Maya Ethnolinguistic Identity: Violence, Cultural Rights, and Modernity in Highland Guatemala

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University of Arizona Press, Apr 15, 2010 - Social Science - 161 pages
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In this valuable book, ethnographer and anthropologist Brigittine French mobilizes new critical-theoretical perspectives in linguistic anthropology, applying them to the politically charged context of contemporary Guatemala. Beginning with an examination of the “nationalist project” that has been ongoing since the end of the colonial period, French interrogates the “Guatemalan/indigenous binary.” In Guatemala, “Ladino” refers to the Spanish-speaking minority of the population, who are of mixed European, usually Spanish, and indigenous ancestry; “Indian” is understood to mean the majority of Guatemala’s population, who speak one of the twenty-one languages in the Maya linguistic groups of the country, although levels of bilingualism are very high among most Maya communities. As French shows, the Guatemalan state has actively promoted a racialized, essentialized notion of “Indians” as an undifferentiated, inherently inferior group that has stood stubbornly in the way of national progress, unity, and development—which are, implicitly, the goals of “true Guatemalans” (that is, Ladinos).

French shows, with useful examples, how constructions of language and collective identity are in fact strategies undertaken to serve the goals of institutions (including the government, the military, the educational system, and the church) and social actors (including linguists, scholars, and activists). But by incorporating in-depth fieldwork with groups that speak Kaqchikel and K’iche’ along with analyses of Spanish-language discourses, Maya Ethnolinguistic Identity also shows how some individuals in urban, bilingual Indian communities have disrupted the essentializing projects of multiculturalism. And by focusing on ideologies of language, the author is able to explicitly link linguistic forms and functions with larger issues of consciousness, gender politics, social positions, and the forging of hegemonic power relations.
 

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Contents

Introduction
1
The Paradox of Ethnolinguistic Identity Essentialisms StateSponsored Violence and Cultural Rights
19
Political Linguistics Expert Linguists and Modernist Epistemologies in the Guatemalan Nation
40
Traditional Histories Local Selves and Challenges to Linguistic Unification
63
Modernity and Local Linguistic Ideologies in Chimaltenango
77
Traditional Maya Women and Linguistic Reproduction
110
Conclusion Vernacular Modernities and the Objectification of Tradition
125
Transcription Conventions
135
Notes
137
References
145
Index
157
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About the author (2010)

Brigittine M. French is an assistant professor of anthropology at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa. She began conducting ethnographic and linguistic research among Maya communities in the Guatemalan highlands in 1992 and is currently interested in the circulation of Maya testimony in transnational contexts.

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