An integral component of the Strategic Plan focuses on six key values that the university inculcates in its faculty, staff and students. They are creative, culturally adept, innovative, transformative, globally engaged, and collaborative.  Dr. Mary Brody, a Professor in the Department of Geography and Anthropology, explains how she personifies the value culturally adept.

by Dr. Mary Brody, Professor, Department of Geography and Anthropology

Photo Credit:  Antonio Gomez 

My academic career has been devoted to the investigation of the structure, use practices, and ideologies of the Tojolab’al language speech community. Tojolab’al is a Mayan language, spoken by perhaps 30,000 people in the state of Chiapas, Mexico (adjacent to the border with Guatemala). This is an endangered language, in that many children are not being taught Tojolab’al and are only learning to speak Spanish, the dominant national language. Language practices in the community are undergoing rapid change, especially since the Zapatista uprising, which occurred in 1994, and whose heartland was the Tojolab’al region. The present is a crucial time in the life of this language.

Currently, I am investigating the speech of youth in this linguistic community in order to see how the language is changing. For my sabbatical research, my assistant (a native speaker of Tojolab’al in her 30s) and I collected and transcribed nearly 100 recordings from speakers ages 16 to 26. Although I am primarily interested in the language structure evidenced, the content is fascinating, including mythological tales, life accounts, and reflections on their language and traditions. 

I engage in fieldwork in Chiapas every summer. I am the only person in the U.S. certified and qualified to interpret in courts for monolingual speakers of Tojolab’al for those who are  detained in the U.S., a task which is linguistically and culturally challenging.  I constantly fold my research into my teaching, especially in the Special Topics course “Mayan Language and Culture” and my regularly offered courses ANTH/LING 3060 “Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology” and ANTH/LING 4060 “Language and Culture”.