5032 - Words and their meaning: Lexical semantics of Christian discourse in Colonial K'iche'

The history of K'iche' language documentation starts with the evangelisation project in the sixteenth century. Missionaries created an extensive body of language resources including doctrinal texts, dictionaries and grammars, while indigenous authors employed the new media of alphabetic writing and Spanish text genres to record their own narrative traditions. Recent studies have shown that missionary and indigenous sources and the language used therein are synoptically related (see Hanks 2010, Sparks 2011).

To express Christian ideology and discourse in K'iche', the missionary linguists had to establish a new terminology. The patterns of lexical creation in the missionary data include the semantic extension and reanalysis of existing K'iche' terms as well as the introduction of neologisms by means of loan translations, Spanish loan words or descriptive paraphrasing. Which strategies were employed depends to a certain extent on the theological tradition of the respective authors. The Dominican practice relied, inter alia, on the reuse of existing K'iche' concepts and creatively exploited the language's own means of word formation to denote Christian concepts.

This paper will analyse morphosyntactic patterns of word formation (i.e. derivation, composition and incorporation) as well as grammatical and stylistic devices (metaphor, metonymy) used to create Christian discourse in K'iche'. It can be shown that innovations in the lexicon and the use of poetic couplet structures were in certain cases based on understandings of Spanish lexical semantics.

Taking examples from the semantic fields of cosmological and moral discourse, it will be explored in which way semantic referents and domain structure differ in the missionary and indigenous sources and to what extent indigenous authors made use of the Christian terminology. The analysis will draw on textual data from missionary language sources as well as indigenous títulos , dance dramas and notarial documents.

Keywords: K'iche', Christian discourse, lexical semantics

Author: Sachse, Frauke (University of Bonn, Germany / Deutschland)


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