Amerindian languages have often borrowed the lexical terms of colonial languages that refer to "culture," "tradition," or "heritage," or else created neologisms for them. Amerindian languages, however, express related notions through grammatical forms, rather than with lexical terms. In contrast to lexical terms, grammatical elements are normally more constrained, less open to reflexivity for the speaker but nonetheless manipulable while also being the product of recurrent verbal and interactional practices. This article focuses on three grammatical domains: temporal configurations, expressions of person and agency, and epistemicity. For each of these, we study the contextual use of relevant linguistic constructions, especially in situations in which speakers can resort to different expressions to refer to "cultural" practices, each of which implies different attitudes towards "culture." The study is based on three languages—two Mayan languages from Mexico (Yucatec and Chol), and one Tupian from Brazil (Suruí of Rondônia)—whose speakers experience very different situations regarding the definition of their "culture," by themselves and by others.
Over the years, research in ethno-linguistics contributed to gather corpora in a wide range of languages, cultures and topics. In the present work, we are investigating ritual speech in Yu-catec Maya. The ritual discourse tends to have a cyclic structure with repetitive patterns and various types of parallelisms between speech sections. Previous studies have revealed an intricate connexion between a speech's structure and vocal productions , in particular through temporal aspects including rhythm, pauses and durations of different speech sections. To further investigate our findings by relying more strongly on the acoustic recordings, automatic speech recognition tools may become of great help, in particular to test various linguistic and ethno-linguistic hypotheses. Unfortunately, Yucatec Maya, with less than one million native speakers, is an under-resourced language with respect to digital resources. As a total, 24 minutes of ritual speech from three performances were manually transcribed by expert linguists in Yucatec and a basic pronunciation dictionary for Yucatec was created accordingly. The transcribed acoustic recordings were then automatically time-aligned on a phonetic and lexical basis. Automatic segmentations were used to measure tempo changes, durations of breath units as well as to examine their link with the structure of the ritual text.