DEBATE. Brief postpartum reflection

Gabriela Coronado*Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología social (CIESAS), del Distrito Federal (Research and Graduate Studies Center in Social Anthropology (CIESAS for its abbreviation in Spanish) of the Federal District). English translation by Denisse Piñera Palacios.

Some days ago I had the chance to receive the review of my book Porque hablar dos idiomas… es como saber más. Sistemas comunicativos bilingües ante el México plural (Because speaking two languages… is like knowing more. Bilingual communicative systems before a Plural Mexico), written by Professor Leonardo Manrique. I must say that the fact that he, a professor dear to me at the beginning of my career, wrote such a long and careful review of my work caused me profound joy. I will not comment on its content, because I think many of his comments and disagreements are legitimate and somehow “natural” in a research process that should have been much more collective than it finally was. My work, as he points out, is a starting point and I hope it will be taken up again by other colleagues engaged in the linguistic future of our country. What I would like to do, taking advantage of the opportunity the review Dimensión Antropológica offers to me, is to comment on a deficiency that, like Manrique, I consider regrettable: the absence of an additional section that would include the Questionnaire of usage of Mexico’s languages.

When I read the review and examined the text once again, I was shocked to see the scarcity of information about the questionnaire. Without intending to justify myself; I guess that when I wrote the final text, my concern for the results and for the clearness and precision of the report made me forget about the importance and usefulness of the reflection on the everyday job, and of the methodological instruments that are the soul of the research results.

The questionnaire by means of which we obtained the information of the functional uses of the languages in bilingual communities was the result of a long research experience in bilingualism in different regions and communities. In them, we performed case studies about the different aspects of the Mexican sociolinguistic reality. This experience served as basis to define the relevant social spaces where the speakers of Indigenous languages put into practice their communicative strategies, choosing the use of their mother tongue or of Spanish, from the sociopolitical conditions that surround their social interaction. My interest was to incorporate the set of usage alternatives of the languages that the speakers use when they face conditions of economic, social and political development within the frame of relationships towards the Spanish-speaking society. Our goal was to show the tendencies of linguistic diversity as to its functioning and development. The spaces of verbal interaction are defined in the sociocommunicative ethnography I present in chapter 1 of the book.

A first version of the questionnaire was applied experimentally in different places to speakers of different tongues, which allowed us to adjust the number of questions and modify the ones that were of difficult understanding for the interviewed subjects. In this stage we obtained satisfactory results, especially from some communities that found in the questionnaire a useful instrument to reflect aspects of the situation of their tongues from the point of view of their own interests. Of course, we left them a sample of the questionnaire and invited them to create their own version, one that responded to their own objectives.

The application of the reformulated questionnaire was performed mostly in an individual way, although its orientation focused on the predominant uses of the languages in the community and region. Therefore, the result is not the description of the whole internal diversity in each case, but the attainment of some sort of communal linguistic practice that indicates the predominant tendencies. In some cases, on the initiative of the communities, the questionnaire was applied collectively, which in my opinion represented a rich research experience, as well as a gratifying contribution to the generation of the speakers’ linguistic reflection.

The very fact of making a multiple-choice questionnaire instead of a different means of data collection, which may be qualitatively more productive (such as another type of open interview), was due to the specific objectives of the project. From the beginning, our goal was to carry out a research project that could attain a macrosociolinguistic perspective at a national level, from the particularities in the use of the languages at a communal level, and this is why we needed the information to be comparable in all the cases. With this ambition in mind, we tried (and somehow I think we managed to do it, although not entirely) to offer a more extensive image of the diversity of the sociocommunicative strategies with which each group acts to respond to the specific and general conditions of interrelationship and of interethnic (indomestizo)struggle.

We transcribe the questionnaire below. I hope it will be useful so that the study of bilingualism in Mexico continues to incorporate the ideas and experiences of other researchers interested in the study of sociolinguistic diversity.
















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