Episode 27: Field Notes Live Show with Hilaria Cruz on Field Linguistics & Chatino

URL: https://fieldnotespod.com/2021/05/06/episode-27-field-notes-live-show-with-hilaria-cruz-on-field-linguistics-chatino/

[introduction music]

Martha Tsutsui Billins (host): So, I’d like to welcome Hilaria Cruz. Just to start, I’ll read your bio, Hilaria, so everyone can get a sense of who you are. Dr. Hilaria Cruz is an Assistant Professor in the Comparative Humanities department at the University of Louisville. She is a native speaker of Chatino, an endangered Zapotecan language spoken in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico, and by Chatino who have migrated to the Southeastern United States, including Durham, North Carolina, Atlanta, Georgia, and Huntsville, Alabama. She has collected and archived more than 100 hours of audio recordings of naturalistic speech in formal and informal settings. She is currently researching the Chatino concepts of the dead in four Eastern Chatino communities, and Hilaria and her sister Emiliana Cruz created an orthography for the Chatino language and in 2018 created a monolingual children’s book series to be used as language teaching materials. So welcome, Hilaria. Thank you so much for participating today. I really appreciate it. To start, can you share a bit about how you became a linguist?

Hilaria Cruz: Yes. I would like to say thank you to everyone in Chatino. [speaks Chatino]. Thank you very much for coming today for this conversation. So the question was: how did I get into linguistics? I was born and lived in my native community in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico. I did not speak Spanish until I was eight years old when I was thrown into the classroom, where I was forced to learn the Spanish language. And so I continued, you know, like being immersed in this school, you know, because this was part of the Mexican national policy to do away with Indigenous languages. They completely discounted Indigenous languages but also discounted completely the research on these languages, so the main goal was to integrate Indigenous people into the Spanish language, into the national culture of what is Mexico. So I continued my schooling for good or bad, you know, I learned Spanish, and then, you know, we were living in this district capital, in this town. This was like a frontier town, and there was a lot of racism towards the Chatino people who lived in the surrounding areas. So I, we asked my father that we were not comfortable living in this place because there was a lot of prejudices against us and against other Chatinos who were living there, so then we — my family — moved to the district capital that is the Oaxaca City. So, you know, we continued with our schooling, and then I was in high school, and then I went to college, and then I continued to… Like I began to ask myself, “Well, you know, it would be wonderful to be able to learn how to, you know, write the Chatino language,” although, you know, like I was always afraid to reveal that I was an Indigenous person, but, you know, at home my father and mother encouraged… You know, we spoke the Chatino language. So I began to ask myself, “It’ll be really beautiful to be able to write in the Chatino language because now I know how to read and write in the Spanish language,” but then we tried and we tried, and it was not possible because it is… The Chatino language is a highly tonal language. We have 10 basic tones, but we also have sandhi tone and we have other, you know, tonal features in the language. I would try to write in the language, but I was not able to do it somehow, you know. Like I will get lost in this — like I will write a few things, but then I could not read whatever I wrote. And so one of the problems why I was having an issue writing was because at the time, there was no research on tonal languages. I did not know that I spoke a tonal language, but also because the Chatino language has a lot of segmental features that are different than the Spanish. And let’s say, like we have glottal stops. We have lots of, you know, laminal sounds. We have many other features that the Spanish language does not have, and if you don’t have the resources to be able to represent those sounds, then you’re not going to be able to read the language. There were some proposals in there, but they were really heavily based on the Spanish alphabet. So it happens that when you are a lay speaker of a language and if someone presents you with a writing system that doesn’t accord with the phonemic system that you have in your brain, then you are not going to accept it. So then I came to the United States in 1991, so then I began to hear that there were linguists who were working with Native people trying to recuperate their languages, and then I began to think, “Wow, it would be wonderful if I could help, you know, if I could get some help from a linguist so that I can, you know, get a writing system for my language.” And so one day, I went to this interpretation course, and at the end of the course, the instructor handed us like a huge, you know, book with legal terms, and all of us who were taking the course were from Oaxaca, Mexico. We spoke, you know, like different languages, and she just handed us the book and then she says, “Well, translate these legal terms in your language,” and no one in the room knew how to write and read in their languages. And after that, and I said, “Well, I had enough of this,” so then I began to write to all of these different linguists begging them, “Please, help me write my language.” So then this is how, you know, Joel Sherzer, and Nora England, and Tony Woodbury from the University of Texas answered our call. My sister, Emiliana Cruz, she joined the graduate program in anthropology at the University of Texas, and I joined the linguistics program a year later, and that is how we began in earnest to study the phonemic system, the tonal system, of the Chatino language. And then in conjunction to that, we began to do fieldwork in all of these different Chatino communities gathering a corpus, but also talking with communities and informing, you know, the communities that we were, you know, gathering data so that we could devise a writing system. So that is how, you know, our efforts began.

