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Assessing language vitality in the context of large-scale migration

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Title: Assessing language vitality in the context of large-scale migration
Authors: Perez Baez, Gabriela
Issue Date: 01 Mar 2013
Description: San Lucas Quiaviní is a community of Zapotec (otomanguean) speakers with 1,745 inhabitants (2010 census), and located in the Tlacolula Valley of Oaxaca, Mexico. Since 1995, the percentage of SLQZ speakers in San Lucas ages five and older has remained steady at around 98% with 15% monolingualism (1995, 2000, 2005, 2010 census). Children generally arrive in nursery school and sometimes even in the first grade of elementary school as monolingual SLQZ speakers.

At first glance, and based on variables such as children’s acquisition of an L1, SLQZ could be considered vital. It is only through careful examination of the patterns of migration that an adequate assessment of language vitality can be made.

The speaker base of San Lucas Quiaviní Zapotec (SLQZ) is divided between the home community in Oaxaca, Mexico, and a sister community in Los Angeles, California. In Los Angeles there is virtually no language transmission yielding active child speakers. Further, migration has resulted in a reduction in San Lucas of about half the speaker base, including a 45% reduction in the number of children under age 10 growing up in San Lucas speaking SLQZ.

This assessment was only possible after a years-long complex ethnographic research in San Lucas Quiaviní and in the migrant community in Los Angeles, coupled with diachronic census data. This presentation goes into detail about the various stages of participant observation conducted between 2002 and 2012 with research visits to San Lucas almost yearly, and to Los Angeles in 2007, 2008 and 2011. It describes the methods applied in the research, with attention to survey design and observer paradox concerns. Further, it describes the analysis of national census data, which provided quantification of the dramatic speaker base reduction. The focus is on age groups engaged in migration and the resulting formation of couples and families in diaspora that are not engaged in language transmission. Due discussion of the limitations of census data is included.

One of the main variables considered in language vitality assessment is speaker base reduction as a result of a decrease in intergenerational transfer of the language. This presentation describes a scenario in which the speaker base reduction is rather the result of an exodus. Without proper qualitative and quantitative research, the impact of such exodus as described above becomes intangible and easily missed in the assessment of linguistic vitality.
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections:3rd International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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