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Pre-Columbian Society: Rearranging the File and Rank
Penn Museum - Philadelphia
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October 13
Saturday, 1:30 pm
Pre-Columbian Society Meeting
Rearranging the File and Rank:
A Consideration of Word Order and Animacy in Mesoamerican Artistic Production
Timothy J. Smith, Ph.D: Visiting Research Scholar, Program in Latin American Studies,
Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, Princeton University;
Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Appalachian State University.

Dr. Timothy J. Smith's paper revisits previous discussions of left/right symbolism in the Maya world by examining preferred orders of subjects in Mayan visual and linguistic production through a comparative study, using current ethnographic data on ceremonial presentation in highland Guatemala, speech events, colonial documents, and pre-Columbian Maya artistic production. Previous discussions have left little room for understanding artistic license and/or necessary breaks with cultural or cognitive schema, save for the use of "frequent" when discussing arrangements in Maya art. Dr. Smith argues that rather than viewing the "frequent" arrangement of figures in Maya art, both past and present, as indicative of deep cognitive structures reflective of super/subordinate considerations, the apparent patterns viewed in the artistic record may be linked to linguistic conventions, most specifically to preferred word orders for which previous arguments have been made concerning the linkages between word order and animacy. Moreover, Dr. Smith suggests a consideration of analytical models that make use of a consideration of restraints for understanding choice and preference, those which allow for alternative expressions, i.e. markedness, aesthetic, rejection, to best understand and identify both artistic and linguistic conventions involving ranked subjects in Maya art. A consideration of animacy, preferred word order, and learned collocations highlights an optimal order of privileging scene-final subjects over lower ranking counterparts, which may elucidate social order and worldview in addition to providing a comparative frame for examining symbolism in the both visual and textual productions in Mesoamerican cultures. Penn Museum, Room 345.


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