MTB: Wow. Yeah, so it was like a whole journey from like becoming frustrated in school all the way up to until you became a linguist. Can you give some context for people who aren’t familiar with Chatino a bit about like the language context? Where is it spoken? Like where is the community or the community’s base, a bit about that and its vitality?

Hilaria Cruz: Yes. The Chatino communities are located very close to the Pacific Coast, the southern state of Oaxaca, Mexico, and we’re about 40 miles from the coast. There are three Chatino languages. Zenzontepec Chatino, which is spoken in about 15 communities. Zenzontepec Chatino, it’s spoken in these 10 to 15 communities, and it’s very uniform. These languages are intelligible. The other Chatino language is Tataltepec Chatino, which is spoken only in one community, Tataltepec de Valdés. And the other group is the Eastern Chatino languages, which is spoken by about 16 communities. And this group of Eastern Chatino languages, intelligibility is a little bit difficult because each town has their own tonal register. And by that I mean — like, for example, I am a small person, and with my build, let’s say that the low tone for me is 110 Hz, like for example the word [speaks Chatino] is 110 Hz, and the same word for a speaker of Panixtlahuaca Chatino, let’s say, with my same build will be 120 Hz throughout. So we recognize which community a person comes from if we were at the market and we hear them. So each town has their own, you know, set of tone registers. And that also, you know, tone in the Chatino language is what marks the morphology. So that means that, like for example, if I were conjugating a verb, like for example [speaks Chatino] if the completive form will be [speaks Chatino] ‘I ate’ [speaks Chatino], and then the potential will be [speaks Chatino]. So then for another community, this will be maybe the completive, which is for me [speaks Chatino] will be like [speaks Chatino] or something like that, different. So if you are not engaging with, you know… Like let’s say, like me, my example right now. I’m not in the community, so if I’m not engaging with people from different communities on an everyday basis, if I try to speak with them, it’s difficult. So intelligibility is difficult, given all of this difference in pitches that mark the grammar of the language. So now, you also ask about the vitality of the language. It changes. Like, for example, if we are talking about the Eastern Chatino languages, there are some communities where the language is stronger, and in other communities, the language is highly endangered. Like, for example, in my community the language is still, you know, learned by children, and the language is used and, you know, for businesses like… It’s used by the authorities. It’s used by people at home. It’s used in the loudspeaker when people make announcements when they are selling something or when they are calling someone. But, you know, of course, in school they don’t use it. And Zacatepec is another, it’s a different case. In Zacatepec, the Chatino language is no longer learned by children. It is only spoken by elders 50 or 60 years and older, and announcements in the loudspeakers are made in Spanish. So it changes from town to town.

MTB: Okay. Wow. Okay, so it’s quite different. Is there any kind of official recognition or official policy that supports Chatino languages, or is it completely unrecognized?

