A while back I reported on Mel Gibson’s new movie, Apocalypto, shot in Yucatec Mayan; now Ben Zimmer of Language Log provides an update with links to a video of Mel actually speaking the language as well as to A Grammar of the Yucatecan Mayan Language by David and Alejandra Bolles (a fine site, though frustrating in some ways—why on earth would you deliberately choose not to indicate vowel length or glottalization in a site intended for learners?). I also found a site that allows you to hear Mayans read sample phrases and sentences aloud, which is a real boon.
While I’m over at the Log, let me recommend a Berke Breathed Opus strip reproduced by Mark Liberman (involving an attempt by the chauvinist-pig character Steve to demonstrate his linguistic versatility: “I talk perfect woman”); and while I’m on audio links, here‘s a page where you can hear actual Belgians pronouncing the names of those wonderful beers (Maredsous is more or less mah-red-SOO).
Oh, one other tidbit: Ben says “the joke, such as it is, has Gibson speaking at length in Yucatec Maya, but the subtitles simply say ‘Not… …me.’ (The long-speech-with-short-subtitles gag was already getting tired when Mike Myers did it with Cantonese in Wayne’s World.)” This reminded me of an anecdote I read (by amazing coincidence) just yesterday, involving the very same dialect of Maya, as I was finishing Nelson Reed’s fascinating 1964 book The Caste War of Yucatan (the war began in 1847-48 and tailed off for decades); the author is making a trip to Yucatan in 1959 to round out his research for the book and interview anyone who might have personal knowledge of the events of the early part of the century, and he’s met an old gent named Don Norberto Yeh:
My next question, Did he remember the time of General Bravo [who conquered the independent Maya 1899-1912], brought a long, explosive diatribe (and Maya can be very explosive) which was translated, “The Señor says Yes.”