Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Converting Words

Converting Words: Maya in the Age of the Cross

William F. Hanks
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 472
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Converting Words
    Book Description:

    This pathbreaking synthesis of history, anthropology, and linguistics gives an unprecedented view of the first two hundred years of the Spanish colonization of the Yucatec Maya. Drawing on an extraordinary range and depth of sources, William F. Hanks documents for the first time the crucial role played by language in cultural conquest: how colonial Mayan emerged in the age of the cross, how it was taken up by native writers to become the language of indigenous literature, and how it ultimately became the language of rebellion against the system that produced it.Converting Wordsincludes original analyses of the linguistic practices of both missionaries and Mayas-as found in bilingual dictionaries, grammars, catechisms, land documents, native chronicles, petitions, and the forbidden Maya Books ofChilam Balam.Lucidly written and vividly detailed, this important work presents a new approach to the study of religious and cultural conversion that will illuminate the history of Latin America and beyond, and will be essential reading across disciplinary boundaries.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94491-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xx)
    (pp. xxi-xxiv)
  7. 1 Introduction: The Field of Discourse Production
    (pp. 1-22)

    The Spanish conquest of Yucatán rested on two major columns, military subjugation and the so-calledconquista pacífica‘peaceful conquest’. The military conquest was carried out by a relatively small number of soldiers, armed with swords, armor, muskets, horses, and dogs, and assisted by their indigenous allies. After decades of advances, setbacks, and regroupings, it came to an end, at least officially, in 1547. The peaceful conquest, by contrast, was carried out by an even smaller number of missionaries and their recruits, armed with monumental built spaces, the cross, religious vestments, the Bible and doctrine, the Host, wine and oil, and...


    • 2 Perpetual Reducción in a Land of Frontiers
      (pp. 25-58)

      The Maya were highly organized before the arrival of the Spanish—especially prior to but also after the demise of the Mayapán confederacy in the mid-thirteenth century. Given the accumulated experience of the Spanish and the missionaries in New Spain and elsewhere and given what they found in Yucatán, there is no question that they recognized that the Maya were already living in a complex society. There was a single language across the peninsula, a dense expanse of Maya “towns,” clear status distinctions among social groups, and rule of law, not to mention the tangible if diabolical achievements of the...

    • 3 To Make Themselves New Men
      (pp. 59-84)

      This chapter moves from the politico-religious landscape of the province to thepueblos reducidos,where the conversions of conduct and language were actually played out. Whatever impact doctrinal language and practice would have on the indios, it would arise in the local fields of daily life. What were the structures of governance and fields of engagement that ordered towns and the conduct of their inhabitants? How were theguardianíasstaffed, and what roles were accessible to Maya? How did the missions interact with the cabildo government in pueblos reducidos ? How did they interact with the town as a public...


    • [PART II. Introduction]
      (pp. 85-92)

      I HAVE CONCENTRATED SO FAR on the establishment and organization of the Provincia de San Josef de Yucatán, including the regional configuration, theguardianías,and the main forms of governance at the level of thepueblo reducido.At this point I begin to shift attention toward the role of language in this overall process. Each of the organizational forms described functioned simultaneously as a field of communicative practices. The mission was the site of doctrinal instruction, and of the church where children were taught and religious practice took place. From the missions came linguistic studies composed or brought together by...

    • 4 From Field to Genre and Habitus
      (pp. 93-117)

      Thereducciónwas implemented in a complex field where several systems of governance interacted and where all these different spheres and the positions they entailed for individual people and groups corresponded with particular spaces and places. To describe the social context ofreducciónas a “field” is to underscore certain of its features. in each of the three spheres of space, conduct, and language, there were highly organized schemas that defined actor positions such asprovincial, guardián, frayle, maestro cantor, alcalde, batab,andsublevado.Similarly, places were defined, such as thepueblos de visita,thecabeceras,theconventogrounds, the...

    • 5 First Words: From Spanish into Maya
      (pp. 118-156)

      Thus far I have drawn freely from the written works of religious authors, including Landa, López Medel, Toral, the Franciscan provincials, the bishops, Sánchez de Aguilar, Lizana, and Cogolludo. The works in question were all written in Spanish and directed to a Spanish-speaking audience, with only occasional and selective words or phrases cited in Maya. They were of several genres, including the officialordenanza;the episcopal or provincialmemoria;thehistoriaandrelación,which share a wide temporal and thematic scope; theinforme,with its narrow thematic focus; and thecarta(letter). All these genres have well-defined authors, named in...

