In the history of indigenous studies of Chiapas, it is ironic that despite the decades of ethno-linguistic research conducted in that region and the dozens of investigators that have surrounded and invaded the indigenous communities of the highlands, there is very little useful and accessible material related to problems of interest to the subject of those scientific investigations‹that is to say, the indigenous people themselves.
The lack of a practical grammar for Tzotzil, mother tongue of more than one-hundred thousand people in Chiapas, written in Spanish, is at once a symptom and a cause of the scorn and ignorance with which this indigenous language is viewed by many investigators and bureaucrats. The pedagogical and linguistic materials currently in existence are almost all of foreign origin (as are the few non-indigenous individuals that have more than a merchant's mastery of Tzotzil).
After ten years of struggling to learn Tzotzil, with questionable success, I feel more than ever the lack of practical and systematic materials on Tzotzil that can be used by non-indigenous students with genuine interest, or by those indigenous people who wish to develop their linguistic abilities, both analytical and communicative, studying this variety of batz'i k'op ("the true language").
I have been inspired by John Smith's Manual de Tzeltal (or El Tzeltal como Quien Dice), a model that I have shamelessly emulated here. I have also taken advantage of R.M. Laughlin's magnificent Tzotzil dictionary (The Great Tzotzil Dictionary of San Lorenzo Zinacantán, 1975), which represents the richness of Tzotzil with impressive erudition. Furthermore, it gives me pleasure to express my gratitude to Norman McQuown, Bejamín Preciado-Solís, and especially Galio Gurdián for their editorial help with the Spanish text.
However, the wellspring of this work--from which the words, the conversations, and the following explanations flow--is the talk I have shared with my Zinacanteco compadres, friends, and neighbors. I hope that this grammar serves the readers not only as an instrument for learning the structure and basic vocabulary of the language, but also to get a feel for the "genius" of Tzotzil, thereby coming to like and appreciate the communicative power of this Mexican language.
|John Beard Haviland|