Carlos Montemayor


Preface to the Tzeltal Dictionary (translation)


Some time ago Marianna Slocum published a Tzeltal Vocabulary in this same series. Now, with the important collaboration of Manuel Cruz Aguilar, she delivers to us the Tzeltal Dictionary. The difference between a vocabulary and a dictionary is neither numerical nor quantitative. A vocabulary is an initial linguistic tool with which to draw close to a people. A dictionary, on the other hand, is not simply a preliminary approximation but rather a robust one; a dictionary requires knowledge of the culture of the people who speak that language.

Indeed, it is impossible to separate knowledge of a language from the culture it illuminates. Languages are not mechanisms whose parts can be interchanged automatically. Each language possesses a secret of the world and teaches us to understand it in a different way. It is impossible to understand humanity through only one language. And impossible to understand Mexico from only one. One cannot respect a human being, a people or a country unless one respects and values their language.

The appearance of the Tzeltal Dictionary by Marianna Slocum is important at this point in time. It is a true symbol of communication with the indigenous groups of Chiapas. It is the building of a bridge of communication between two languages to help us draw close to them and to dialogue. At a time such as this, the work of anthropologists, historians, teachers, writers and linguists such as Marianna Slocum and Manuel Cruz Aguilar are forces for peace. With efforts such as these, it is possible for us to draw close to the deep Mexico that we do not know—to draw close to be just with that Mexico which we also are.

December 1998