October 13, 2012 Timothy J. Smith, Ph.D.: "Rearranging the File and Rank: A Consideration of Word Order and Animacy  in Mesoamerican Artistic Production"

         Dr. Timothy J. Smith’s paper revisited previous discussions of left/right symbolism in the Maya world by examining preferred orders of subjects in Mayan visual and linguistic production through a comparative study, using current ethnographic data on ceremonial presentation in highland Guatemala, speech events, colonial documents, and pre-Columbian Maya artistic production.  Previous discussions have left little room for understanding artistic license and/or necessary breaks with cultural or cognitive schema, save for the use of “frequent” when discussing arrangements in Maya art. Dr. Smith argued that rather than viewing the “frequent” arrangement of figures in Maya art, both past and present, as indicative of deep cognitive structures reflective of super/subordinate considerations, the apparent patterns viewed in the artistic record may be linked to linguistic conventions, most specifically to preferred word orders for which previous arguments have been made concerning the linkages between word order and animacy.  Moreover, Dr. Smith suggested a consideration of analytical models that make use of a consideration of restraints for understanding choice and preference, those which allow for alternative expressions, i.e. markedness, aesthetic, rejection, to best understand and identify both artistic and linguistic conventions involving ranked subjects in Maya art. A consideration of animacy, preferred word order, and learned collocations highlights an optimal order of privileging scene-final subjects over lower ranking counterparts, which may elucidate social order and worldview in addition to providing a comparative frame for examining symbolism in the both visual and textual productions in Mesoamerican cultures. 
      Dr. Timothy Smith is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Appalachian State University, currently serving as a Visiting Research Scholar, Program in Latin American Studies and  Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology at Princeton University.  He received a BA in Latin American Studies from Tulane University, with a focus on Mesoamerican Linguistics, and a BS in Anthropology. He received his MA and PhD in Anthropology from the University at Albany, SUNY, and wrote his dissertation while in residence as a visiting fellow at Harvard University and Columbia University.  His dissertation was the first complete study of the highland Guatemalan town of Sololá.  Dr. Smith’s research includes critical examination of community participation, linguistic revival and change, violence and conflict, development, human rights, citizenship and the state, environmental conservation, and grassroots indigenous politics of Latin America in Guatemala and Ecuador.  His research and writings have been supported by Princeton University’s Program in Latin American Studies, Harvard University, Columbia University, Fulbright, Hewlett Foundation, U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of State, National Science Foundation, Institute for Mesoamerican Studies at the University at Albany, SUNY, Center for Advanced Study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Roger Thayer Stone Center for Latin American Studies at Tulane University, and the Institute for the Study of Latin America and the Caribbean, at the the University of South Florida.

back to home page