Review of the Ticha Project

By Jessica L Sánchez Flores

Lillehaugen, Brook Danielle, Broadwell, George Aaron, Michel R. Oudijk, & Laurie Allen. 2015.
Ticha: a digital text explorer for Colonial Zapotec. First edition.(

Reviewed by Jessica Sánchez Flores

Ticha, the name of the digital platform under review here, means “language” in Zapotec, an indigenous language spoken in Southern Mexico. Ticha is an ongoing project led by an interdisciplinary team of scholars from different fields in the United States and Mexico and is supported by Haverford College Libraries: Brook D. Lillehaugen, Linguist-Assistant Professor, at Haverford College webpage; George A. Broadwell, Linguist, Professor at University at Albany (SUNY) webpage; Michel R. Oudijk, Ethnohistorian, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México webpage; and Laurie Allen, Coordinator for Digital Scholarship and Services at Magill Library, Haverford College.

The digital platform itself is organized into three main areas: About, Colonial Zapotec, Explore the texts. In the About section, an introduction of the Zapotec language is provided and a general overview of the project is presented, as well. The About page also explains the encoding data for Ticha, from a linguistic approach the following computer programs were used: FLEx which is Fieldworks Language Explorer, a system for lexical and grammatical analysis, and Text Encoding Initiative standards for paleographic and translational representations of texts. At the bottom of the page, videos with people from the team are presented, which allows users to understand the motivation and processes of the project. This idea is furthered with the contact us section in the About page that allows users to subscribe for e-mail updates and give comment/suggestion to the team. The opportunity to provide feedback to an emerging digital project encourages a space for dialogue with primary texts.

In the Colonial Zapotec section, the linguistic background is presented about Zapotec, a language that derives from the Otomanguean family and its current presence in the State of Oaxaca, Mexico, and the United States. The Colonial Zapotec page explains that the Zapotec in Ticha dates to the colonial period of Mexico from (1521-1821) which is referred to as Colonial Valley Zapotec. The second part of the Colonial Zapotec section presents the cultural context which situates Ticha’s texts in the broader colonial history of Mexico. Christianity played an important role in the religious conversion of indigenous populations and therefore an expansive documentation of these languages that resulted in dictionaries, grammars, and religious works. The page further explains the importance of Ticha as “a window for contemporary indigenous communities and scholars alike to explore Zapotec history, language, and culture”.

In the Explore the texts section, one finds the corpus of Zapotec-language texts presented on this platform, all from the colonial period. The texts are comprised of three types of primary sources, all of which originated in the Central Valley Zapotec Oaxaca: a grammar, doctrinal materials, and handwritten manuscripts. Arte en lengua zapoteca, Doctrina christiana en lengua castellana y çapoteca and Handwritten texts. Arte en lengua zapoteca is a 16th-century Grammar of Colonial Valley Zapotec which aims to describe the grammatical structure of Zapotec by Dominican Friar Juan de Cordova with the help of unrecognized Zapotec speakers. Based on the historical context, it can be deduced that the grammar book was used to document the language for conversion purposes. This Zapotec grammar follows the structure of a Latin grammar, difficult to understand but it provides knowledge of the Colonial Valley Zapotec language. The section dedicated to Arte en lengua zapotecaprovides the following materials: an outline of Arte en lengua zapoteca created by George Aaron Broadwell, Victoria Kranz, Brook Danielle Lillehaugen & Michel R. Oudijk with Laurie Allen & Enrique Valdivia in 2014; a PDF version of the text; a transcription of the entire source; a version of the grammar in regularized Spanish; and a sample page of the work the Ticha team is working on. This sample page provides an image of a page from the original text on the left side while on the right side three tabs emerge: transcription of the original text, modern Spanish, and English.

The second source is a religious text in Zapotec from the year 1567: Doctrina christiana en lengua castellana y çapoteca written by Dominican Friar Pedro de Feria but with the help of native Zapotec speakers, who are not recognized in the text itself. The Doctrina has 233 pages, each with a left column of Spanish and the Zapotec translation on the right. This Doctrina was used to explain Catholic doctrine and it provides Zapotec syntax and semantics, and culturally exposing the religious belief of that time. For the Doctrina christiana en lengua castellana, one finds the complete PDF version of the text and a sample page that provides an image of a page on the left side with a transcription with the original text on the right side.

The third set of materials presented are fifty handwritten manuscripts written by Zapotecs, twenty-nine in Zapotec and twenty-one in Spanish, all organized by name, year, town, archive, type of document and language. The topics treated in these manuscripts include religious issues, testaments, wills, deeds, and letters. All of the manuscripts include the following metadata: name of the document, year, town, archive, type of document and language. There is also a sample manuscript that includes an image of the original version in Zapotec and Spanish, and transcriptions from the primary source to standard Romanized alphabet in Zapotec and Spanish. The last part in this same section consists of a timeline of the Colonial Valley Zapotec Documents from 1633-1840 with their respective name town and coded as: Zapotec Testament, Zapotec Bill of Sale, Contemporaneous Spanish Translation and Other.

Ticha is primarily targeted for an academic audience in fields such as history, anthropology, linguistics, cultural studies, and anyone who is interested in colonial Zapotec. But this platform was also created for the Zapotec community. For instance, in one of the videos, Janet Chávez Santiago, a Zapotec teacher from Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca conveyed the excitement of Zapotec students when comparing modern Zapotec to colonial Zapotec using the Ticha platform. In fact, many of the Zapotec students believed these corpora of materials to be abroad and inaccessible. In their essay “Los archivos y la construcción de la verdad histórica en América Latina”, Carlos Aguirre and Javier Villa-Flores state that the archive legitimizes forms of authority and credibility. The authors situate the analysis of the archive from the colonial period and how the Spanish monarchy used the archive for their political and economic benefits, a pattern that continued to be present in post-independence movements (9-10). In this political context, the archive has been used as a weapon to exercise power; yet it is important to note that in the hands of native speakers, these same documents can be used as , “instrumentos de empoderamiento y liberación, salvación y libertad” stated by Eric Katelaar (qt in 16). Ticha is empowering the Zapotec community through the availability and accessibility of colonial texts that strengthen their language and their culture. The academic team through their work, dialogue with the community and acknowledgement of the primary texts is enacting a relationship of reciprocity.

Digital technology plays an important role in supporting access to the Colonial Valley Zapotec archive. In her essay “The Transnational and the Text-Searchable: Digitized Sources and the Shadows they Cast” Lara Putnam states, “the impact of digitization on the knowability of past processes of whatever scale and locale is significant” (380). Ticha in this particular case is serving both academics and the Zapotec community who are studying the language. The interactive, easy online access Ticha provides is changing the way that Zapotec community members have perceived archives in the past. No longer are they considered untouchable or inaccessible, stated Janet Chávez Santiago. Ticha renders visible voices from the past, present, and future to acknowledge a community that has been silenced. Therefore, as the digital archive develops and expands, how will Ticha continue to serve different audiences, reflect several voices in the archive, and continue to emphasize a sense of reciprocity with the Zapotec community?