ELAN workshop in CELALI

On January 7th, 2019, Morelia Vázquez Martínez led a workshop on how to use ELAN, a transcription program for linguists. Participants were CELALI employees who work with various languages of Chiapas. This program helps users transcribe and translate audio and video. This workshop was funded through an Engaged Opportunity grant from Engaged Cornell.

Morelia Vazquez Martinez

Morelia showing participants how to use ELAN

Me, José Armando

Hey there! My name’s José Armando. I grew up in Tijuana, Baja California. I am about to start graduate school at the University of California, San Diego. I just finished my undergraduate degree at Cornell University, majoring in linguistics and anthropology. It was far from where I’m from and quite cold! In any case, I will now start my PhD program in linguistics in San Diego – much closer to my family in Tijuana.


Me in San Miguel. I have to climb quite some stones to get to where the house is.

I first visited San Miguel and El Campanario, Chiapas in January 2018 to learn Ch’ol. I was tagging along with my mentor Carol-Rose Little. It was amazing! I thank wholeheartedly Morelia Vázquez Martínez, Nicolás Arcos Lopez, and their families for everything they have done. I visited them again this past August on the way to a conference in Guatemala called FAMLi5. I cannot wait to go visit them again.

I wish to continue to study Ch’ol because there is a lot in the language that I don’t know. It is a beautiful language. I also study Ja’a Kumiai, another native language spoken in Baja California, Mexico. My grandparents spoke Otomí, so the native languages of Mexico are dear to my heart.


Inside the kitchen in a house in San Miguel. Gotta love beans and eggs! They’re healthy, too!

Workshop: Lakty’añ ch’ol en la era de la tecnología

On August 3rd, 2018, bilingual Ch’ol-Spanish students and teachers from UNICH met at the Casa de la Cultura, Salto de Agua, Chiapas for a workshop on tools for documenting and preserving Ch’ol. Here is a video in Ch’ol with clips from the workshop.

This workshop was organized by Carol-Rose Little (Cornell University) and Silvestre Gómez Jiménez (CELALI). Funding thanks to Engaged Cornell. The invited speakers were Nicolás Arcos López (UIET) and Morelia Vázquez Martínez (ITSM).

Workshop 2: ELAN transcription

Members of the Ch’ol documentation project convened June 7th and 8th at CIESAS-Sureste in San Cristóbal de las Casas for a workshop focused on file management and transcription, organized by Juan Jesús Vázquez Álvarez and Jessica Coon, and with ELAN and audio file editing tutorials by Justin Royer and Sandra Cruz Gómez.

the group at work transcribing

Groups traveled from Oxolotán Tabasco (led by Nicolás Arcos López) and Yajalón, Chiapas (led by Bernabé Vázquez Sánchez). Altogether, they had collected more than 30 hours of Ch’ol recordings during the first phase of the project. During phase 2, they will select their favorite narratives to transcribe and translate. At the end, all materials will be uploaded to the Archive of Indigenous Languages of Latin America (AILLA).

Workshop 2 participants, back row: Bernabé Vázquez Sánchez, Juan Jesús Vázquez Álvarez, Sandra Cruz Gómez, Nicolás Arcos López, Félix López López, Jessica Coon, Justin Royer, Morelia Vázquez Martínez Front row: Patricia López Vázquez, Nilda Gúzman López, Lourdes Méndez Sánchez, Matilde Vázquez Vázquez

The secrets for scaring away the x-wäläk ok

María de Jesús Martínez Pérez and Adelaida López Gutiérrez. BA in Lengua y Cultura, 6th semester, Oxolotán, Tabasco.

It is said that the secret to scare away the x-wäläk ok (trickster elf) are: holy water, a liter of trago or tequila, playing cards, dice, marbles and a mirror. Once you have all these things, at midnight you have to go out and wait for the x-wäläk ok. In order to understand the ways of the x-wäläk ok you have to spend some time with him and play with him for a while and you also have to take the liquor with you so you can get him drunk.

Once drunk, the x-wäläk ok will start to cry like a child, and once he has lost consciousness,  you have to give him a good lashing so he won’t bother you again. Then you say three Hail Marys, three Our Fathers, and a Psalm 91, and this is how you ensure that the x-wäläk ok will not bother you again.

Consultant: Rosa del Carmen García García, 36 years old from Nueva Reforma, Municipality of Tacotalpa, Tabasco.

Another one of the secrets to free yourself from the x-wäläk ok is to weave two leaves of palm trees together and then throw them behind you in the path while you’re walking so that the x-wäläk ok will get distracted and then you can find the path again.

Consultant: Eliseo Martínez Pérez, 42 years old, from the community of Campamento Mirador, Municipality of Sabanilla, Chiapas.

Another trick is that you take a shit in the middle of the woods or in whatever place where you are, and then the x-wäläk ok take the shit it in his hands and he’ll start to smear it on his head and use it to comb his hair. You’ll distract him this way, because the x-wäläk ok will think it is perfume because he doesn’t know what it is. Then while he is distracted, you can go and look for the path and you can manage to get away.

Another one of the secrets is that you have to turn around everything you wear and you have to put it on backwards: shoes, clothes, hat, backpack. You have to put everything backwards so you can go out.

