Once More with Feeling: A Forbidden Performance of the 'Great Speech' of the Mopan Maya


The Great Speech of the Mopan Maya cannot be simulated, for fear of supernatural consequences. Above all, sexual partners may not engage in it. On one occasion, however, a Mopan husband and wife did agree to demonstrate this genre to me. They were well aware that what they were doing was highly taboo, as their use of containment strategies makes clear. I propose from this example that utterances which are immune to hedging by explicit quotation may nevertheless be mitigable by indexical double-voicing, because indexical double-voicing inverts the process by which taboo is produced. Indexical signs, with their necessary relation of form to content, are mobilized in taboo and ritual speech as semiotic icons of the desired necessary relations between proximate form and primary, authoritative motivation. Such an iconic function is unavailable to arbitrary symbols, whose sign relations are instead icons of contingency.