New York University doctoral student Hyejin Nah, guided by Dr. Bambi B. Schieffelin, will conduct research on indigenous linguistic strategies to sustain endangered languages in the context of increasing media and governmental pressures for abandonment. The focus will be on how language ideologies for retention are combined with new resources for linguistic preservation in the cultural production of an indigenous nation that has no land base, no institutional forms and no legal protections.

This ethnographic and linguistic research will be conducted with urban Mapuche in Santiago, Chile. Urban Mapuche, despite being displaced and without a central organization, are known for their strong sense of local sovereignty. One Mapuche way of practicing local sovereignty is through linguistic distinctness: their language, Mapuzugun ("Land Tongue"), is iconic of their mapu ("land"). Yet, Mapuche linguistic distinctness is unusual in that it does not center on language revitalization or on efforts to expand language facility and use. Rather, Mapuche claim the preeminent right to speak for and about their traditional language. Mapuche expressions of linguistic sovereignty appear to be facilitated by emergent social media, including Facebook, which has been widely embraced by Mapuche. The researcher will investigate the local language effects of these new media. Overarching research questions include: how do the new media practices affect Mapuche linguistic ideology and public forms of sociality. Research will be conducted within a sample of Santiago Mapuche voluntary associations where language practices and complex social encounters with language can be observed and queried. This project is methodologically innovative in investigating the interpenetration of old and new cross-context (face-to-face/online), and cross-modal (literacy/orality) linguistic practices. The research findings will advance knowledge on local and innovative practices centered on emerging media as they relate to efforts to maintain threatened indigenous languages. Funding this research also supports the training of a social scientist.

Project Report

My ethnographic fieldwork addressed the role of language ideologies and practices in urban Mapuche collective self-production in Chile’s capital city, Santiago. The sociality of Mapuche living in Santiago can be defined as counterpublic; for this indigenous people whose traditional ways of living have been disrupted by colonial forces, including their traditional cultural and linguistic practices, the definition of what it means to be Mapuche today is not a source of agreement. However, Mapuche share affiliation as a subordinate collectivity that attempts to counter the imposition of homogeneous peoplehood and recover a sense of shared historical memory. This research investigated how Mapuche constitution of counterpublic sociality and discourse shapes and is shaped by language ideologies and practices. This research noted that the foundational social units of Mapuche collective self-production in Santiago were communities of practice whose shared goal was Mapuche distinction as a people within the city. The discursive and practical means through which members socialize each other into Mapuche identity are highly diverse, and include activities such as craft production and sales, artistic presentation, musical production and performance, sports practices and games, culinary practices, ritual practices, language revitalization, cultural revitalization, language politics, land claims, political movements, and medical practices. Given the complexity of many Mapuches’ everyday work lives, they make strategic choices as to participation in Mapuche organized activities. Such choices themselves become a relevant part of being Mapuche in the city. A variety of activities and voluntary associations, constituted through members’ everyday struggle, dedication, commitment, and responsibility, contributes to the presence of noticeably vibrant and active Mapuche communities in Santiago. Language and language ideologies play a crucial role in maintaining and invigorating such communities of practice. While all urban Mapuche speak Spanish fluently, their Mapuche language competence varies from none to fluent. Mapuche language ideology views their traditional language, Mapuzugun, as iconic of their land. Mapuche see their language as something, like their land, of which they have been deprived by colonial forces. Indeed, their stance towards what to do with their traditional language varies as widely as does their stance toward the land. However, urban Mapuche share the following language practices and ideologies. First, the linguistic practices of sharing and circulating information from person to person are the foundational building blocks of their network-based communities of practice. Urban Mapuche live dispersed in Santiago, without a designated neighborhood or physical place of reunion. Therefore, Mapuche practices such as activities, gatherings, or events are highly dependent on Mapuche members’ verbal communication of information and encouragement within the established Mapuche network. Second, by participating in such shared verbal repertoires and social networks, Mapuche members engage not only in spreading referential information, but also sharing creative semiotics for indexing their Mapuche identity. Such indexical marking includes code-switching and code-mixing of Mapuche language and Spanish. Yet, a greater quantity of Mapuche language code choice does not automatically result in greater affirmation of Mapuche identity. Rather, indexing Mapuche identity is deeply related to members’ cultural competence of knowing the appropriate contexts for and type of code choices. This means that fluent Mapuzugun speakers are sometimes expected to speak Mapuzugun even when there are no interlocutors who understand them. Other times, they are restrained from speaking it so as not to intimidate those that have been deprived of the chance to acquire competence. Non-fluent speakers are sometimes expected to repeat the few Mapuche words they know as much as possible, while in other contexts, it is more important to repeatedly reproduce some significant news in Spanish so that such news is circulated as widely as possible. Therefore, language choice does have strong relations to indexing Mapuche identity, yet in much more complex ways than has been described for other indigenous communities. Third, the most culturally competent way for speakers of "speaking like Mapuche" in urban settings is consequently through indexing their commitment and responsibility to the vitality of Mapuche communities of practice as much as possible. Participating in urban Mapuche communities of practice is time-consuming and difficult for most members, because they have to do it in addition to everyday demands of work, family and other quotidian activities and responsibilities, while commuting by public transportation to these events’ various peripheral locations. Many members assume such participation as part of their everyday lifestyle not only because of the joy or meaningfulness of participation, but also due to their sense of responsibility for keeping the community alive, and making it locally visible. Mapuche everyday speech is in line with such lifestyle choices, hence, Mapuche attempt to show as much commitment as possible in their oral and written practices, whether it be sharing upcoming events schedules, the latest political discourse, or a recent Mapuche hip hop song.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Jeffrey Mantz
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New York University
New York
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