Consultant: Eliseo Martínez Pérez, 42 years old, from the community of Campamento Mirador, Municipality of Sabanilla, Chiapas.

Another one of the secrets to keep the x-wäläk ok from bothering you is that you have to do the special rites that our grandparents believed in. You have to burn candles and you have to offer some sacrifices in order to calm down his anger. If you are going out to hunt any animals you have to make sure that the animal that you are hunting is for your own subsistence, so that your children can eat, and this way the x-wäläk ok will stay calm. But if you just kill animals for killing and leave them lying there, that is where the x-wäläk ok will intervene to play with your thoughts and to get you lost, to punish you, so that you learn the lesson that everything in the woods has a lord.

The warning of the wäläk ok


Narrated by: Claudia Vázquez
From: Nueva Reforma, Tacotalpa, Tabasco.
Elaborated by: María de Jesús Martínez Pérez  
                           Adelaida López Gutiérrez
BA students in Lengua y Cultura, 6th semester in Oxolotán, Tabasco

On Septebmer 7th 2017, Mrs. Claudia was in her house cleaning up the dishes in the kitchen before going to bed. She began to hear noises, as if someone was washing a lot of pots. She thought it must be her neighbor still awake.

Mrs. Claudia went to peek in the corridor of her neighbor’s house to see if the light was on, but there was nothing, and it looked as if the neighbor had already gone to bed.

She went back to her house, but still heard the noises of the pots banging, but even louder. She was scared and went to wake up her husband.

She told her husband that down in the stream someone was banging pots really loudly, but Mr. Jorge didn’t hear anything. She thought it must be the the lord of the creek, the wäläk ok.

Mrs. Claudia was really scared and shouted: ¡Oh my God, what’s happening!

Once she stopped hearing the noise, she felt a strong earthquake. She yelled and woke up all of her family and neighbors. She thanked the wäläk ok, the lord of the creek, for warning about the the earthquake with the noises he had made.

Drawing 1.  By María de Jesús Martínez Pérez.

Chol variants: Tila and Tumbalá

Our language has different variants, and depending on the place in which it is spoken it can be identified as the dialect of Tila or of Tumbalá. Some words are different, but they have the same meaning. Here are some examples:

Tila                                        Tumbalá              Meaning

Tyuñ                                     Xajlel                    Rock

Ch’ijch’um                         Ñi’uk’                   chayote

Ch’ek’ajk                            Luty                       roasted corn

Yum                                      Tatuch                  grandfather

Luty                                      Loj                         twin

Mam                                    Buts                      grandchild

Chonkol                              Woli                      to be doing (progressive)

Majlel                                  Sam                       go

Yoke ja’as                           Ichija’as              banana

Chakal                                  Pits’il                     naked

K’uk’um                              Tsutsel                 feather

Tyejch                                  Kej                         round and flat (classifier of shapes)

Toñel                                   E’tyel                    work

Xä’bäl                                   Käkäw Sa’           chocolate pozol

Xajk’ul                                 Pats’                     bean tamale

Xäk’ä’                                   Bu’lewaj              bean tortilla

Sets’                                     Ch’ejew              clay plate

Xk’aläl                                  Xch’ok                  young woman

Bujk                                      P’o’                       clothing

Other words are not so different, but the pronunciation changes, for example

Momoñ                               Momoy            Hierba Santa

Pusk’al                                 Pusik’al             heart

Semety                               Semejty              comal

Yujmel                                 Yunjel                   unlce

Jomoch’                              Jomojch              Joloche

Mep’                                    Ñep’                     crab

Pejpem                             Pejpeñ                 butterfly

Ts’ijñ                                    Ts’ijm                   yuca

Je’el                                      Ja’el                      also

Ma’añ                                  Ma’añik               no, there aren’t

Ajñisañ                                Ajñesañ               chase it!

k’änjol                                 K’ajñol                  pillow

Xiye’                                     Xäye’                    eagle

A’bälel                                 Ak’lel                    night

Pijchik’                                 Pintsik’                 zanate

Che’jk’o’                             Ch’ejk’u’             woodpecker

The following audio was recorded by Silvestre Gómez Jiménez, a cultural promoter who worked in CELALI:

Owl (kuj)

The kuj is a bird that has won the respect, admiration, and fear of the Ch’ol people because of his wisdom and knowledge. The owl is capable of predicting, alerting, and communicating dangers within the community. They say that if the kuj cries out in the night near a person’s house, then there will be health problems with someone in that house, or someone will have an accident or even die.  In some cases when the community members notice the presence of the owl, they go out of their house to scare him away, or even try to kill him. But the effort is in van, because the problems will still happen.

The owl we hear at night or in the morning
Jiñi xkuj mi jkubiloñ tyi ak’lel o che’ tyi weñ säk’añ

We are afraid because we don't know if the message is for our family
Mi kbäjñalojoñ kome mach jkulik mi wä’ mi kaj yujtyel wokol

Sometimes it only scares us on its way to another place
Tyajoljach mi kbäktyesaloñ cha’añ mi majlel tyi yambä lumal

I don't kill it because it could be the nahual of another person
Joñoñ ma’añik mi ktsäñtsañ ame iwäyik lakpi’ilob