ILA lectures will take place on Zoom in 2023. We have an amazing line-up of speakers.


May 6, 2023

Benjamin Lee Whorf and the Maya Rosetta Stone

Dr. Kathleen O'Connor-Bater
SUNY at Old Westbury

Time: May 6, 2023. 11:00 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
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Meeting ID: 832 1925 1181
Passcode: 965856

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Fray Diego De Landa (1524-1579) was a Spanish Bishop, sent to the Yucatán in 1549 charged with Christianizing the Maya people; and, in keeping with the mandate of the Inquisition, burning nearly all of their manuscripts in an effort to eradicate their pagan idolatry (1). The loss of these writings did immeasurable damage to our decipherment of Mayan written texts for hundreds of years. Nevertheless, De Landa’s documentation of the Maya religion, culture language and writing system, titled Relación de las cosas de Yucatán, published in Spain 1566, became a source for the decipherment of a several hieroglyphs that twentieth century scholars were able to build upon as they attempted to decode the Mayan writing system (despite experiencing much trial and error in the process) (2). One independent scholar, Benjamin Lee Whorf, availed himself of De Landa’s text with its later markings referring to it as a kind of Rosetta Stone, (3) which would allow a linguist to decode both phonetic and grammatical information in looking for patterns in the decipherment of syllables made up of phonetic sequences in complete sentences.

This talk is dedicated to the memory of Joseph L. Malone. It examines Whorf ‘s work, which, while not free of flaws in interpretation, succeeded in breaking the ground for new approaches to deciphering Maya glyphs as a “fully literate” code for which he devises a formula for its analysis: Begin by deciphering the linguistic markers, then by finding the meaning of glyphs as words organized into sentences. According to Whorf,

There is only one road to the decipherment of the Maya hieroglyphs .... It is through a growing concatenation of sentences, proceeding from the less to the more difficult... with the linguistic interest and the linguistic findings kept constantly foremost...

(op. cit, p. 197)

Monthly Lectures 2022 - 2023


Date Title Speaker (Affiliation)
February 04 Recruiting syntax (and more) to learn the meaning of adjectives Dr. Kristen Syrett (Rutgers University, New Brunswick)
March 04 Multilingualism and heritage language practices amongst third generation Australian Italians Dr. Antonia Rubino (The University of Sydney)
April 01 The limits of his Emperie (full manye dyuerse contrees): Paths of enlightenment written eastward through Inner Asia Peter T. Daniels (Past President, International Linguistic Association)
May 06 Benjamin Lee Whorf and the Maya Rosetta Stone Dr. Kathleen O'Connor-Bater (SUNY at Old Westbury)


Date Title Speaker (Affiliation)
March 05 'Talk to (and with) the hand': African American Language, gestures and the Black body Dr. Renee Blake (New York University)
April 09 Toward an Integrated Framework for Studying the Relationship between Bilingual Language Experience and Cognitive Reserve Dr. Laura Spinu (Kingsborough Community College, CUNY)
May 07 A (class)room of our own: Towards a multimodal grammar of pedagogical conversation on the WhatsApp messaging platform Dr. Cecilia Magadán (National University of San Martin, Argentina)
October 01 Singaporean English in Action Dr. K. K. Luke (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore)
November 05 15 Years of Chirila Dr. Claire Bowern (Yale University)
December 03 Nepali Migrant Workers' Use of Tamizh in Chennai: Insights into Adult Naturalisitic Acquisition in a Multilingual Context Dr. Usha Lakshmanan (Southern Illinois University at Carbondalea)