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Reviewed by:
  • A Grammar of Chiapas Zoque by Jan Terje Faarlund
  • Carmen Jany
A Grammar of Chiapas Zoque. Jan Terje Faarlund. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. Pp. xiv + 177. $110.00 (cloth).

The Mixe-Zoquean languages are spoken in the Mexican states of Veracruz, Oaxaca, and Chiapas, or, as Wichmann puts it, “an area spanning the Mexican isthmus of Tehuantepec” (2014:1). The Zoquean branch of the language family comprises Gulf Zoquean, Chimalapa (Oaxacan) Zoque, and Chiapas Zoque. The present volume is the first widely accessible grammatical description of Chiapas Zoque as spoken in Ocotepec and Tapalapa. According to Wichmann (1995:9), Chiapas Zoque can be divided into four dialect areas: North, Northeast, Central, and South. Ocotepec and Tapalapa belong to the Northeast dialect area. Previous work on Chiapas Zoque in general is limited to some descriptive materials from the colonial period–in particular, an Arte of 1672 (González 1898, 1997) and a few descriptions produced during the twentieth century by associates of the Summer Institute of Linguistics (Engel, Engel, and Alvarez 1987; Harrison, Harrison, and Garcia 1981; Wonderly 1951a, 1951b, 1951c, 1951d). More recently, Faarlund has published a series of articles dealing with various syntactic and morphosyntactic topics (Faarlund 2004, 2007, 2012). Faarlund’s decade-long research on the language culminated in the present volume under review here. Given the very limited number of publications dealing with any of the Chiapas Zoque dialects, Faarlund’s work represents a valuable contribution to current scholarship on the Zoquean branch of the Mixe-Zoquean language family.

Chiapas Zoque is definitely vulnerable, if not endangered, by UNESCO classification. In fact, Moseley’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger (2010) lists two dialect areas of Chiapas Zoque as “definitely endangered,” meaning that children no longer learn the language as a mother tongue in their home. On the basis of the 2005 census, Moseley states that the Central dialects (Copainalá, Ostuacán, Tecpatlán) have 5,500 speakers and the Southern dialects (Ocozocuautla, Tuxtla Gutiérrez) only have [End Page 220] 312 speakers left. The Northeastern dialects described in the grammar reviewed here are not mentioned by Moseley. Faarlund (p. 3) estimates the total number of Chiapas Zoque speakers to be around 15,000, but he probably means specifically the Northeastern dialects, since his figure was arrived at by adding up the speakers for Ocotepec, Tapalapa, and Pantepec. The estimated number of all Chiapas Zoque speakers is 32,188, according to the Mexican National Institute for Indigenous Languages (INALI; Wichmann (2007:116) estimates the number of Zoque speakers at 47,544 (on the basis of the national census data from 2000 and estimates of Zoque speakers living outside of the Zoque area). While the exact number of Chiapas Zoque speakers may be uncertain, it is obvious that the language’s vitality is at risk due to the fact that most speakers are bilingual (INALI n.d.). As a result, Faarlund’s grammar is not only a valuable addition to linguistic scholarship, but also a piece of descriptive work that is important for the Zoque communities themselves. In fact, Faarlund mentions in his preface that he plans to prepare a Spanish version of the book to make it more accessible to the Zoque communities.

One shortcoming of this work is the lack of a clearly defined corpus of primary data on which the analyses are based. Although Faarlund notes (p. xi) that he relies on three types of sources–printed books and articles, recordings of native speakers, and elicitation–the nature and extent of the last two are not clear, nor is the difference between them explained. I would assume that elicited data was also recorded from native speakers and that “recordings of native speakers” refers to conversational or other natural discourse data. One sentence in the section on “Presentation of the Data”–“if no source is given, the example has been constructed or elicited from Zoque speakers from Ocotepec or Tapalapa” (p. xi)–is particularly worrisome, given that it is well known in descriptive linguistics that constructed or elicited examples often lead to erroneous analyses (Chelliah 2001). Moreover, since Chiapas Zoque includes four dialectal...


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