By William F. Hanks
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Additional info for Converting Words: Maya in the Age of the Cross
At this point the plot thickens, and we can appreciate the frame of reference of the missionaries, for the root sin is a “positional verb” meaning “extended,” as in a thread or other flexible object stretched out, or as in the limbs of the body when fully extended. In this meaning, as a verb, it was perfectly ordinary and clearly in use throughout the colonial period, as indeed it is in modern Maya (Barrera Vásquez 1980, insert on 729; Bricker, Pó’ot Yah, and Dzul de Pó’ot 1998, 246). ” It is therefore relatively easy to read the collocation tusinil as “in its full extension,” and the expression would have been transparent, if somewhat odd, to any native speaker in the sixteenth century.
The challenge was to do so without fostering the persistence 4 Introduction of the old world from which the parts had come. The result was pervasive ambiguity, ambivalence, and an almost morbid fear of the unseen and the insincere hiding beneath the appearance of truth. We might call this the missionaries’ dilemma. I argue that the reducción actually had a third object, equally important with space and conduct, and equally salient in the peaceful conquest. That third object is language. 5 But the tie to language runs deeper still, since the indigenous languages were the objects, and not only the instruments, of reducción.
Being foreign, the ladino did not have the same credibility with the Spanish enjoyed by the European lengua. As Sánchez de Aguilar (1996 , 97) observed, indios ladinos were not universally appreciated by Spaniards. If the lengua was erudite and trustworthy, the ladino was slick and ambiguous. In terms of linguistic ability, lengua was a matter of degree, there being many priests who were described as medio lengua ‘half lengua’, whereas ladino was more of a logical extreme, and no Indios were described as “medio ladino,” even though knowledge of Spanish was certainly gradient among Maya people.