Greetings from Antigua, Guatemala!


My research focuses on Spanish-Kaqchikel language contact in Antigua, Guatemala and the outlying villages, with regards to Spanish phonetics (i.e. their pronunciation). To that end, I have been conducting sociolinguistic interviews with primarily indigenous people in order to begin building a corpus of the Spanish spoken in this part of Guatemala. After my fieldwork is completed in mid-August my colleague Sarah Little of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and I will begin collaborating to investigate the phonetics of monolingual and bilingual speakers in Central Guatemala. With my corpus of Antigua and Sarah’s corpus of Guatemala City, we hope to begin empirically documenting the Spanish spoken in this corner of the globe, one that has long been neglected in the Hispanic Linguistics literature.

In the sociolinguistic interviews I ask participants to tell me about their life experiences, traditions, and local issues. While the objective of this type of data collection is to get participants to talk as much as they can in a colloquial style I am very interested in stories they tell me. A constant theme that runs through the interviews is that despite the problems that exist in their country there is an enduring sense of optimism. While many recall their family’s struggle to make ends meet while growing up, they also tell me about special moments from their childhood that to this day brings a smile to their face. While they talk about the violence, corruption and poverty in Guatemala, they also make sure to tell me about things they are doing in their local community to help each other out. They talk about the sacrifices their parents made for them and what they’re currently doing for their own children, to ensure that the next generation has a better life.

Another topic that is frequently brought up in the interviews is the increased access to education in Mayan communities. Although strolling through Antigua’s Parque Central you will still see indigenous children and teenagers selling textiles to tourists, my participants have been telling me that Mayans are attending more school than previous generations. For example, none of the interviewed older speakers graduated from primary school, but most of the younger generation participants have finished secondary school. This has important implications for studies on language contact, because more exposure to Spanish during these formative years may decrease the amount of contact features we can observe in their Spanish.

As such, in the interviews that I have collected there does appear to be a noticeable difference between the way younger and older indigenous speakers pronounce certain segments in Spanish. For example, just in sentence hay que alabar al Señor ‘one has to praise the Lord’, from an 81 year old, female, indigenous speaker, we can see some possible innovations of this contact variety of Spanish: longer aspiration on the voiceless stop /k/, a F2 value for /e/ that is closer to the vowel /i/, a more pronounced /b/ between vowels, and more friction in word-final r. Like in other contact situations, these innovations are probably attributable to a combination of factors, such as language dominance in Kaqchikel, age of acquisition of Spanish and time spent in the education system. This is why it’s important to collect interviews from monolingual Spanish speakers of the area to help determine if an innovation is a result of language contact or part of the Spanish these speakers acquired from the monolingual population.McKinnon_inthefield

Gathering this corpus of bilingual and monolingual speakers will be a rich data source for many future studies, and I want to thank the IU Center for Latin American & Caribbean Studies for this wonderful opportunity to not only investigate the Spanish spoken here, but also to capture the stories, memories and aspirations of the guatemaltecos.

Sean McKinnon is a PhD student in Hispanic Linguistics at IU.


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