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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Language Ideology, Linguistic Differentiation, and Language Maintenance in the California Mixtec Diaspora

  • Author(s): Bax, Anna
  • Advisor(s): Bucholtz, Mary
  • et al.

This dissertation focuses on a setting that is characterized by a markedly high level of linguistic diversity among related languages: a relatively recently settled immigrant community in Ventura County, California, in which over three dozen mutually intelligible varieties of Mixtec (Otomanguean) are in regular contact with one another, as well as with Spanish, English, and other Indigenous Mesoamerican languages. Mixtecs are an Indigenous group whose traditional homelands are located in what are now the southern Mexican states of Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Puebla. Mixtec is also the name of the diverse group of linguistic varieties spoken by the Mixtec people. In this dissertation, I explore the language ideologies and linguistic differentiation practices that Mixtec speakers use to navigate the sea of linguistic diversity they encounter in the diaspora. In particular, I explore the ways that speakers mobilize their existing knowledge of the Mixtec linguistic landscape to talk about, name, and account for variation among Mixtec varieties spoken in Ventura County, via the labels Mixteco Alto and Mixteco Bajo. Although these are geographical classifications and not linguistic ones (referring to ‘Highlands Mixtec’ and ‘Lowlands Mixtec’, respectively), they have been adopted by both linguists and speakers as classificatory labels. Many Mixtecs in Ventura County self-identify as speakers of Mixteco Bajo, but this is a broad umbrella term that comprises numerous distinct village varieties. The vast majority of Mixtec varieties spoken in Ventura County come from the Mixteca Baja region of Mexico, while Mixteca Alta varieties are exceedingly rare in this community. Nevertheless, this dissertation demonstrates that for self-identified speakers of Mixteco Bajo, the label Mixteco Alto has become ideologized as a way to refer any variety which is perceived as distinctly different from their own, regardless of whether that variety’s geographic origin lies in the Mixteca Alta region.

This dissertation presents three interlinked analyses that trace the trajectory of this metalinguistic naming practice throughout the Ventura County Mixtec community. The first analysis excavates the local meaning of this practice and its ideological implications, the second explores what the practice reveals about understandings of sociolinguistic variation and emergent sociolinguistic variables in the diaspora community, and the third analyzes the effects of these labels on one young Mixtec heritage speaker and his relationship to the Mixtec language, ultimately demonstrating a surprising link between the Mixteco Alto label and language shift away from Mixtec. By following the Mixteco Alto and Mixteco Bajo metalinguistic labels across contexts, I demonstrate that it is possible to observe the real-time construction of meaning in this situation of contact between related varieties of Mixtec and lay out several avenues for future research on this subject.

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