This book explores the articulation between “accent” and ethnic identification in K’ichee’, a Mayan language spoken by more than one million people in the western highlands of Guatemala. Based on years of ethnographic work, it is the first anthropological examination of the social meaning of dialectal difference in any Mayan language. Romero deconstructs essentialist perspectives on ethnicity in Mesoamerica and argues that ethnic identification among the highland Maya is multiple and layered, the result of a diverse linguistic precipitate created by centuries of colonial resistance.
In K’ichee’, dialect stereotypes—accents—act as linguistic markers embodying particular ethnic registers. K’ichee’ speakers use and recombine their linguistic repertoire—colloquial K’ichee’, traditional K’ichee’ discourse, colloquial Spanish, Standard Spanish, and language mixing—in strategic ways to mark status and authority and to revitalize their traditional culture. The book surveys literary genres such as lyric poetry, political graffiti, and radio broadcasts, which express new experiences of Mayan-ness and anticolonial resistance. It also takes a historical perspective in examining oral and written K’ichee’ discourses from the sixteenth to the twenty-first centuries, including the famous chronicle known as the Popol Vuh, and explores the unbreakable link between language, history, and culture in the Maya highlands.