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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Linguistic and cultural continuity through the symbolic representation of the naj 'house' in contemporary Mayan poetry Wubbold, Manya


This interdisciplinary study (linguistic and literary) is based on a corpus of contemporary Mayan poetry that has been written in Peninsular (Yucatec) Maya and translated into Spanish by the authors. These particular poets were selected for this investigation because they have all participated in, or were influenced by the Resurgence in Mayan contemporary literature. And as writer/activists they write to promote and disseminate Mayan language and culture through poetry. All of the poems were selected for this corpus due to their rich depiction of Mayan cultural beliefs and symbolism and because they all feature the concept of naj ‘house’ as an essential and unifying theme. As the naj embodies (physically and metaphorically) the heart and/or center of Mayan Creation and re-Creation and is a recurrent conception in both pre-Colombian and contemporary Mayan literature, it is a key symbol utilized by these poets in reference to Mayan linguistic and cultural continuity. In addition to the naj, there are two other essential symbols―the three-stone hearth and the Ceiba or Mayan sacred tree―that unite these poems into a cohesive narrative. Like the naj, the three-stone hearth and the Ceiba are important icons in Mayan symbology representing the process of cultural generation and regeneration. By combining a linguistic (semantic) and literary analysis of the Mayan version of each poem, this investigation reveals information on how cultural symbolism is conceptualized and communicated through language and poetic expression unique to Mayan culture. In particular, this study focuses on the poets’ utilization of polysemous terminology and the poetic devices of difrasismo and parallelism to express complex networks of symbolic meaning. As this linguistic and poetic expression reflects structural aspects of the language as well as literary tropes recurrent in ancient (glyphic and pictorial) and contemporary works, it demonstrates a conceptual, linguistic, and literary continuity spanning millennia. The combined linguistic and literary analysis of this corpus was then utilized as the basis for a pedagogical proposal to be used in the training of bilingual teachers (Spanish/English) working in schools in Portland, Oregon serving a large community of Yucatec Maya living in diaspora.

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