UCSB Linguists Awarded Grant for Work with Immigrant Oaxacan Communities in Oxnard

UCSB Linguistics Professors Eric Campbell and Mary Bucholtz were recently awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation to support work on maintaining indigenous languages within immigrant Oaxacan communities in the United States, focusing specifically on a previously undocumented variety of Mixtec now spoken in Oxnard, California. The project will bring together methods from language documentation, sociocultural linguistics, and linguistic anthropology, and produce a dictionary, a grammar, recorded examples, and community materials aimed at supporting language maintenance and multiliteracy across generations.

From the grant abstract:

"The project supported by this award aims to help a key immigrant community in California document and preserve its rich linguistic resources. Due to economic, cultural, and political pressures, languages with small speaker communities are disappearing rapidly throughout the world. Analyzing such languages helps linguists and linguistic anthropologists to understand the human capacity for language and to preserve invaluable cultural knowledge. Therefore, linguists seek to systematically document the structure and use of these highly vulnerable and valuable languages. Linguists also believe that it is important to understand how the languages are changing through their contact with politically dominant languages, a complex linguistic situation that emerges frequently as a result of immigration. For this project, the researchers will focus on a previously undocumented dialect of the Mixtec language of Mexico, working collaboratively with a local Mixtec organization that serves immigrants. The project will produce a dictionary, a grammar, and a collection of recorded language examples. The project is innovative in its focus on indigenous immigration as a context for language change. It will provide a model for other researchers seeking to gain insight into the workings of language as a fundamental human activity. Findings will also help develop community resources to support multilingualism and multiliteracy across generations.

The research will be undertaken by linguists Dr. Eric W. Campbell and Dr. Mary Buholtz of the University of California in Santa Barbara. Many immigrants from Mexico speak Mixtec languages, which are entirely unrelated to Spanish and use tone to distinguish word meaning (as in Chinese). These speakers face multiple linguistic obstacles both in Mexico and in the United States. The project will bring together the scientific tools of language documentation, sociolinguistics, and linguistic anthropology to understand this complex linguistic situation. The project partner is a community organization that serves an indigenous immigrant community from Oaxaca, Mexico, now settled in Oxnard, California. The project has four interrelated goals: (1) to document the structure of local Mixtec languages by creating a grammatical description, a dictionary, and a collection of recorded speech; (2) to conduct a survey of the community status of Spanish, English, Mixtec, and other indigenous languages; (3) to document and analyze Spanish, English, and indigenous language and literacy practices through recordings of everyday interaction; and (4) to develop community multilingualism and multiliteracy resources. Participating graduate students, undergraduates, and high school students will receive training in anthropological and linguistic methods of data collection and analysis. The project advances language documentation and Mesoamerican linguistics by documenting and analyzing previously undescribed Mixtec languages. It also contributes to research on language contact. Moreover, the project advances linguistic anthropology and sociolinguistics by investigating speakers' attitudes and practices regarding the maintenance or loss of home languages. Finally, the project helps open up a new field of linguistic study of a growing national and global phenomenon, the resettlement of indigenous language communities through immigration."