Chris Rogers is an assistant professor in the Department of Linguistics and English Language. Professor Rogers recently had two books published dealing with the preservation of indigenous Latin American languages.
PROVO, Utah (Sept. 14, 2016)—For most of his life Chris Rogers, an assistant professor of the Linguistics Department at Brigham Young University wanted to be an adventurer. “I was always kind of convinced that I would grow up to be Indiana Jones because I couldn’t stand the idea of being in an office building,” Rogers explained, “On my mission in Peru, I fell in love with the jungle and the idea that there were communities all over the world who needed support.”
Since then Professor Rogers has done significant research into the preservation of indigenous Latin American languages. His most recent book entitled “The Use and Development of the Xinkan Languages” came out earlier this year in July.
Professor Rogers has spent a great amount of time studying a particular Guatemalan language group, Xinkan (sh-een-ka). When asked about the research process for his recent book Rogers said, “There is one last speaker of Xinkan. His name is Carlos. I went down there and lived with him for a while. I would bring him mangoes or whatever else he needed, and we would sit down and he would teach me his language.”
The Xinkan people are an indigenous group in Guatemala whose existence predates that of the Mayans. In the legends of other tribes and conquerors, the Xinka are denoted by their use of poisoned arrows, as they were the only culture in Mesoamerica to create them. While they used to span a vast area of Mesoamerica, they are now localized in the Santa Rosa department of Guatemala-Carlos being the sole native speaker.
In conjunction with his research, Rogers was also able to help develop workshops and after school programs so that children in the region can better connect to their cultural history by learning Xinka. These programs are especially appealing to those with grandparents or other relatives who were native Xinkan speakers.
Professor Rogers has also done research in the jungle regions of South America, where he believes that they are still new languages to discover. He shared an experience that occurred while he was studying Wichi (Wee-chee), a language indigenous to the jungles of Argentina. “We [Rogers and a native Wichi speaker] were just walking through the jungle and we stumbled across this community of people speaking a language that we knew about but that we didn’t know had a language community there. That’s something I love. There is always more to discover.”
Rogers also recently co-edited “Language Documentation and Revitalization in Latin American Contexts” a work that consolidates the writings of many different field researchers who are working to preserve various Latin American languages.
Researching linguistics in South America is a fairly new field and can be difficult as researchers attempt to work effectively with governments that may or may not support the preservation of these cultures. “It’s different everywhere you go,” Rogers stated, “For some communities they have a lot of national support.”
Other governments, however, are not supportive of the indigenous culture, viewing it as primitive and heathen. Rogers described what can be expected in countries hostile to language revitalization, “In those situations the communities tend to not even value their own language. They feel that they drew the short straw when they were born into their community and their belief system and it’s unfortunate. I think that everyone should have a right to speak the language of their culture. If they want to, they should be able to.”
Professor Rogers is always looking for new communities to help preserve and study their language. To contact him for more information or with a community that needs aid with language documentation, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Hannah Sandorf (BA Art History and Curatorial Studies ‘17)
Hannah covers events for the Linguistics and English Language Department for the College of Humanities. She is a junior pursuing a degree in art history with a minor in art.