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Mayan Historical Linguistics in a New Age



Mayan historical linguistic research has progressed at a healthy pace since the 1970s. The recent decipherment of ancient Maya hieroglyphic writing and the publication, in the last decade, of a large cohort of high quality linguistic descriptions of several Mayan languages, many of them written by native speakers of those languages, have opened a floodgate of new linguistic data that promises to revolutionize our understanding of the history of the language family. In particular, recent research has shown the Mayan region to have been a remarkably dynamic zone of language contact. Contact among Mayan languages has the potential to illuminate mechanisms and constraints on language contact between related languages. New data and attention to contact phenomena may also help clarify long-standing disagreements about the historical relationships among Mayan languages, particularly Wastek, Tojol-ab’al, and the language of the hieroglyphs, all of which have been an important impetus for historical linguistic research in the past decades.