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Tojolabal Maya is spoken by 30,000-35,000 people in the Chiapas state of Mexico, near the border with Guatemala. Although still vital, the language is subject to many pressures and is endangered. Many Tojolabal speakers have moved to urban centers in Mexico and the U.S., some by choice, some due to social and political conflicts. Both groups often abandon their native tongue. In Chiapas, some bilingual communities have decided to drop Tojolabal use. With support from National Science Foundation, Dr. N. Louanna Furbee established the Tojolabal Language Documentation Center (TLDC) on June 8, 2007, in Comitán, Chiapas, and trained a team of five Tojolabal native speakers both to document the language in all its contexts of use and to prepare electronic archives of the documentation for the Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America (www.ailla.utexas.org). Linguists from Mexico and abroad collaborate directly with this native speaker team, intertwining their understandings of linguistic phenomena from different but mutually informative perspectives. Training of the Tojolabal documentalists of the Comitán center proceeded through workshops given by visiting experts, including indigenous scholars, who imparted the skills of language documentation and linguistic analysis.

The Tojolabal Language Documentation Center engages in a range of revitalization efforts, sharing their own documentalist preparation through offering three workshops of their own preparation and presentation with youth in collaborating Tojolabal-speaking villages, under the supervision of local advisory councils. The workshops are in (1) literacy, (2) literature creation, and (3) language documentation and archiving. The last teaches preparation of audio, photo, video, and text files for electronic archiving, as well as photographic, videographic, audio recording, and interviewing methods. At the completion of these three 10-week workshops, TLDC forms in the community a documentation center staffed by graduates of the workshops and supervised by a local advisory council. At present four such community documentation centers collaborate with TLDC-Comitán in documentation projects (e.g., of the Festival of All Saints) and in investigation (e.g., a study of the efficacy of our method for skills-based knowledge transfer, "contagious education"). By establishing literacy programs, literary activities, and research projects, by participation in forums and a radio program, by presenting formal papers, and by their language documentation efforts, the team increases the profile of the language and the perceived value of speaking it. TLDC organized itself into a Mexican non-profit in 2008 (Centro de Documentación del Idioma Tojolabal, A.C. (CDIT, A.C.).


Development of this web page is supported by the National Science Foundation, Grant #0650942.