Quichua children and language shift in an Andean community : School, play and sibling caretaking

University dissertation from Linköping : Linköpings universitet

Abstract: In Ecuador, there is an ongoing ethnic revitalization among indigenous peoples. Yet, in San Antonio, a 'zona roja' in the Andes, the comuneros do not speak Quichua to their children, even though the Quichua language is seen as an extremely important aspect of Indian identity. During more than a year of fieldwork, four toddlers, around two years of age, were followed in their everyday interactions with their siblings and parents. It was found that their older siblings - not primarily the mothers - were in charge of the toddlers during the best part of the day. The older siblings initiated complex sociodrarnatic practices, combining rhetorical teasing, threats and distracting routines, as ways of playing, on the one hand, and as ways of comforting or diverting younger siblings, on the other. Thereby, they challenged Western developmental psychological notions of a strict division between play and work (sibling caretaking). Also, very small children were able to take the perspective of their younger siblings, adapting their rhetorical strategies or acting as "interpreters".Daily life in the community was highly gendered. Yet, the children's play transcended gender boundaries. For instance, young boys would play that they were breastfeeding a baby sister, even though care-taking of babies was strictly a female domain among the adults.The communal school was initially referred to as bilingual by the comuneros, but it was, in fact, a monolingual school in that all instruction took place in Spanish. There was a mismatch between the Hispanic school and the Quichua homes, but both parents and teachers adhered to what Brian Street (1993) has called the 'autonomous model' of literacy, expecting great automatic effects of literacy, without taking into account the importance of reading materials and daily practice. It is here argued that such an autonomous model has, in turn, led to mutual distrust between school and home because of the children's limited academic success. Hispanic-only schooling is probably also one of the reasons why the children play almost exclusively in Spanish, even though they hear Quichua spoken on a daily basis among the adults.Lastly, everyday speaking practices are analyzed across three generations: the children- their parents - and grandparents, in an effort to understand what is here called the 'ethnic revitalization paradox', that is, the paradoxical mismatch between ideology and daily practices. A language shift from Quichua-Spanish bilingualism to Spanish monolingualism is apparently under way in the community. Sibling care-taking is possibly one of the most important factors, explaining thisimmanent language shift. Yet, the comuneros do not see the Quichua language as endangered; they see it as an integral part of being Indian.

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