At the PLQ (Proyecto Lingüistico Quetzalteco) in Xela (Quetzaltenango) Guatemala, I have been brushing up on my Spanish conversation, and learning the indigenous langauge, K’iche’ (as previously mentioned).
I am in my second week of K’iche’ right now, studying with my teacher, who is a native speaker, and a linguist by training. The first day, I found myself thinking in Spanish about K’iche’, as he is teaching me in Spanish – good practice for both lanaguages! K’iche’ is the most widely spoken of Guatemala’s 23 different indigenous langauges (not dialects — compelete langauges), though there are no good dictionaries or textbooks for the langauge. (My extremely talented teacher has spent 23 years writing one, though, so if you know of a publisher who would be interested, please let us know!) K’iche’ is a dying language, and the academic work of preserving it is quite new.
The first day of class started with an explanation of verb tenses. K’iche’ really uses only three main ones, present, present progressive (“-ing”), and past. Then, I wrote lists of words in Spanish and my teacher wrote the words in K’iche’. I asked about animals and food (two of my favorite things), and the word “to cook,” in Spanish “cocinar,” and in K’iche’ “b’ano wa” directly translates to “to make food.” In many cases, there are no traditional K’iche’ words for things which indicates whether or not the animal, plant, or food is indigenous to Guatemala or not, in a few cases, the K’iche’ word has been lost to colonialism and imperialism. For example, carrots, bannanas and beets are not indigenous to Guatemala, so there are no K’iche’ words. “Beet” is “kaj ichaj” or “red vegetable” – and from there came my idea for “xar ichaj” or “blue vegetable.”
The animals and le xar ichaj (the blue vegetable) all started with me writing lots of sentences about animals cooking soup which would send my teacher and me into waves of laughter and deep into the land of my imagination. Then by the end of the week, the sentences had turned into an elaborate story about the magical xar ichaj that allows the b’alam (jaguar), imul (rabbit), patax (duck), and k’o’x (turtle) to live together without the b’alam eating them. The animals have to travel to the four corners of the land in search of the xar ichaj when, one day, they can’t find it. Each of the animals meet other andimals along the way and have an adventure. I will tell you the end of the story in another post!
At this point, I have finished writing the story in K’iche’, am typing it up and reviewing it with my teacher (who, also happens to be a very talented writer as well as linguist and teacher), and then I will translate it into Spanish, and then to English (for fun and practice).
Right now, my teacher is helping me research traditional Mayan drawings and images of the animals in my story so I can work on the illustrations.
Stay tuned for more about the animals and the blue vegetable — LE AWAJ RUK’ LE XAR ICHAJ !!!!