Hilaria Cruz: In 2003, the Mexican government created the INALI, and I believe in the Constitution they recognize Indigenous languages right now, but given the neglect of the Mexican government, we are behind. We don’t have a lot of, you know, research in these languages. Many of these communities still, like even the Chatino languages, even though we have done work on the Chatino languages for the last 17 years, there are many Chatino languages that still need basic studies at the segmental, you know, level. They still need, you know, people to record and to develop a writing system in school. As I was saying, the language is still — the language of instruction continues to be Spanish, and Chatino, yes, it is taught in some bilingual schools, but it’s only taught like, you know, one or two hours per week, so how much can you learn from that? So it is very uneven, but still, the public policy, it still uses Spanish as a language of instruction.

MTB: I see. Can you speak a bit to the challenges, or challenges or advantages, you’ve experienced as an insider linguist? And somebody also asked if working as an insider researcher causes the community’s perception of you to shift.

Hilaria Cruz: Well, I have, you know… I continue to maintain strong ties with people in my community, and right now we’re working with people, but still. I mean of course, you know, I’m an insider in a certain sense, but an outsider another sense. It is not uniform. Like, for example, when I was doing research in my community, oftentimes I felt, you know, really lonely, because when we began doing this work, people did not understand why is it that that we were recording people. You know, like for example, you know, we will come to the community with our advisors and sometimes we’ll say, “Well, you know, you’re selling the language to outsiders.” Or like for example, of course, there are advantages of being a member of the community when one is working with, you know, eliciting language and stories. Of course, you know, like given my family connections, I have been able to record ceremonies, you know, like ceremonies in city hall where, you know, like the ceremonies, you know, that I have recorded, you know, those are, you know, highly, you know, value ritual language such as prayers, and prayers that happen in city hall and sacred places, also in contexts where the language and the ceremonies are done by, you know, are spoken by men. Like for example, I have had them happen to record ceremonies in city hall, which is, you know, a register of men only. I’ve been the only woman in a room of 60 men, being the only woman that is recording. And the reason why I have access to those kind of places is because my father, you know, was a highly respected, you know, member of the community, but also because, you know, I’m able to speak Chatino with them and, you know, explain to them what is the reason of why I’m doing this. So I have been able to record really interesting language in the community. But also there are other dynamics that come into play when a person is from the community. Like, for example, the Chatino communities, there has been a lot of, you know, violence, you know, sometimes, you know, animosity between different, you know, members of, you know, communities, animosity between different, you know, families sometimes, you know. Like oftentimes, you know, like X family might have had, you know, killed, you know, a member of Y family and then the member of Y family retaliates against the members of X family. So then, you know, like these situations touch me on a personal level because, you know, let’s say that an uncle of mine was killed by a member of X family. Of course, you know, I’m a person, and if that happens, I take it personally, and of course, I myself would not go and do recordings and work with, you know, members of communities that have, you know, done harm to people that I love. Or for the same reason, you know, those people will not want to talk to me either. Another interesting thing that comes into play also is that in my community, family is the unit that moves the community. Like for example, I am expected to support my family regardless of what happens, regardless… Let’s say, you know, one day I was, you know, at a party and I guess I was talking without thinking and then I said, “Oh, my uncle, you know, is sleeping because he has a hangover.” One of my cousins was sitting, was standing next to me. She just came and covered my mouth because, you know, I’m not supposed to talk about members of my family, and if members of my family have done anything wrong, the blame goes towards the entire family. So with anything that happens, then… So of course a lot of things are, you know, like move, things move, business, are done through families, and as a member of that community and with family there, so oftentimes I find myself working with other people who are friendly to my family.

MTB: Yeah. Yeah, wow, so you have like a completely other set of dynamics that you have to take into consideration when you’re setting up your research. Going off of that, though, like what advice would you give to someone who… Let’s start with insiders. So what advice would you give to another community member who wants to get into linguistics and wants to do research on Chatino or another Zapotecan language?

