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Harrington, John Peabody 1884-1961  Search this
Physical description:
25 boxes
Indians of Mexico  Search this
Mayas  Search this
Field notes
Yucatán Peninsula
circa 1920-1960
Microfilm and digital surrogates of microfilm are available. See Volume 7, reels 14-25. Only original documents created by Harrington, his coworkers and field assistants, or field notes given to him by others were microfilmed.
John P. Harrington's study of the Yucatec language of Mexico was undertaken in at least five distinct phases. Both in correspondence and in a draft of a Quiche grammar, Harrington claimed that his first study of the Maya stock was conducted with Eduardo Caceres, a fluent speaker of Maya proper from Merida in the state of Yucatan. They evidently worked together in National City and San Diego, California, around 1914.
In the Sixty-fifth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology for 1947-1948, Harrington reported that he had recently completed a grammar of the Maya language as well as an article comparing the ideographic writing systems of the Maya, Egyptians, and Chinese. In the following year he continued his revision of these two works and studied the etymology of the word "Maya." His work on the grammar was evidently made possible through studies undertaken with two Yucatec speakers residing in New York City.
Notes indicate that Harrington was in contact with Arthuro Medina (abbreviated "Med.") by at least September 1948. Medina was from Tikul, near the ruins of Uxmal, a few miles south of Merida, and his wife was also from the Yucatan. Through them Harrington learned of a second Maya speaker, Castulo Ucan. Evidently beginning in mid-November 1949, Harrington made a number of trips of several days duration to New York to work with Ucan. Letters which he wrote to bureau chief Matthew W. Stirling in November and December describe Ucan (abbreviated "U.") as a good informant and make mention of the "Motul dictionary" which he used as a questionnaire during their work together.
Although he felt that his work with these informants had been satisfactory, Harrington still wished to travel to Merida to conduct fieldwork with additional informants. He arrived in Merida on Saturday, February 11 and returned to Washington, D.C., on April 11 "bringing a large quantity of linguistic material" as well as "ten half-hour recordings of stories in the Maya language" which he had recorded on tape.
Harrington's first Mexican informant was Isaias Uc whom he described to Stirling as "a treasure," someone who spoke Spanish as a professor, with "a wonderful vocabulary for grammatical terms." Their work included a review of the grammar by Daniel Lopez Otero. He also worked with David Arceo H. (evidently abbreviated "A."), whom he described as "an unsurpassed teacher of Maya," with a knowledge of proverbs and traditional Maya history. From Arceo he was able to obtain a handwritten translation of the Treaty of Mani, from Maya to Spanish, as well as tape recordings of the same.
Other informants with whom Harrington evidently worked during this same period include Pascual Ayora Taliaferro (also spelled "Talavera" and abbreviated "P.") and Geronimo Pacheco. He also received nonlinguistic information from Dr. Solis, Mr. Romero M., Mr. Nichols, Willey (possibly Gordon R. Willey), and Harry, among others.
On March 9, 1951, Harrington had the opportunity to return to Mexico to pursue studies of the classical Aztec, or Nahuatl, language. During the approximately six months he spent there he also worked with another Yucatec speaker, Domingo Canton Aguilar (abbreviated "Ag.") and his wife, who were from Xochimilco in the Distrito Federal. Harrington referred to the latter as Maria Pura Aguilar de C.
Aguilar accompanied Harrington back to Washington, D.C., to assist in the preparation of a grammar and a dictionary of the Maya language. In the same fiscal year (1951 -1952) Harrington completed a monograph on the numeration system of the Valladolid Maya Indians of Yucatan.
Electronic inventory available. Consult with archivist. For a comprehensive description of these materials, see "The papers of John Peabody Harrington in the Smithsonian Institution, 1907-1957, Volume 7: A guide to the field notes: Native American history, language, and culture of Mexico/Central America/South America," edited by Elaine L. Mills (1988).
This subseries of the Mexico/Central America/South America series contains Harrington's Yucatec research. The materials consist of vocabulary, grammar, texts, writings, and miscellaneous notes.
The Yucatec vocabulary falls into three distinct subsections. The first consists of wordlists from an unidentified informant, supplemented by a little ethnographic and anecdotal material. A second set of vocabulary was recorded from Domingo Canton Aguilar and his wife (abbreviated "Ag. Y Sra."). They contain references to the dialects of Nahuatl spoken by Alfonso Hernandez Catarina (Alf.) and Arcadio Sagahon (Arc.). The third and most extensive section is a file of semantically arranged lexical items. The notes include a mixture of excerpts from secondary sources and original data recorded by Harrington. There are some notes in unidentified handwriting scattered throughout. A number of large subject categories--corporeal, animals, and material culture--are subdivided.
