Lewis, Paul M. (2001) K'iche': A Study in the Sociology of Language. SIL
International, xiv+261pp, paperback ISBN 1-55671-120-4, $29.00, Publications in
This volume is based on more than ten years of study on the sociology of
language in Guatemala. In seven chapters and appendix (of the questions used in
the field work), the volume covers seven K'iche speaking communities and their
language use in depth. Each chapter has a summary.
In Chapter one, Lewis provides the reader the context of the language use
situation in Guatemala from past to present. The preconquest Maya society, the
postconquest Guatemala, the colonial period, independence and the period of
indigenismo as well as the current post-indigenismo years are described.
In Chapter two Lewis reveals his theoretical approach: the work of Joshua
Fishman and language sociology as well as Howard Giles and others who
the ethnolinguistic vitality theory. Lewis's aim is to synthesize these
approaches and make an application of the ethnolinguistic vitality theory
investigation of language and identity shift in the K'iche situation. Lewis
begins focusing on the process of language maintenance, shift and their
relationship with identity in the K'iche communities. He also introduces many
important themes and definitions such as bilingualism and other language
issues, ethnocultural identity and language issues, ethnolinguistic vitality
theory and gives a thorough description of Guatemalan communities.
The question of what causes language and culture shift is raised and the
relation with ethnic identity and language in Guatemala is shown:
''[I]ndustrialization and modernization will further motivate members of the
society to abandon their traditional sociocultural patterns in order to acquire
the patterns (and the language) if the institutions which control the means of
production. Fishman (1968/1972: 149) suggests that under these unstable
conditions language interference as well as language shift and language loss
should be an expected outcome.'' In other words language of possibilities will
replace the language of social backwardness and status quo.
The relationship of language and ethnic identity is complex. The goal of the
research is not to find a determined single identity for a group, but rather to
determine which of the multiple identities available to a group is most salient
for that group under certain circumstances. ''[L]anguage shift is an
a consciousness that adjustments need to be made to fit changed or changing
environment. Depending on the theoretical perspective taken these adjustments
can be viewed as either a change in the core of the culture, or as a simple
matter of expediency. Language shift can be identified by 1) the
usage of language between speaking, reading, and writing 2) the degree of
willingness and ability to use the language and 3) a description of the
sociocultural contexts and role relations in which a language is being used.''
(pp. 31-32) Lewis presents ethnolinguistic vitality theory (EIT) that has its
roots in Social Identity Theory of Henri Tajfel and colleagues. (p. 32)
Ethonolinguistic vitality includes social, economic, political and linguistic
factors that are used to estimate the ethnic group's identity in frequent
contact situations with another group or groups. EIT distinguishes
subjective ethnolinguistic vitality factors. Objective factors are structural
factors that could influence the vitality of an ethnolinguistic group and which
can be measured. Examples of these are environmental factors such as
demographic, social-structural and political-legal factors as well as
dynamics and interactional norms. Subjective factors are different self-
perceptions of the members of the group. (p.34) Lewis synthesises the
case a situation of diglossia without bilingualism. There are growing pressures
on one hand of the effects of the indigenismo politics and on the other of the
social and political liberalization. Social changes, modernization,
demographic dislocation have destabilized the diglossic situation and
bilingualism without diglossia seems to be the case currently. Destable
diglossia seems to accelerate the process of language and culture shift. (p.40-
In Chapter three, Lewis presents the research project design and methodology.
The language use data, data collection, observation and sampling methods are
impressive. The argument of the study is that, as the result of changes in
Guatemalan social relations, the longstanding compartmentalization of roles for
K'iche and Spanish based on race, sex, age, setting and interlocutor has broken
down as K'iche communities have adopted a more modern identity. There are two
hypothesis: 1) K'iche and Spanish are not in a stable diglossic
There is significant relationship between language use and degree of acceptance
of modern (i.e. nontraditional) identity factors in K'iche communities. (p.49-
50) The goal of the study was to obtain approx. 1000 observations of speech
transactions in each of the target communities during the six-month data-
gathering period. (p.57) The observations obtained were lesser than targeted.
However, 11,229 participants altogether were being observed in the seven target
communities. The communities were: Chichicastenango, Cunï¿½n, Joyabaj,
San Andrï¿½s Sajcabajï¿½, Santa Cruz del Quichï¿½, Totonicapan. Santa Cruz
and Totonicapan were treated as cities compared to the five smaller towns.
Chapter four starts the description and analysis of the seven communities by
describing the five towns. Of each community demographic factors, institutional
support factors (i.e. church, formal education, business) status factors (i.e.
economic, social, language status and the group's value system) subjective or
subjective vitality factors (self-perception of the population) are presented.