Hilaria Cruz: One of the advice that I will give is an advice that I will give with anyone who is working on Indigenous communities. So first of all, you just have to, you know, be there, be humble, be present. Do not come, you know, with a tape recorder in hand or with something, you know, brandishing that you are, you know, going to record people, because people get, you know, uneasy when that happens. You have to gain people’s, you know, trust by just listening, being present, but also being helpful. Every time you, if you’re at someone’s home, offer to help. Like, for example, people are making, you know… Just watch how the dynamics are. Like for example, if somebody’s making tortillas, well, try to help them make tortillas. If people have to go fetch water, you know, help them, you know, fetch water, you know. Be also, you know, generous. You know, people like generosity. When you visit someone, don’t come empty-handed; stop by the store and buy, you know, maybe, you know, a package of, you know, cookies or something that the members of the family might like. So if you are going to do a recording, you have to ask for permission ahead of time, not even… Ideally, it will be like a day before. Like for example, when I was doing recordings in city hall, I asked for permissions from the elders first, so the elders gave me permission, so then I will be recording people in that space, but then there will be elders who were really, really well spoken that I wanted to work with, so then what I will do is, I will ask other members of my community, “How can I approach this elder? What can I say?” Of course, people will give me advice as to what to say, how to approach the elders. So then oftentimes, I will ask my grandfather, I will ask my mother, “Do you know this person? Do you know this elder? You know, I would like to record with them.” And then what I will usually do, I will have my mom, of any member of my family who knew this family, they will come with me, we will go for a visit, just hang out with the family a day before and, you know, explain to them, you know, what is it that I would like to do. Like that happened to me once. I saw this elder who was just a really eloquent speaker in city hall, and I asked my mom if she knew him, and my mother says, “Yes. You know, he was a good friend of your father. We do have some relation,” so we went and we just visited. My mother introduced me and introduced the work that I do in such a wonderful and eloquent way, you know, like she told the elder that I was recording the language because one day Chatino will be in danger of not spoken anymore. The elder was just like saying, “Really?” And my mother says, “Yes, and this is the reason why Hilaria is doing these recordings, and she would like to record with you.” So it was just a beautiful moment, because the next day I went, the elder was just waiting for me. He was ready, and he began to tell me his whole life, you know, I’m going to tell you… Because this was in the context of, you know, his service to the community, and people serve the community all the way from when they are young until they are old, so he wanted to tell me everything that he knew. He wanted to, you know, impart that information. “Now I’m going to tell you about this. Now I’m going to tell you about that. Now I’m going to tell you how to make mezcal. Now I’m going to tell you how we used to deal with people who were bad in the community.” And it was just a really beautiful conversation, and that elder is no longer, you know, with us. So I’m really grateful to have been able to, you know, record, you know, and learn from these elders.

MTB: Yeah. Gosh, that sounds like such an interesting, like, experience. So that recording of that elder’s life history, were you able to save it for his family or archive it for the future?

Hilaria Cruz: Yes. It is archived in the archives at SOAS, but also at the archive of the Latin American languages at the University of Texas, yes, and…


Hilaria Cruz: Yeah, at AILLA. And of course, you know, like… As you guys know, you know, it’s a lot of work, and of course, as much as I can, I try to make, you know, copies for families, and this is an ongoing task that we have to do.

MTB: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. So just to flip that question around, do you have any advice for outsiders who want to get involved with researching Chatino and anything that like you would advise for them?

Hilaria Cruz: Yeah. If anyone would like to do research in Chatino, talk to me. We’re always, you know, welcoming people to do research. And let’s see. So research for outsiders. I would say if you are interested in working with the community, I would say that you get in touch with people who are doing work in those areas already. Get in touch with them and ask them, you know, “What are some of the areas that need help?” Because, you know, oftentimes, if you don’t ask people, people might, you know, question, you know, “Why is it that that person is doing work and not asking me?” But, you know, it’s just, you know, common courtesy, you know, to ask people who are already doing the work, and it’s also really helpful. And then ideally, also, you talk to people who speak the language and learn the language, you know, that is the language of contact, you know, like in this case, in Mexico, Spanish helps, and then go to visit the area with no plans to do work. Just, you know, go there, hang out, and check what you see and see if this is the area that you would like to work in, and hopefully you will go to the community with someone who is doing work there or with someone who is a native speaker of the language, you know, and just going there hanging out and with no plans to do recordings is very helpful.

