This is part one of a series based on the presentation on language and identity in our Theory of Knowledge class. See the end of this post for related links.
In January I had the opportunity to give presentations and lead discussions on language and identity for our IB Theory of Knowledge classes. I shared some of the field research I did in the Guatemalan highlands several years ago, among an indigenous Mayan group whose language was in the last stages of displacement by Spanish. In the course of that ethnolinguistic research I collected tape recordings of the language for analysis and intelligibility testing, and I played one of those tapes for my students last month.
Listening to that tape over and over after so many years has created a strange melancholy and nostalgia for the nearly three years that my wife and I lived in Tacaná. I remember the day in 1989 when I visited Fortino Ortiz and his wife Delfina (seen in the image above), along with Fortino's cousin Mariano, and recorded nearly an hour of conversation with them as we sat next to the kitchen fire and talked about their farm, their children, and the annual trek down to the Mexican coast to work in the coffee plantations. I would later use some clips from that recording as part of a survey to assess whether their language would survive another generation. Our research later showed that no one under the age of 21 could speak Tacaneco , and that was 17 years ago.
The classroom presentation and discussion focused on some of the causes of the disappearance of Tacaneco and what lessons we can learn about language as a key to identity and as a vehicle for learning culture. Several students asked to listen to the recording again, so I have edited a brief segment of the one tape I have with me, and posted it here. This is my first attempt to use Audacity, and I'm afraid the quality was compromised a bit in the conversion from magnetic to digital, and then from one digital format to another. As I get more proficient I'll replace this with a better clip. I'll share some of the discussion questions as well later this week.
Click on this link to listen:
Language and identity, part two: Geography
Language and identity, part three: Diverse ways of knowing