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Web-based mapping in multi-variant fieldwork contexts: Perspectives from diasporic Mixtec

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Title: Web-based mapping in multi-variant fieldwork contexts: Perspectives from diasporic Mixtec
Issue Date: 12 Mar 2015
Description: The presence of multiple linguistic variants can be a significant challenge during the early stages of language documenta- tion. When speakers regularly make use of some combination of multiple variants, it may be difficult for linguists to align characteristics of collected data with particular language variants. Additionally, where extensive documentation exists, it may be difficult to synthesize that work into a useful overview before beginning to evaluate the interrelationships of current-day linguistic variants. To address these issues, we describe a workflow that makes use of open-source web-based mapping technology which allows linguists to synthesize disparate sources of existing documentation, while remaining flexible enough to pursue the unpredictable aspects of variation which emerge in ongoing fieldwork.

We illustrate the application of this approach to our own research in two diasporic communities of Mixtec speakers in the United States. Unlike the Mixtec variants within Mexico, the internal variation of Mixtec in diasporic communities in the United States is little documented, despite the fact that these communities include tens of thousands of speakers (Kresge 2007). Specifically, we investigate multivariant speech communities in the Central Coast of California and the Skagit Valley region of Washington, where variants of Lowland Mixtec from the districts of Juxtlahuaca and Silacayoapam in Oaxaca, and the Montaña region of Guerrero, among others, are in close contact.

In the initial stages of fieldwork in diasporic contexts such as these, researchers must rely heavily on the linguistic meta- observations of speakers, especially on those who are heavily embedded in language work, such as interpreters. In our work on diasporic Mixtec, we have found that mapping helps us to be better equipped to interpret these language workers’ observations on variation and accommodation, while simultanously taking previous fieldwork on the variants in question into account.

Earlier documentation (Ethnologue 2013, Josserand 1983) suggests that there are low levels of mutual intelligibility between many of these variants. However, our research suggests that as Mixtecs from various home towns form new communities in the US, linguistic accommodation rapidly leads to an increase in mutual intellgibility. By using mapping to inform comparison, we are able to show that some aspects of these mergers are unlike those found in previous documentary work. This is evidence that distinct forms of Mixtec may be emerging in the US diaspora context.

We show how mapping is both responsive to input from community members as well as previous research, and useful in finding new avenues of inquiry. The perspectives gained on multi-variant scenarios from this approach help to identify and situate ongoing processes of linguistic change.


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Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections:4th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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