MTB: Yeah. Yeah, that’s advice that I would also give. I wasn’t able to do it. The first time I was in the field was when I was actually trying to do my project, but if I had had any kind of budget or like anything, I would have gone first just to see like, “Is this going to work out?” and introduce myself to people. And I really think if there’s any way you can show up without any recordings to make first, that’s really the best way just to get people accustomed to you. And yeah, like you said, you can decide like, “Is this a good place for me?”

Hilaria Cruz: Yes.

MTB: So we had some questions come in when people registered, and then also people are putting questions in the chat, so let’s… Maybe we can do like a lightning round to try to get to as many questions that people submitted, and then I’ll reserve the last 10-15 minutes for the questions that people are putting in the chat now. Okay, so the first one is… Oh, and let’s caveat with: this is just, you know, Hilaria, you’re speaking from your own experience, as am I. We can’t speak for everyone. Okay. So one person wrote, “If you aren’t a native speaker of the language you are documenting, how much time do you need to dedicate to learning the language before starting gathering data? How soon can the real fieldwork begin if you aren’t familiar with the language?” I feel like this is so different for different languages, but Hilaria, what do you think?

Hilaria Cruz: Oh, my God. Well, I mean, it really depends. Right? Like, how much time, you know, you have to spend in the language. I think that Lina Hou and Kate Mesh can answer, you know, these questions much better than me, but I would say maybe two years, maybe? Like, for example, Kate Mesh, when she was doing work like, she was… Maybe took her six months. We took some classes, and then she lived in the community with a family for seven months or something like that, so I think that after seven months, you know, of living in the community constantly, she made a lot of friends, and I think that after that she was able to gather a group of people that could help her do elicitations, do fieldwork, but also she was able to carry on really, you know, basic conversations with people, but also that, you know, opened people, you know, up to her. It’s not… I think that a lot of, most native speakers love it when a person tries to learn their languages, because that doesn’t happen very much.

MTB: Yeah, I agree that you definitely have to put forth your best effort to learn the language. If there aren’t teaching materials, though, for you to study before you get there, I think that can make it really difficult, so like you said, if you can, if you can go there for a while just to immerse yourself, yeah, that would be the ideal scenario. Okay, the next one is: “How does a researcher take into account the linguistic needs and goals of a language community when conducting fieldwork? How does the researcher balance their academic goals (e.g. as a PhD student, for example) with the community’s goals?”

Hilaria Cruz: Yeah, that is always, you know, like the question that people are, you know, asking themselves. So once again, I think that when you go there, you know, just be open to listen to what people are saying, to just hearing what people’s opinions are, because, you know, people might say different things. Right?

MTB: Yeah.

Hilaria Cruz: I mean, people have. Even myself, in my community, you know, there are some people who are not interested in learning Chatino. Well, you know, I’m really, you know, like passionate about it. So I guess it’s just getting to know people.

MTB: Yeah. As a PhD student, like speaking as a PhD student, one thing I tried to do because I didn’t really have any budget or support to create like really impressive teaching materials or anything like that for the community, but I tried to listen to like on a micro level what people wanted. So when I was in the field, I babysat people’s kids all the time because that was like one way I could kind of help to, or try to repay the consultants is by like watching their kids or picking up their kids or grandkids from school and taking them, you know, to their activities. And then another thing that I did is, I made English menus for different people’s businesses because there’s a little bit of tourism where I work and people said like, “Oh, we would love to have an English menu, but like nobody speaks English in the community for the most part,” so that was like another really small thing I could do just as a PhD student with no budget. So yeah, like it does… I think if you can’t do like some amazing thing, you can still do something small.

