuring ELDP grantee Roberto Zavala Maldonado’s project ‘Documentation of five Zoquean languages spoken in Mexico. The project documents the languages San Miguel Chimalapa, Jitotoltec, Highland Popoluca, Chiapas Zoque, and Santa María Chimalapa.

Group of speakers of San Miguel Chimalapa Zoque. Photo taken by Roberto Zavala Maldonado

This is the last year of our project and we are finishing up as much as we can. We recruited a new PhD student who is doing field work in Santa Maria Chimalapa Zoque from January until August. In the middle of May there is going to be another researcher helping them in order to finish most of the transcription work needed. All the grammar sketches are being revised. One of our students finished his PhD on San Miguel Chimalapa Zoque, another one finished her MA on Highland Popoluca and she is now in her first year of her PhD at Berkeley with a 5 year grant from CONACyT and UCB, two other researchers/students are in their 2nd year for their PhD at CIESAS. All of these researchers/speakers of their languages have advanced in their knowledge thanks to the intensive work they were able to do on our project. At this point we have a very complete picture of most of the Zoquean languages of the different branches. In November there were four presentations at CILLA at the University of Texas at Austin from the members of our teams on different topics of the languages we are investigating.

Language Documentation of San Miguel Chimalapa Zoque
Silviano Jiménez Jiménez documenting San Miguel Chimalapa Zoque. Photo taken by Roberto Zavala Maldonado

Impact on community/speakers highlight

This team of 6 local speakers and linguists will be the main actors in the near future to continue doing documentation work in their own communities and will be the main personnel to train future documenters in Zoquean and other areas of Mexico. Three of the members who are part of the project are now PhD students in linguistics, another one is a MA student, and a fourth one finished his PhD studies. All of these speakers will continue working on their languages in the future.

Cesario López Cruz and Nazario López Cruz, two brothers, in El Porvenir, Chiapas. Photo taken by Roberto Zavala Maldonado

Scientific highlight

When comparing the alignment and voice system of North Eastern Zoquean with Jitotoltec we have been able to trace the origin of the inverse marking system in Jitotoltec which has evolved from a passive construction. At this point we have a clear picture of how the inverse voice system has developed in Zoque.

Three speakers of Zoque in Chiapas
The Avendaño family who are speakers of Chiapas Zoque in Rayón, Chiapas. Photo taken by Roberto Zavala Maldonado

Some of the dialects of Zoque spoken in the North East (Ocotepec) show a type of split pattern that occurs only with 3rd person. In independent clauses the language follows an ergative-absolutive pattern for all persons, whereas in dependent clauses, the same ergative pattern takes place with Speech Act Participants (SAP) but become a nominative-accusative pattern with 3rd person. This pattern has not been attested cross-linguistically and is against the typological predictions which sustain that in the split patterns conditioned by person, the nominative-accusative pattern take place with SAP (first and second person) leaving the ergative pattern with third person (Dixon 1994, 1979, Silverstein 1976).

Román de La Cruz working with Inocenta Paz Ocaña, the last semispeaker of the Zoque variety spoken in Tapijulapan, Tabasco. Photo taken by Roberto Zavala Maldonado

The opposite phenomenon occurs in Zoque spoken in the North East. Unlike Santa María and Chiapas-Zoque, San Miguel Iost the ergative/genitive case marker changing the double marking system for a pure head marking one. All Zoquean languages spoken in the Chimalapas and in Chiapas have internal-headed relative clauses which are unknown in Gulf Zoquean languages. This features can be traced back to Proto-Zoquean and probably Proto-Mixe-Zoquean since there is one dialect of Mixe in which this feature has also been observed. All of these are the first discoveries during the first steps in analyzing the transcribed data. We are certain that at the end of the project we are going to have many others.

An elderly man in Tabasco, Mexico, wearing a white t-shirt and a baseball cap in front of a turquoise wall
Hipólito Méndez Juárez, the last speaker of a variety of Zoque in Tomás Garrido, Tabasco. Photo taken by Roberto Zavala Maldonado

Thanks Roberto!

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