Between the State and the Community: The Summer Institute of Linguistics and Mixtec-Language Writing in Twentieth-Century Oaxaca, Mexico

Sunday, January 8, 2012: 12:00 PM
Chicago Ballroom B (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Michael Swanton, Biblioteca Francisco de Burgoa, Universidad Autónoma ‘Benito Juárez' de Oaxaca
From 1935 to 1945, American linguist Kenneth Pike conducted annual field trips to San Miguel el Grande, Oaxaca, Mexico where he carried out the first modern linguistic investigation of the Mixtec language. Pike made these trips under the auspices of the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), a U.S.-based, Christian organization dedicated to promoting indigenous literacy and bible translation. At this time, the SIL successfully aligned its activities with the goals of Mexican institutions and began to serve as a collaborator in their programs of state formation through the incorporation of the indigenous population into the state. This collaboration was signaled in a formal agreement with the Mexican Secretary of Education (SEP)—signed in 1951 and rescinded in 1979—which established a “program of cooperation” encompassing linguistic research for the “betterment” of Mexico’s indigenous population. During this period the SIL, often in collaboration with the SEP, published thousands of texts in indigenous languages. While still working on Mixtec, Pike was appointed academic director of the incipient SIL in 1941 and became its leading linguistics specialist. Not surprisingly, his approach to linguistics and literacy was taken on by others SIL linguists. However, the approach also had to adapt to on-the-ground realities of both Mexican governmental demands and indigenous expectations. The Mixtec-language materials produced by the SIL illustrate the ways in which Pike’s linguistic orientation to literacy was either maintained or had to cede ground before state and indigenous exigencies. In this talk, I will examine this material and its evolution from Pike’s initial work till the end of the SIL agreement with the SEP. By comparing the SIL’s work on Mixtec with other Mixtec-language literacy efforts, I will discuss how Mexico is still grappling with language diversity within a framework like that used by the SIL in the middle of the last century.
<< Previous Presentation | Next Presentation