‘Spoken Yucatec Maya’ online textbook republished

In the mid-1960s a set of Mayan language textbooks was created at the University of Chicago that has proven to be an invaluable resource for faculty and students around the world who are interested in learning Mayan languages. Originally created in analog form and distributed via photocopy and audio tapes, one of the textbooks, Spoken Yucatec Maya, was eventually turned into a website that was publicly available until last year, when it was taken down due to security concerns connected with its outdated web platform.

Today, as the result of collaboration between the University of Chicago Library, Professor John Lucy, and the Social Sciences Division, this critical teaching tool is now available to future generations on a sustainable platform at https://lucy.lib.uchicago.edu. Professor Lucy turned to the Library to find a new permanent home for the site when he began to get multiple inquiries from colleagues around the country who wanted to continue teaching with the textbook and were dismayed to find it no longer available.

The textbook consists of a complex set of interrelated components, including audio files, different orthographies, word lists, sentences, and conversations in both Maya and English, as well as grammar lessons and associated drills. In analyzing the structure of the textbook, Library staff realized it might be a perfect fit with OCHRE, a database platform developed at the Oriental Institute that the Library has long supported. Originally developed to handle archeological data, OCHRE is an excellent tool for modeling complex data relationships. Sandy Schloen and Miller Prosser, senior staff for the OCHRE Data Service, agreed that OCHRE could be used to translate the Yucatec Maya textbook into an interactive tool for learning that would support the course’s features such as alternative orthographic presentations, selective audio playback, and dynamic exercises. It will also allow the inclusion of new features not contained in the original version.

Screenshot of lesson on basic sentences in "Spoken Yucatec Maya"
"Spoken Yucatec Maya" Lesson Five: Basic Sentences

Now that the Yucatec Maya textbook has been launched on the OCHRE platform, it can provide a framework for potentially doing the same with other Mayan textbooks created at University of Chicago, such as Spoken Quiché Mayan, that were never translated into digital form. The Social Sciences Division and the Library are seeking funding to undertake this extended project.