Hilaria Cruz: Yes, anything helps. You know, I have a funny story to tell about this. One day, Anthony Woodbury, my advisor, and I were doing fieldwork in my community, so we went to visit the authorities, and, you know, a young authority who was also a teacher at the time (this was in 2006), at the time I guess there were some Chatino communities who were, you know, like translating the Mexican national anthem to the Chatino language. So the teacher says, “Hey, you know what? One thing that I think that we are missing is the national anthem in our Chatino, you know, language in this community.” So Tony and I just went back downhill, and for two days straight, we translated this very archaic national anthem, and then we tried to dance it, and we would try to sing it. So we went back to the authorities, and we said, “Hey, we have a translation of the Mexican, you know, national anthem. Can we sing it to you?” So we stood there. We tried to sing it. It was just awful. They didn’t like it. They said, “Thank you very much.” They never asked us again.

MTB: Oh, my gosh. Oh, no. Oh, that’s amazing. Okay, the next question is: “How can a remote researcher who’s not collecting data, or not collecting their own data but using somebody else’s, help the speakers of the language, especially if the language already has a writing system, a couple of grammars, etc.?”

Hilaria Cruz: There are so many, so many ways in which you can help a language. Like for example, you know, one of the very concrete ways that a person, you know, who knows technology is to be able to populate some of the areas, like for example, you know, the wiki ecosystem. Like, for example I have, you know, uploaded a list of 180 Chatino verbs, right? Like for example, you know, help them, you know, improve their visibility on Wiktionary, on Wikipedia. You know, help them make memes in their languages. Help them make a Facebook page for their community. There are so many ways in which you can help.

MTB: I think a lot of the languages that have been archived, just speaking from my experience at ELAR as well, like even if there is a deposit for our language, maybe there is like a ELAN file, so a transcription, where it’s translated but maybe it’s not glossed, so you could reach out to that depositor and say like, “Hey, like I’m working on this language, and I would love to help you like improve or build up these ELAN files,” and then that would just make the deposit better.

Hilaria Cruz: Yes, definitely. There are so many areas in which you can help. Like for example I have, you know, a corpus of the Chatino language scattered all over the place, so one of the things that I would love to do is to be able to make it more consistent so that it can be much more useful to researchers who want to use it, you know. There are so many ways that you can help.

MTB: Yeah. Okay, the next one is: “Is there a tension between what linguistic departments want or expect out of your work versus what the community actually needs? For us outsiders who communicate with a popular/non-linguistic audience, how can we do better at telling other people’s stories?”

Hilaria Cruz: Oh, definitely. Definitely. Like for example, one of the main reasons that I joined linguistics was so that I can, you know, develop a writing system for the Chatino language. And of course, you know, when I came into linguistics, people thought that, “Oh, no, a writing system? That’s a joke. I mean, it’s just, I can do that in my sleep.” But, you know, hey, of course, you know, somebody, you know, in academia can do that in their sleep and they don’t want to waste their time, but for communities, this is something really, really important. Communities expect their members to be able to help. Like it seems like, you know, people want to see immediately some results of the work that you are doing. Of course, you know, like if you’re writing a journal article, linguistics departments and academia, it seems like the people [unclear 36:05] if you have published in a well-known, you know, journal and if you are able to communicate with this small group of people, but, you know, this is not always the case.

MTB: Yeah, absolutely. Okay, so we only have 15 minutes left, so let’s switch over to direct messages. Okay, so Joanne asked: “At what stage is the development of a writing system for Chatino?” So I guess what’s your opinion on where it’s at?

Hilaria Cruz: Oh, my God. Well, for me, we have a good, you know, writing system, something that we can use now. I’m a writer and I’m a reader of the Chatino language, and by now I’m in the process of creating…

MTB: Oh, those are beautiful.

