September 8, 2012 Hana Muzika Kahn, PhD;  Assistant Professor of Spanish, Temple University; Director, Yax Te' Books: "Language, Literacy and Maintenance of Oral Tradition in a Kaqchikel Maya Community"
 
    Dr. Hana Muzika  Kahn spoke on contemporary Guatemalan Mayan literature in the context of indigenous language revitalization. She used a comparative approach in analyzing the cultural content, literary style, and linguistic characteristics of works by Spanish/Mayan language bilingual authors who write in both languages. Her current research is a collaborative project with Dr. Jonathan Holmquist from Temple University Spanish Department. They are combining the research background of Dr. Holmquist in sociolinguistics with the background of Dr.Kahn in comparative literature to evaluate language use in a bilingual community in the Guatemalan highlands where Spanish and Kaqchikel Maya are spoken, and to collect and analyze oral histories and narratives. 
       Kaqchikel is one of 30 Maya languages, of which 21 are used in Guatemala. It is one of the most widely used, and is spoken in 52 towns in 7 counties by about 500,000 speakers, according to the 2002 census. The Peace Accords of 1996 supported Mayan language revitalization and revalidation, and the 2003 Language Law and later official policy statements established new standards for the use and recognition of the Mayan languages, Garifuna and Xinka in Guatemala.  However, Spanish has always been maintained as the only official language and the language of instruction used in schools. Mayan languages have been declining and Mayan language literacy has been extremely limited. For many years, DIGEBI, or Dirección General de Educación Bilingüe Intercultural, promoted bilingual language instruction, but was unable to enforce the policy, or to provide pedagogical support or materials. Now, for the last 3 years, Kaqchikel has been part of the official curriculum in Kaqchikel area schools, and this may lead to changes in language use and attitudes.
      The presentation described her research project in Parramos, near Chimaltenango.  The colleagues have been conducting interviews with speakers of different ages, to record proficiency levels in Kaqchikel and Spanish, to evaluate frequency of the use of each language in the home and in other spheres of community life, and to assess current attitudes toward Kaqchikel language and culture. Dr. Kahn is  working towards a long-term goal, which is a collection of Kaqchikel oral narratives, including legends and local histories, some of which was described in her talk, which will be published for and dedicated to the local community.
      Dr. Hana Muzika Kahn received her M.Ed. and Ph.D. from Rutgers University, a B.Phil, from Liverpool University, and a B.A. from Manchester University. Dr. Kahn was born in Czechoslovakia,  educated in England and  has taught English, French and Spanish languages and literatures and Comparative Literature in France, England, Peru and the U.S.A. She is currently an Assistant Professor in the Spanish and Portuguese Department of Temple University, and director of Yax Te’  Books, which publishes books by Guatemalan Mayan writers and about Mayan culture.

back to home page