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Margarita Valdovinos

National Autonomous University of Mexico - (FIAS Program)
The construction of Yucatec Maya. From local language classes to the French Mayanist School
01 September 2022 -
30 June 2023
Social anthropology and ethnology

After obtaining her PhD in Ethnology at the Université Paris Nanterre (2008), she conducted postdoctoral research on Linguistics and Linguistic Anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin (2010-2011), and on History of Anthropology and Ethnographic collections at the Ethnologisches Museum and the Iberoamerikanisches Institut at Berlin (2012-2014). In 2014, she became associate professor at the Instituto de Investigaciones FilológicasUniversidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM)–, in Mexico City (tenure in 2017).

For twenty years, she worked on the ritual poetic practices of the Náayeri People of Western Mexico and on the ethnographic and phonographic collections gathered by the German ethnologist, Konrad Theodor Preuss, between 1905 and 1907 (1998-2018). Since 2019, she undertook a new research direction concerning the linguistic and cultural practices around the use of Yucatec Maya in urban and semiurban contexts, as she became a temporary visiting researcher at the Centro Peninsular en Humanidades y Ciencias Sociales (CEPHCIS- UNAM) in Mérida (Yucatán). There, she has been learning Yucatec Maya and getting to know more about the Mayan communities and the linguistic practices that emerge around their language.

In September 2022, she joined the Paris IAS as part of the French Institutes for Advanced Study fellowship program - FIAS - co-funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 945408. Her fellowship also benefits from the support of the RFIEA+ LABEX, with a national funding (Grant ANR-11-LABX-0027-01).

Research interests

Amerindian cultures and languages, ritual practices, verbal art, historic collections, language learning and socialization.

The construction of Yucatec Maya. From local language classes to the French Mayanist School

This research aims to consider the processes through which languages are constantly redefined by their speakers, amidst social, political, institutional and identity-related influences. Here, a very peculiar variant of Yucatec maya –the second most spoken Amerindian language in Mexico– is considered: the “cultivated variant” taught in French academic contexts in Paris. First, it will be analyzed from a linguistic perspective, and later, through the study of its theoretical and methodological implementation in language classes, as well as through the analysis of the sociocultural context of its production and dissemination.

The underlying hypothesis of this research is the idea that any expression of the language that entails a grammatical proposition should be considered as a variant of that language and thus, may be analyzed in relation to other existing variants. Thus, this project aims to reach a better understanding of the circulation of linguistic ideas through the study of both, the grammar-oriented variant used in the context of the French Mayanist School, and the influence that this variant may exert over –or receive from– previously registered “cultivated variants” identified in local classrooms among Native teachers back in the Yucatan Peninsula.

Key publications

2021 Preuss, Konrad Theodor. The Nayarit Expedition. Register of Texts and Observations among the Indigenous Peoples of Mexico: The Náayeri Religion through their Texts (3 volumes), Critical edition, coordination, preface, notes, and photographs from Margarita Valdovinos, XXI Century Editorial House – National Institute of Anthropology and History – Institute of Philological Research – National Autonomous University of Mexico – Ibero-American Institute of Berlin, Mexico.

2020 “Among Explorations, Grammars, and Prayers. The Contribution of the Cora Language for the Definition of the Sonoran Linguistic Group” Nahuatl Culture Studies, 57: 161-205.

2019 The Cicada chant and the enchantment of the world, Institute of Philological Research – National Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico.

Public lecture by Margarita Valdovinos, 2022-2023 Paris IAS Fellow
14 Sep 2022 18:00 -
14 Sep 2022 19:30,
Berlin :
The Encounter of Knowledges: Epistemic Dialogues in Unequal Contexts