Hilaria Cruz: … materials, you know, for the language, like for example children’s books, and, you know, as you can see, they don’t have any translation into any major language because the target is for Chatino speakers. And Emily Gref is here. I love Emily Gref. She is the one who has helped us, you know, get the publications of this book. And by the way, this is where I might, we might need help in the future. Amazon refuses to publish our books because they are not in one of the languages that their system recognized, so… I know. This is the problem. But yeah. So we do have a writing system, and we have a group of Chatinos who have taken courses with us, and so we have a group of, you know, readers and writers, and we write on social media, and it’s just so, so beautiful, something that I could not do until up until I was 40 years old. I’m old, as you can see.

MTB: No, no, no. Carla asks: “What strategies or advice would you give to youth/students whose parents and abuelas were Chatinos wanting to learn the language, taking into account migration and colonization? How do you navigate not having access to those elders?”

Hilaria Cruz: Well, this is research that is waiting to happen, because as I was saying, you know, there is a sizable Chatino community who now live in the Southeastern United States, and there is… The link between, you know, the community and the people who live here is broken due to the very strict immigration system. A lot of people, you know, migrate out of their communities because they’re seeking, you know, a way to… They are seeking for jobs, so, you know, if they’re able to make it, you know, to the United States, they stay here, you know. Why go back and then, you know, try to come back and you risk your life? So there is a new generation of Chatino people, of kids who were born when this migration began back in the year 2000. Some of these kids who were born around that time right now are in college age. So one of the things that I see just by impression — I have not done any studies of this — is that a lot of Chatinos, Chatino people, do not speak the Chatino language to their kids. They speak a broken Spanish, and many, many of those children are not able to communicate with their grandparents. It’s a very sad situation, and I think that more work needs to happen to work with these communities to be able to, you know, regain the language, you know. Like I think that these books are really useful for, you know, engaging with these communities, but there’s, you know, one person cannot do all.

MTB: Yeah. Yeah, so do you think that if someone is a heritage Chatino speaker, then they should seek out to become a researcher of Chatino in order to like reconnect with their language? Or like what advice could we give to help them learn Chatino?

Hilaria Cruz: Yeah. Well, I think that, you know, we need more support for, you know, people, you know, for Native linguists like myself or for people who are creating, you know, materials for learning these Indigenous languages. So we need to give them more resources so that they can create, you know, like materials so that, you know, other people can create, you know, programs where these kids can come and learn about the language, about the culture, and about the importance of learning the language so that they can keep connected with the communities and with the culture and the knowledge that exists in their language.

MTB: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Okay. Saunatina asked three questions, so let’s do her first question, and then we’ll try to circle back. She wrote: “How do you feel about Spanish influencing Chatino?

Hilaria Cruz: Well, you know, of course I’m a linguist and I should, you know, I should welcome, right, any language. And it is true. But I’m a person as well. So there are, you know, like there is, right now, a lot of shift and a lot of borrowings from Spanish even from words that we have in the Chatino language. Like, for example, when I speak on the phone with my cousins who live in Durham, North Carolina, for example, you know, we keep talking and they say [speaks Chatino]. [speaks Chatino] is ‘work,’ right? But then they say, “Oh, [speaks Chatino] trabajo.” So they put a lot of, you know, like there’s a lot of borrowings into Spanish. And really, like as I said, you know, as a linguist, I should welcome any language, but at the same time, you know, if I’m working to continue this language, it makes me a little bit sad that we are losing some of the lexicon. Of course, I need creative ideas of, you know, telling, you know… And I don’t want to tell people, but maybe encourage them to use the words. Like for example, I don’t want to be, you know, like the purist and tell my cousin, “No, don’t use trabajo! Use [speaks Chatino].” But that will kind of break the communication. But, you know, maybe a conversation around this issue should happen in a more like public way and that way, you know, we think about it and rather than me telling people, you know, at each sentence, you know, what words to use.

MTB: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. Okay, another question that came in is: “How would somebody remote go about finding out a community’s position on outside learning of their language, and further, to go about learning it if no resources exist?” Ooh.