Chapter five gives the community resource profile data analysis of the cities:
Santa Cruz del Quichï¿½ and Totonicapan. The framework is here the
Chapter six presents the data of the language use patterns in each of the seven
communities. Analysis supports the first hypothesis that K'iche and Spanish are
no longer in a stable diglossic relationship. Some of the domains in use are
leaking and the diglossic situation is unstable. The independent variables of
race, age, sex and domain, and the language choice as the dependent variable,
show how compartmentalization of functions and roles of the languages is
breaking down. (p.141) The data is presented also in various tables and
a summary of the data of each community.
Chapter seven integrates the two data sets: The ethnolinguistic and qualitative
data with the quantitative language use data. The overall profile and language
maintenance profile of each community is then comparable with one another
respect to the changes in Guatemalan society. Language maintenance indices
are also presented. Status factors are decisive. Status factors are those which
deal with the relative prestige of the linguistic varieties and are derived
the prestige of the speakers of the varieties more than from any inherent
features of the varieties themselves. The four kinds of status recognized by
Giles, Bourhis and Taylor (1977) are economic, social, sociohistorical and
language status. (p.226) Interestingly, but also expectedly, the seven
communities perceive their the status categories differently as low or high.
Depending weather the Mayans participate in the cash-producing activities, the
economic status is high and equally if not, it is low. Quite generally the
social status of the Mayans is low. Only in Totonicapï¿½n the social status is
seen as high. This is explained with the overwhelming predominance and
participation of the Mayans in the community in almost every part of social
life. While the ladinos still perceive the Mayans as socially inferior it seems
to be less attacking with the great majority of Mayans. Sociohistorical status
is high only in Chichicastenango and Totonicapï¿½n. Language status is low
everywhere else except in Sacapulas and Cunï¿½n. K'iche is perceived as
while Spanish is the language of power, progress, and upward mobility. Analysis
of the subjective vitality suggests that K'iche is being successfully
and there are even some language activists. However, the upward mobility and
possibilities offered by Spanish language appeal to many. Chapter seven
the calculations of the global language maintenance indices.
The review of the Guatemalan of the historical developments of the
sociolinguistic situation given in chapter one is useful. Ethnolinguistic
vitality theory is well summarised and applied to the problem. Research project
design and methodology is well documented and explained. The objectives of the
study are clearly demonstrated and put forward. The findings and results are
interesting as well as extremely important information for the contemporary
situation where there are attempts to reform the language policy in Guatemala.
Lewis meets the goal of the research and makes an important opening for the
study of K'iche language use and maintenance in Guatemala.
The author adopts Fishman's definitions and approaches of bilingualism and
diglossia. However, at this point I must say that the wide definition and
diglossia is confusing and misleading. The meaning and the importance of the
''discovery'' of diglossia is clearly connected to the environment it was first
found. There is certain voluntariness in diglossia to choose to use one
or variant at home, one in the neighbourhood and another one for more formal
purposes. In diglossia the functional differentiation between languages is on
voluntary basis and not on political, economic and sociohistorical structures.
Lewis interprets the Guatemalan language contact situation as a diglossia
without bilingualism - a situation where is very little interaction as it is,
according to Fishman, mainly carried out by interpreters1. As there is no
language, these kinds of situations are very unstable and as Fasold reminds,
often transitional. However, this is not the case in Guatemala nor in most of
the Latin American countries as the indigenous population is forced to
speak at least some Spanish because Spanish is the language of power, of
participation. The bilinguals are not an elite but the lower class - the elite
can be monolingual, or their second language is often English. The high
is spoken by most people while the low language is not. As an unstable and
transitional diglossic situation it is long-lasting and institutionalised
process. Latin American language contact situation has hardly any diglossic
characteristics described by the authors devoted to the theme. One exception is
Paraguay where diglossia (with bilingualism) could be defined - the low
Guaranï¿½ is spoken by everyone and its functions are clearly seen. The
power structure is inseparable of the larger power structures which are, as the
Latin Amercian history shows, also ongoing battles of power shift and
maintenance. The language contact situation in Guatemala is a language and
culture maintenance struggle in a context a bigger battle of cultural,
and economic power.
Spanish has been and still is clearly the language of power in Spanish speaking
Latin America. In Guatemala (as elsewhere) the government policy, whether
or secretly, has been promoting language shift for centuries for example,
through education. The ladino population has been monolingual and the bilingual
education designed to the indigenous population has also aimed at language
more or less until 1980's. Physical, demographic, social, and cultural
dislocation are also historical and have been inviting to language shift for
As many writers have shown, stable diglossia tends to support the minority
language and unstable or ''leaking'' seems to encourage towards language shift.
However, we have seen in the course of Latin American and Guatemalan history
diminishing number of indigenous speakers. The phenomena, in spite of the
relatively large indigenous population of Guatemala compared to the other Latin
American countries, is not new. In a situation of linguistic discrimination and
great social injustice diglossia hardly can be stable, so nearly by definition,
stable diglossia is an impossibility in many Latin American countries. As Lewis
himself presents, diglossia was difficult to spot in Guatemala.
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