The grammar files consist of extensive notes and a rough draft for a grammar of the Yucatec language. The material is somewhat repetitious due to the presence of variant drafts. The notes contain a mixture of general observations on various points of grammar, extracts from published sources, and original field data. The rough draft and accompanying notes are filed under two headings "Maya Grammar and Lists" and "Maya Language and Semantic Lists." The introduction includes a bibliography of other dictionaries and grammers, a description of the physical features of the Yucatan peninsula, and a discussion of the Maya linguistic stock. The body of the material is divided into categories on phonetics, morphology, verbs, adverbs, particles, nouns, pronouns, conjunctions, interjections, and unsorted topics. The sections dealing with phonetics and verbs (the latter is labeled "Uc. on Lop.") are particularly extensive. A typed manuscript of 308 pages (former B.A.E. ms. 4782) titled "Maya Grammar and Lists" was submitted by Harrington in 1952 for publication as a Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin. The language presented is the ''standard dialect of the states of Yucatan and Campeche." The grammar contains a detailed table of contents, furnishes details on the geographical background and history of the Yucatan peninsula, and discusses Maya grammars and dictionaries.
Yucatec textual material is of three types. The first set consists of myths, the second of records relating to the ''Treaty of Mani," and the third of notes on a Yucatec religious newspaper dating from 1949. Thirty pages of native myth texts contain interlinear translations in a mixture of Spanish and English. The stories include "El Milpero, el Cascabel, el Perro, el Tigre" and "El Zorro y la Esposa del Milpero." The four-page text "Le Ocb Yetel Can" is in the hand of David Arceo H. The "Story of the Blind Hammockmaker" was recorded from Arceo with English and Spanish translation. There is also a summary of the story of venado and tortuga. Material relating to the "Treaty of Mani" includes a word-by-word translation of the treaty, a typed version with free translation and notes, and correspondence with Arthuro Medina and David Arceo H. dating from July 1948 and March 1950. There is also a copy of one issue of the newspaper U Tajil T'au dated November-December 1949. There are a few pages of related notes.
Harrington's writings on Yucatec begins with notes and a rough draft for the article "Original Form and Application of Maya." The paper, which is concerned with the etymology of the name "Maya," discusses the six names by which the Yucatan peninsula is known. There are also notes and drafts for two related articles titled "Egyptian, Chinese and Mayoid Ideographic Writing" and "Reading the Maya Ideograms." This material is followed by a partial rough draft titled "Maya Ideograms Being Read"; it is not clear whether the handwriting, which is not Harrington's, is that of a copyist or a "ghost writer." Dating from June 28, 1950, are extensive notes on the Maya system of counting, arranged behind heading sheets which are labeled "How the Maya Count," "Maya Enumeration," and "V[alladolid] Maya Counting." It appears that Harrington originally worked on several drafts of an article with these different titles; the material is now inextricably mixed. The subtopics covered are arithmetical processes, systems of measures, and time reckoning (including discussion of the twenty-day month). Also filed here is a rough draft labeled "Draft for the Ag. typewritten paper on May[a] Numeration" and a typed draft titled "The Maya Count." "The Maya Count" discusses the system of counting used in the northern part of the Yucatan peninsula by speakers whose language was probably a direct descendent of the language in which the Maya hieroglyphics and codices were written. There are also notes and drafts of reviews which he drafted from 1948 through 1960. The file of writings ends with rough notes for proposed papers on "Maya Hieroglyphic Writing," "Maya Linguistic Stock," and "Influence of Maya and Yucatan Spanish on Each Other."
The section of miscellaneous notes on Yucatec includes a small file of correspondence. There is a letter from Isaias Uc C., Campeche, Mexico, in 1950; a carbon copy of a letter to Jesse Shaw dated April 14, 1952, regarding arrangements for Domingo Aguilar's travel to the United States; handwritten drafts of two letters to John Linkins; and a typed copy of a lengthy letter to Dr. Tozzer from an unidentified writer. Also included is a section labeled "Persons & Addresses," as well as some notes on the sound recordings which Harrington made during fieldwork in Mexico in 1950. The file concludes with what appear to be drafts of annual reports. There is the first page only of a typed statement titled "Maya Language Studies." This is followed by ten handwritten pages of notes which refer to three papers on Maya ideograms and numerals.
Cite as:
Mexico/Central America/South America: Yucatec, John Peabody Harrington papers, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution
Repository Loc.:
National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Museum Support Center, Suitland, Maryland
Maya language  Search this
Language and languages--Documentation  Search this
Linguistics  Search this
Toponymy  Search this
Grammar, Comparative and general  Search this
Maya numeration  Search this
Maya calendar  Search this
Local number:
Accession #1976-95
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John Peabody Harrington papers: Mexico/Central America/South America, circa 1907-1960
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National Anthropological Archives