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Language scientists head for the highlands of Guatemala

The first group of language scientists from UMD has arrived in Guatemala for a month of Mayan language study and research.  Throughout June, they will be taking intensive classes in Kaqchikel, staying with Kaqchikel-speaking host families, working on language research projects and observing the work of healthcare non-profit Wuqu’ Kawoq / Maya Health Alliance.

The trip is part of the development of LSC's Guatemala field station, directed by Dr Maria (Masha) Polinsky (LING/LSC) along with Guatemalan linguist Dr Pedro Mateo Pedro. While Mayan language research is the starting point for this trip, the field station is intended to support work across multiple disciplines - including hearing and speech sciences, public health, nutrition and migrations - by providing infrastructure and sustainable connections to local communities and organizations. Through a partnership with Universidad del Valle de Guatemala (UVG), the field station will also offer opportunities for training and collaboration with local Guatemalan students and researchers.

The UMD travelers include faculty members Masha Polinsky and Omer Preminger, graduate students Paulina Lyskawa, Gesoel Mendes and Rodrigo Ranero, Baggett fellow Chris Baron, and postdoc Ted Levin. They are joined in Guatemala by several other researchers: Carola Emkow (Free University of Berlin), Emma Bierings (University of Leiden), Elizaveta Vostokova (Higher School of Economics, Moscow) and Aleksandra Kozhukhar (Higher School of Economics, Moscow).

All are hard at work studying Kaqchikel, working with native speaker consultants, and meeting as a group for research discussions. Several of the research projects grew out of a course Masha and Omer taught this Spring on the structure of Mayan languages and some of the interesting theoretical issues that they raise for language science.

Lake Atitlán. Francisco Anzola, CC-BY 2.0

Interspersed with their language study and research, the group is going on field trips to rural areas with Wuqu' Kawoq medical experts to observe their work and giving presentations on their projects and on the field station’s activities to students and faculty at UVG’s Altiplano campus.

Don’t worry, there will be room for some fun too - including excursions to the Iximche Mayan ruins and to the incredibly picturesque Lake Atitlan.

Check out the group's blog and watch this space for news and photos from the trip, and updates on future field station activities!

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