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James A. Fox


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James A. Fox


Member of Academic Council

Associate Professor of Anthropology and, by courtesy, of Iberian and Latin American Cultures and of Linguistics


I am a linguistic anthropologist in the Dept. of Anthropology specializing in historical linguistics, linguistic prehistory, and the native languages of the Americas. My research interests are focused on the history of the Mayan and Mixe-Zoquean language families, distant languagec relationships in the Americas and elsewhere, and the decipherment of Maya writing. I am currently working on: a book on the inscriptions of Chichén Itzá, a dictionary and grammar of Ayapa Zoque; a treatise on Mayan historical linguistics, a translation of the Quiché mythological epic Popol Vuh and an accompanying multi-media program, a decipherment project involving ancient Maya star and planetary lore, and a quantitative computer analysis of a sound pattern in Mayan languages.

I have recently completed a fifth summer of linguistic fieldwork in southern Mexico, where I worked intensively with a few speakers of Ayapa Zoque, a nearly-extinct language of the Zoquean family, believed to be descendants of the language of the Olmec civilization. This research was first conducted as a part of the Mesoamerican Languages Documentation Project, and later by the Stanford Center for Latin American Studies, of which I was Director from 2001-2004. This year I expect to get the book out, after a field check of the typescript in Ayapa. I have also conducted archival and field research on various Mayan languages, and on Russenorsk, a mixed Russo-Norwegian language in northern Norway. I have compiled a field checklist for use in preparing for fieldwork. I keep it pretty much up to date and appreciate feedback from folks who have used it in their own preparations.

I served as a principal consultant on Patricia Amlin's film, Popol Vuh: Creation Myth of the Ancient Maya , which aired on PBS. In the summer of 1994, I was a consultant for the Stanford Museum of Art's special exhibit on the Mesoamerican ball game. I have also consulted on middle- and secondary-school course materials involving Mesoamerican prehistory.

I teach undergraduate and graduate courses at Stanford on linguistic anthropology, historical linguistics, language and culture, the biology and evolution of language, Maya writing and culture, linguistic fieldwork, and several Latin American Indian languages, including Nahuatl, Yucatec Maya, and Quiché Maya . I have given two sophomore seminars and one freshman seminar involving my research on the Popol Vuh and multimedia, and a sophomore seminar on Language and the Brain. I was also one of the developers and first track chair for the Anthropology track of Stanford's full-year Culture, Ideas, and Values courses. I am a frequent lecturer on tours of Mesoamerica and Scandinavia for the Stanford Alumni Association