The work of making the Mayan language, as found on their numerous buildings and monuments, available to researchers today has been one of the triumphs of linguistic and anthropological research. Success has only come in the last couple of decades, but the output of completed and ongoing projects has been immense.
It was a thrill, therefore, to fall over the Nova site supporting their TV show’s look at the decipherment of Mayan. If you follow the link to the Interactive Feature, you can actually hear the Mayan language of a stela dedication spoken while the English translation of each glyph is discussed in brief but fascinating detail.
It is quickly being forgotten that less than twenty years ago, we did not have the technology to make this research available to any but a limited few researchers. We need to keep reminding ourselves about how lucky we are.
Further south, in the lands of the Inca, Demetrio Tupac Yupanqui’s new translation of “Don Quixote” into Quechua is helping to boost the once-imperial language that had fallen on hard times.
Once the lingua franca of the Inca empire, Quechua has long been in decline. But thanks to Tupac Yupanqui and others, Quechua, which remains the most widely spoken indigenous language in the Americas, is winning some new respect. Tupac Yupanqui’s elegant translation of a major portion of “Don Quixote” has been celebrated as a pioneering development for Quechua, which in many far-flung areas remains an oral language. While the Incas spoke Quechua, they had no written alphabet, leaving perplexed archaeologists to wonder how they managed to assemble and run an empire without writing.
Both Google and Microsft have versions in Quechua, and the current government in Bolivia is trying to make fluency in Quechua a condition of civil service advancement. It might well survive.