    • 6 Commensuration: Maya as a Matrix Language
      (pp. 157-203)

      In the previous chapter, I showed that the process of translating Spanish into Maya was a matter of commensuration: (1) the Spanish form and (2) its standard meaning were brought into alignment with (3) a Maya form and (4) its standard meaning. The two-column format of the dictionary abbreviates this four-part construct, with the matrix language (L1) on the left and the target language (L2) on the right. The resulting apparently simple couplet aligns the forms as a way to align the meanings. When I call the two orders of signification “standard,” I mean that the headword and the L2...

    • 7 The Grammar of Reducción and the Art of Speaking
      (pp. 204-241)

      Although dictionaries were initially related toartes,the two genres present many contrasts. The colonial Mayaarteis a published work by a named author, endorsed in a series of approvals and licenses by named individuals at stated dates and places, and appearing under a title page stating the year and place it was made final by the press. An unpublished work may remain open-ended, whereas one that has been vetted and printed is complete. The kind of information in the two genres is also different. The dictionary aligns the semantics of expressions in the two languages, creating a relation...

    • 8 The Canonical Word
      (pp. 242-276)

      The doctrinal works of the missionarylenguas—catechisms, a confessional manual, a manual for ministry to the sick, and sermons—constitute a substantial body of literature that has remained virtually unstudied beyond the scholarly introductions and notes of René Acuña (1996, 1998). To my knowledge, no scholars have attempted to compare the published doctrinal texts or to determine their relation to other colonial Maya texts. There are several likely reasons for this. For one thing, the scholars most engaged in analyzing Maya texts have pursued other topics. These include especially governance at the levels of region and town (see works...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)

    • [PART III. Introduction]
      (pp. 277-282)

      At this point we move away from theguardianíaand the genres ofMaya reducidoproduced by missionary authors, to enter the Maya sphere and examine works produced by indigenous authors. The transition is stark because the genres differ fundamentally in form, purpose, and, of course, authorship. Rather than dictionaries, grammars, and doctrinal texts, all of which are pedagogical and grounded in European genres, indigenous authors produced notarial documents, ritual prescriptions, and the Books of Chilam Balam. The first major difference is that whereas we know more or less what thevocabulario, arte,anddoctrinaare as genres, it is...

    • 9 The Scripted Landscape
      (pp. 283-314)

      The town andcabildowere not only sociopolitical entities but also spaces in which a variety of genres were produced by authors, scribes, and principals whose first language and primary identity were Maya. Written almost exclusively in Maya, these works display many of the properties seen in the missionary sector: the emergence ofMaya reducidoas a hybrid born of the fusion of Maya with European languages, the dynamic combination of oral and written production, the proliferation of copies and versions through iteration, recopying, emendation, and cross–referencing. notwithstanding the legal, social, linguistic, and ethnic divisions that characterized yucatán, these...

    • 10 Petitions as Prayers in the Field of Reducción
      (pp. 315-337)

      Like the other notarial genres, collective letters and petitions are the products ofcabildomembers acting in their official capacities. Most show the full notarial apparatus: one or more scribes, a specified date and place of production, a ‘we’, ‘in front of them’, addressing a ‘you’. Whereas the major land documents performativelycreateplaces through the actions of the principals, the petitions describe apreexistinggrievance or condition, usually some suffering inflicted upon the principals by others. Excessive tribute, labor extraction, andrepartimientoare common complaints, as are the misdeeds of named individuals.

      Nevertheless, petitions are performative: they perform a...

    • 11 Cross Talk in the Books of Chilam Balam
      (pp. 338-364)

      The notarial documentation clearly demonstrates that at least some Maya people in the pueblos learned to write and produced works in alphabetic script as early as the 1550s. The genres examined in the previous two chapters are all part of the governance of thepueblos is perhaps unsurprising that the language in which they are cast is itselfMaya reducido,with traces of doctrinal Maya. in the present chapter, we move to the far end of the discourse formation, where texts were written by Maya authors for Maya addressees,outsidethe spheres of governance and mission. The works...

  11. Epilogue: Full Circle
    (pp. 365-372)

    The processes of conversion explored in this book had a penumbra of effects, including the making of modern Maya. religion would become a cauldron of social change throughout the colonial and modern periods. To show the legacy ofreducciónin the nineteenth and twentieth centuries would require another book-length study. A few provocative examples will have to suffice.

    In relation to the emergence of modern Maya discourse practices, my thesis has three parts. First, the linguistic processes of commensuration, translation, and iteration were central in driving changes in Maya. New forms and practices of expression emerged, and the basic translingual...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 373-402)
    (pp. 403-414)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 415-440)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 441-442)