Dialectal homogenization and social meaning of differences: The Rise of New Dialects of Q’eqchi’

Sergio Francisco Romero

Vanderbilt University, United States of America


This paper will be a comparative study of new dialect formation in Mayan focusing on the rise of a new dialect of Q’eqchi’ in the northern lowlands of Guatemala, which only 40 years ago were uninhabited rain forest. Based on participant observation and the quantitative analysis of 36 monolingual interviews in Q’eqchi’ with speakers from the counties of Coban, Carcha, Chisec and Sayaxche, I will show that in situations in which migrants from different dialect areas whose prestige and social status are equivalent, language ideologies, and not just internal linguistic factors, drive the crystallization of new dialects by virtue of social and cultural differences between the settlers and the first generation of speakers born in the new settlements.

There are at least two different dialects in the original Q’eqchi’ heartland in the highlands of Alta Verapaz: Eastern (counties of Cahabon, Lanquin, Senahu, parts of Carcha) and Western (counties of Coban, Carcha, Chamelco). The variables that distinguish them are phonological (palatalization of obstruents, fortition of /w/), morphological (completive aspect marking) and lexical. The differences are systematic, consistent and function as linguistic stereotypes. However, in areas recently settled by Q’eqchi’ migrants, the first generation born in the new settlements has crystallized a new variety devoid of the features stereotyped as regional emblems in the highlands. The new variety shares most of the forms common to the majority of dialects minus the stereotypes. Lowland speakers avoid palatalized consonants, even those whose parents use them in their speech. For example, the use of palatalized [a:ʧin] ‘word’ instead of the widespread from [a:tin] is highly stigmatized and semi-consonants that have not undergone fortition [w > kw] are rare, unlike the first settlers' speech. Regarding social prestige of the various settler dialects, the picture is similar to that described in Trudgill (2004) for New Zealand English in the middle and late 19th century, since none of the dialects spoken by the original settlers is more ‘prestigious’, hegemonic or a standardized form. However, I will show contra Trudgill that social practices and language ideologies, especially among the youth of the second generation, are driving this dialectal genesis. The attitudes of speakers born in the highlands and speakers born in the new territories differ in their evaluation of highland dialects. For first generation migrants, their native dialect is an emblem of their regional and cultural identity, which they value and maintain. For the second generation, it indexes a new identity and social networks independent from their parents’. No extraneous linguistic ideology or institutional pressure is necessary as the enregisterment of the new dialect as linguistic emblem of a new social and cultural identity. Peer-pressure through joking and teasing is the mechanism through which the first generation is enforcing this new variety. Adolescense is the critical period in which the new dialectal identity is finally acquired.


Trudgill, Peter. 2004. New-dialect formation : the inevitability of colonial Englishes. Edinburgh : Edinburgh University Press,

Session: Paper session
Variation 3
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 15:45-17:15
room: 09