Hilaria Cruz: Wow, that is…

MTB: That’s tough.

Hilaria Cruz: That is a big question. I don’t know. I need some rephrasing in there.

MTB: I think you have to try to make a connection with the community for sure. Like if you are a remote researcher, that’s fine, especially in these COVID-y times that we’re living in, but I think it’s really important to try to make some kind of contact with the community to find out what their goals and their agenda is.

Hilaria Cruz: Oh, yes, yes. I think that there are many, you know, like there are ways to get connected with communities even, you know, like right now remotely, you know. A lot of people in many communities are using WhatsApp. People love Facebook and other, you know, social media.

MTB: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. Okay, so back to Saunatina. Do you… Okay, you already answered this. “Do you see much mixing between the languages? Is there mixing with English among Chatinos in the US in the South?”

Hilaria Cruz: Well, you know what, that is a great question, and actually I have not done that kind of research. I hear more mixing right now with Spanish, but maybe, you know, with, you know, children who go to school, there might be more mixing with English, and that would be a wonderful research question to pursue.

MTB: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Okay, Joey wrote: “What is your perspective on the debates around the terminology of ‘language death’ and ‘endangerment’? What terminology do you recommend to talk about the pressures on speakers of languages like Chatino to switch to other languages?”

Hilaria Cruz: Yeah. Well, you know, I’ve been empowered by the literature that is out there and that has, you know, come out about, you know, language endangerment, language realization. You know, before I came into linguistics, I was not aware of this wonderful literature, and learning about this literature, really, I was able to put into words, you know, the things that I was seeing in the field. So I have a lot of respect for the new intellectuals who are writing about what kind of terminology we should use, and I respect them, you know. I respect the Native Americans, you know, who are, you know, bringing their language back. And instead of saying, you know, like “language death” or “that language is moribund,” maybe say that the language is at risk or that the language is dormant. So I will follow, you know, what the communities are saying. Like, for example, I really liked the work of, you know, Jenny Davis, you know, in the literature where she writes like, “Indigenous people have ways in which they talk about their languages.” And that was so funny because, you know, like for example she was saying that people, that oftentimes Native Americans tackle their languages as if they were baskets. And it was so funny because when I was doing… I have a little glossary in this book, and then at the end I said [speaks Chatino] without seeing what she was writing about, and this [speaks Chatino] is, it’s a little basket. I thought, “Well, you know, I’m just going to coin the word in Chatino for ‘dictionary,’ so I’m going to call it, you know, it’s a basket that contains, you know, words.” So then it was really funny because I was using the same thing, you know, without knowing that, you know, many other Native people also use, you know, envision their languages as something, you know, like a basket containing words.

MTB: Yeah. Yeah, that’s so interesting. Okay, so I think we need to wrap up, but I want to end with, Carla asked about: where can people buy your books, Hilaria, your Chatino books?

Hilaria Cruz: Okay. Well, actually, there are some of these books that are on sale. Like the first edition that we did at Dartmouth College, you can download them from for free from Dartmouth, but you can also buy them on Amazon. It’s just, you know, they already published a set of books, and now they don’t want to publish these other ones, so…

MTB: Hilaria, can you send me the link for that, and then I can put it on the show notes for this?

Hilaria Cruz: Yeah. Definitely, yes.

MTB: Oh, fantastic. Oh, Hilaria, this has been so amazing. Thank you so much for sharing your time with us.

Hilaria Cruz: Thank you so much for joining this this conversation.

MTB: Thank you, and thank you to everyone who participated as well.


You’ve been listening to Field Notes, a podcast about linguistic fieldwork. This podcast is hosted and produced by Martha Tsutsui Billins with production help from Laura Tsutsui. Our music is by Lobo Loco, and our logo is by E.Vill Designs. If you have a question or a fieldwork experience to share, you can email us at fieldnotespod@gmail.com. You can also follow us on Twitter and Instagram @lingfieldnotes. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please leave us an Apple Podcast review. Thanks for listening!

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