Mexican indigenous languages at the dawn of the twenty-first century

Mexican indigenous languages at the dawn of the twenty-first century. Ed. by Maragrita Hidalgo. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2006. Pp. xi, 382. ISBN 9783110185973. $132.30 (Hb).

Reviewed by Rusty Barrett, University of Kentucky

A collection of essays that explore the history and current status of the indigenous languages of Mexico, this book begins with a prologue in which Margarita Hidalgo frames the sociopolitical aspects of language maintenance in terms of three points in recent Mexican history: (i) the student movement of 1968, (ii) electoral reform of the late 1980’s, and (iii) the Chiapas insurrection and the assassination of the institutional revolutionary party (PRI) presidential candidate in 1994. Hidalgo argues that these three historical moments are critical in understanding both the state of indigenous languages and changes in language policy.

Section 1 covers history and theory. In Ch. 1, Hidalgo outlines the theoretical framework of the volume: Joshua Fishman’s research on reversing language shift and the graded intergenerational disrupted scale (GIDS) model (Reversing language shift: Theory and practice of assistance to threatened languages. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters, 1991). Hidalgo then extends this analysis, using the three historical events and the GIDS model to frame the remaining chapters.

The next three chapters present historical studies of language issues in Mexico. In Ch. 2, Claudia Parodi discusses colonial policies of Indianization in the colonial period. Parodi uses the GIDS model to analyze language shift during this era, concluding that the GIDS model should be extended to include a substrate stage in which a minority language is no longer spoken but continues to have cultural and linguistic influence. In Ch. 3, Margarita Hidalgo discusses efforts to reverse language shift during the colonial period. Following Fishman’s work, Hidalgo analyzes domains of language use and discusses the ways in which religious conversion contributed to the use of indigenous languages in written domains. In Ch. 4, Margarita Hidalgo discusses socio-historical factors of language maintenance in twentieth century Mexico. She presents demographic data from Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) studies and concludes with a detailed discussion of recent historical events in Chiapas, focusing on how these events lead to the emergence of bilingualism with language maintenance.

Section 2 includes three chapters on language policy. In Ch. 5, Dora Pellicer, Bárbara Cifuentes, and Carmen Herrera discuss the legislation of language policy in contemporary Mexico. F. Daniel Althoff compares language policy in the United States and Mexico in Ch. 6. In Ch. 7, Bárbara Cifuentes and José Luis Moctezuma present census data from 1970–2000 to examine the impact of language policy on indigenous communities.

Section 3 examines bilingualism and bilingual education. In Ch. 8, Jaquline Messing and Elsie Rockwell examine local revitalization efforts among Mexicano (Nahuatl) speakers in the state of Tlaxcala, presenting an interesting update of the region studied by Jane Hill and Kenneth Hill (Speaking Mexicano: Dynamics of syncretic language in Central Mexico. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1986). Messing and Rockwell argue that, although bilingual education has been quite limited, the use of Mexicano in schools has led to ideological shifts that have assisted in additional revitalization efforts. In Ch. 9, Barbara Pfeiler and Lenka Zámišová compare the effectiveness of various bilingual education programs in Yucatec Maya communities. In Ch. 10, José Antonio Flores Farfán discusses the development of culturally-sensitive educational materials for Nahuatl speakers. Dora Pellicer (Ch. 11) uses both the GIDS model and ethnographic research on language use and language ideology to examine bilingual strategies in speakers of Mazahua. The volume concludes with Margarita Hidalgo’s summary of the history and current state of indigenous languages in Mexico. Additionally, Hidalgo discusses her thoughts on the prospects for language maintenance in the future.

This volume includes a wealth of detailed information on indigenous languages of Mexico and important theoretical examinations of Fishman’s GIDS model. It will be a useful resource for linguists interested in these languages as well as those interested in language maintenance and shift.

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