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Introduction to Kaqchikel Maya Language

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La ütz awäch? Introduction to Kaqchikel Maya Language
By R. McKenna Brown, Judith M. Maxwell, and Walter E. Little. Illustrations by Angelika Bauer. (University of Texas Press, Austin: 2006. Pg. 316. Illustrations.) ISBN: 0-292-71460-2.

Reviewed by Simone Bonim - December 22, 2006

Kaqchikel is a Mayan language spoken by about half a million people who live primarily in Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico. English speakers interested in studying Kaqchikel will discover that unless you travel to this area, or have access to a native Kaqchikel speaker, that there are few opportunities available to study Kaqchikel. While the number of options available to learn Kaqchikel are limited, they do exist. One such option is La ütz awäch? Introduction to Kaqchikel Maya Language by R. McKenna Brown, Judith M. Maxwell, Walter E. Little.

This indispensable textbook can be used in a classroom setting, as well as by motivated self-learners, and it is suited for use by students, travelers, individuals working with Kaqchikel speakers, and by scholars interested modern or ancient Mayan history, archaeology, society, or related fields. La ütz awäch? is an excellent introductory text on Kaqchikel Maya language, and it provides students with practice in all the major language skills, such as reading, writing, and comprehension. It also provides students with a sufficient vocabulary to engage in basic conversations and gives them a basic understanding and practical knowledge of the language.

Written in a workbook format and accompanied by instructional illustrations by Angelika Bauer, this book includes written exercises and ample reading practice, a grammar summary, and a useful Kaqchikel-English and English-Kaqchikel Glossary. In addition, each of the first six chapters in this book includes an illustrated dialogue, exercises based on the dialogue, a reading section, questions based upon the reading, a grammar section with practice activities, writing exercises, and information on Mayan culture and everyday Kaqchikel life.

Usually unique textbooks such as this, come with an astronomical price tag. Thankfully, the University of Texas Press is offering a paperback edition of this book for less than $20. Thereby making this book affordable to both students who 'have to have' it, as well as interested individuals who can benefit from the text, such as social workers and other professionals working with Kaqchikel speaking immigrants in the United State, who might have otherwise overlooked this text were it cost prohibited.

Overall, La ütz awäch? gives students the opportunity to develop speaking, reading and writing skills in Kaqchikel, along with insights into Kaqchikel culture and society, from farming practices to the origin of Kaqchikel family names. Best of all, the text is fun to use, as it is written in a format whereby you spend your time following the Ajpub' family as they go through their day to day routine. Thereby you not only gain unique insights into Kaqchikel life, but you also get a solid feel for what a 'normal' conversation would be like. By the time you work through this text you will have gained a working knowledge and vocabulary of Kaqchikel and an appreciation for modern Mayan culture. While you will not come away from this text an expert in Kaqchikel, you will be able to carry on a basic conversation with native speakers and you'll be able to read basic Kaqchikel texts. Without reserve I highly recommend La ütz awäch? to anyone interested in studying Kaqchikel or learning about Kaqchikel Mayan life! By the way, as you'll find after working through this book, La ütz awäch? means: How are you?

The only drawback to this otherwise excellent text is that there is not an accompanying audio component. Therefore, independent learners will need to seek out an 'audio' source so that they can hear Kaqchikel being spoken by a native speaker, and so that they can practice their listening skills. To this end, I've compiled a list of online resources on which you can find audio files of native Kaqchikel speakers and other information that can be used to increase your language skills. Students studying Kaqchikel in a classroom setting will also find these online resources very useful.

Related Reviews:

Kaqchikel Chronicles, translation and exegesis by Judith M. Maxwell and Robert M. Hill II.
Contains the only translation of the entire Chronicles, including all the texts of the Annals of the Kaqchikels and the Xpantzay Carulary.

An Introduction to the Study of the Maya Hieroglyphs, by Sylvanus Griswold Morley.
An introductory text on reading and understanding the Maya glyphs, calendar, and writing system.

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