Recuperando nuestro idioma : language shift and revitalization of San Jerónimo Tlacochahuaya Zapotec



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This thesis will discuss the factors that lead to language shift from Zapotec to Spanish in San Jerónimo Tlacochahuaya (SJT), and the challenges faced by language revitalization efforts that have emerged in the home and migrant communities. Today hundreds of Indigenous languages are widely spoken across the Americas; however, in the last century an increasing amount of language shift to the nation-state language has taken place in many Indigenous communities. In the Zapotec community of San Jerónimo Tlacochahuaya (SJT), located in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, about 40% of the town’s population currently speaks Zapotec. However, the majority of speakers within this percentage are elders and adults. This means that the transmission of the Zapotec language to children has declined while Spanish language socialization has increased and is now the norm. Due to socioeconomic factors and neoliberal reforms in Mexico, many community members have migrated to other Mexican states and the United States which has furthered removed Zapotec speakers from the home community. The data for this research is based on 28 open-ended interviews with elders, adults, youth, children, and language activists and participant observation in SJT during the summer of 2013. I argue that the public education implemented by the Post-Revolutionary Mexican state in Tlacochahuaya during the 1930s influenced a language shift to Spanish. Many of those who had a negative schooling experience during this era, which prohibited and punished the use of the Zapotec language in the classroom, choose to raise their children with Spanish. In SJT from 2009-2011 Zapotec tutoring lessons for children were offered by a retired teacher, and since March 2013 migrants residing in Los Angeles, CA have been uploading Zapotec language tutorials on YouTube. Although there is awareness of language loss, I argue that these efforts have been hindered by the absence of a healing process regarding negative schooling experiences and dismantling the language ideologies that continue to devalue the Zapotec language. This case study contributes to the literature of languages shift and revitalization by suggesting that both home and migrant communities have crucial roles in Indigenous language maintenance.