[00:00:00] When I was a boy, I had the great fortune of living for a few years in my maternal grandparents’ house in a town called Tinum, which is near to Chichen Itzá. In this town, back then, the Maya who spoke Spanish were looked down upon. My grandparents would communicate with the workers, drivers, butchers, and maids in the Mayan language. Moreover, my younger brother and I had a Maya nanny. So, I learned two languages [Spanish and Mayan] simultaneously. From this came my interest in linguistic and anthropological studies, which I began in Mérida, the capital [of Yucatan ], by studying Maya philology. Now, because of my interest in colonial and pre-Hispanic philology, I was very aware that I would have to take classes in linguistics, anthropology, graphemics, semiotics, and, of course, Maya hieroglyphics. I could not do all of this at the University of Yucatán , and only with difficulty and only partly in Mexico City , for that matter. So I decided to do my postgraduate studies abroad.
[01:35:00] Back then [in my childhood], when the bell rang and we went outside for recess, I would learn, in Mayan from the other children, swear words. Those expressions are not easily forgotten, and they have, in fact, been very useful to me. When Ralph L. Roys was finishing the translation of his edition of The Ritual of the Bacabes, he asked me to translate some text on modern witchcraft. I read it and realized why he could not translate parts of the manuscript [himself]. He recognized some of the words as being in Yucatec Mayan, but the majority of the text was unintelligible to him. He believed that it was written in a mixture of Mayan languages. When I read the text, I immediately recognized those swear words that I had learned in elementary school. In this context, something very interesting happened. In pre-Hispanic Maya rituals, as is demonstrated in that text, which is from the early colonial period, the Maya high priest would invoke, clearly, respectfully, and solemnly, the deities that had caused the sickness of a Maya patient. At some point, the semi-human or supernatural priest draws nearer and nearer to the deity until he can hold it, capture it, stab it and shred it by cutting it into four parts, which he tosses to the four corners of the earth. As a show of his power over this deity, the priest insults it in front of the patient, which is a way of saying that the doctor-priest is much stronger, much more powerful than that malignant deity that had possessed the patient’s body. Now, these words are not in any dictionary. So you see, all of these expressions have been useful to me, and I have been constantly learning more in order to apply them to these areas of my studies.
[4:10:00] My work in Maya linguistics began at the University of Cologne. That is where I began studying generative grammar, which was the theory in vogue at the time, and I saw that the bulk of this Indo-American language could not be adequately described with the theoretical and methodological instruments of the time. From there, I began to take a new path and deal with all of those materials in a much more profound way than, what was called at the time, the “deep structure” of language. I began to work in a logico-semantic manner and was then able to explain scientifically the linguistic phenomena, which I studied by way of logical operators. I continued in this field of research and have been working on it here in Mexico, as well. My results have just become available in a publication about the vitality and influence of indigenous languages in Latin America.
[5:24:00] My studies of colonial Maya literature began practically the moment I arrived at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, invited by faculty colleagues here to give a class on colonial Maya literature. First, I computerized an edition of The Ritual of the Bacabes, which made it possible for us to get into an esoteric study because all of these texts are highly codified and expressed in a very beautiful, literary way. The first thing we had to define was: What exactly is Maya literature? and then, What are its characteristics? We began to find quite a few metaphors, metataxes and metaplasms and an immense wealth of literary resources employed in the imminent structure of this group of Mesoamerican literature.
[6:35:00] Colonial Maya philology is closely linked to that of pre-Hispanic times. That is to say, we see a sequential cultural tradition with the Maya starting in the pre-Hispanic era, which gradually continues into the first instances of contact with Europeans, even though it was prohibited for the Maya to write books in their own writing due to the unfortunate influence of Bishop Landa. The Maya, however, secretly continued copying their books, although little by little this tradition of glyph writing disappeared. And when they [the Maya] were asked to copy down everything they could about their own culture and, of course, religion, they had to do it in the Latin alphabet, and so we have the famous Chilames of the time: the Chilam Balam of Chumayel, the Chilam Balam of Tizimín, and the Chilam Balam of Kaua, etc. We researchers are fortunate to have the esoteric writing of a Maya incantation, which tells us explicitly that the writing, that is to say the Latin characters, is a transliteration of a codex of Maya hieroglyphics. And [in it] there are intra-linguistic translations. There are phrases that are unintelligible to the common Maya, even those Maya speakers from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, because only the initiated could understand Maya text. So, at certain points, the scribes would write these esoteric phrases and immediately give them to us in a more colloquial language, more understandable to the common speaker, thus providing us with its equivalent. And, of course, by doing this type of intra-linguistic translation, they opened many doors for us to understand the glyphs and graphic expressions of the Maya in their own writings.