“The Language of Gods”: The Pragmatics of Bilingual Parallelism in Ritual Ch’orti’ Maya Discourse


In this study I investigate the discursive function of parallelism in the ritual speech of Ch’orti’ Maya. Specifically, I examine the exploitation of the dual lexicons of Ch’orti’ Mayan and Spanish in the production of parallel structures. Ch’orti’ ritual speech is almost universally constructed in parallelistic fashion, accomplishing at once a near hypnotic cadence when performed, while also serving various pragmatic functions. I detail the dynamic breadth of what I refer to as bilingual parallelism, i.e., parallelism that involves the pairing of synonymous terms from different languages in a distich. The effective use of parallelistic speech is said by the Ch’orti’ to be an imitation of the speech patterns of the gods themselves, thereby further explaining its importance in ceremonial contexts when speaking to gods and otherworld beings.

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