Language Management in Diaspora: Tu’un Nda’vi, Spanish, English, Constricted Agency, and Social Capital in a Oaxacan Indigenous Diasporic Community
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Language Management in Diaspora: Tu’un Nda’vi, Spanish, English, Constricted Agency, and Social Capital in a Oaxacan Indigenous Diasporic Community


This dissertation examines individual, constricted agency in a multilingual environment within the context of a language discussion group and the form of social capital possessed by their Mexican Indigenous diasporic community living on the California Central Coast. The research is based on participant-observation ethnographic work with a language and literacy exploration group of four Mixteco men, speakers of Tu’un Nda’vi, a variety of Mixteco. This group was created with the purpose of exploring Spanish language topics, which expanded to the exploration of Tu’un Nda’vi literacy and English language needs. The group was sponsored under the auspices of a regional Indigenous community organization, which was in operation during the meetings of el grupo de enfoque.Despite the history of Spanish as a colonial language and its legacy of oppression and assimilation for Mexican Indigenous communities in their ancestral places of origin, learning Spanish was identified by a Mixteco community leader that coordinated the creation of the group as one of the most important needs for his diasporic community living on the California Central Coast. The internal and external language use of Tu’un Nda’vi and Spanish within their community of the men of el grupo de enfoque and this community organization is analyzed through the lens of social capital. However, social capital as conceptualized by Bourdieu (1985) is insufficient in describing the forms of social capital demonstrated within this community. Grounded in ethnographic work conducted within el grupo de enfoque through the community organization and building on the work of Bourdieu (1985), Coleman (1988), and Portes (1998), I introduce an expanded model of social capital that serves to identify, understand, and analyze the community’s adaptive potential within their diasporic context. Additionally, the four men revealed a complex set of language needs that included the desire to develop literacy in Tu’un Nda’vi, an oral variety; they did not know of anyone in their language community that could read or write in this language. Two of the men who were fluent Spanish speakers expressed their need to learn English as well. While the four men demonstrated a strong desire to explore Tu’un Davi literacy, their stated language learning and literacy development priorities in English and Tu’un Nda’vi were conditional upon their level of Spanish fluency. I introduce the interrelated concepts of constricted agency and functional resources, as well as the concept of sacrifice as an alternative to choice, and their effect on the conditional language-learning and literacy prioritization for the men in the group within their situated diasporic contexts. Furthermore, I present an ontological framework for constricted agency to clarify the concept in relation to other forms of agency and its placement within a broader ontology of human agency. The findings with regard to the dynamics of language-learning prioritization in diaspora discussed in this dissertation have potential implications for decolonizing multiliteracy program development for Indigenous communities and first-language maintenance in diaspora through community-based projects and community-based research.

Key terms: Spanish, Mixteco, ethnography, grounded theory, literacy, language maintenance, diaspora, social capital, and agency.

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