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Gesture, Speech and Sign in Chatino Communities

Deposit page image for the collection "Gesture, Speech and Sign in Chatino Communities"

Deposit page image for the collection “Gesture, Speech and Sign in Chatino Communities”. Click on image to access collection.

Language San Juan Quiahije Chatino; San Juan Quaihije Chatino Sign Language
Depositor Kate Mesh
Affiliation The University of Texas at Austin
Location Mexico
Deposit ID 0459
Grant ID SG0186
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle http://hdl.handle.net/2196/2a22b9c7-36be-4e5c-8cf7-b1ab5fe3d6f3

 

Summary of the deposit

This deposit contains a record of communication in gestured, and signed communication in the San Juan Quiahije municipality of Oaxaca, Mexico. It focuses on communicative practices for wayfinding and direction-giving in the mountainous topography of the municipality, as well as practices for maintaining a household, including many cooking activities. Two languages are featured: San Juan Quiahije Chatino (Zapotecan, Otomanguean) and San Juan Quaihije Chatino Sign Language (a sign language isolate emerging in the municipality).

The data were collected by Kate Mesh and community members pseudonymized as CF32, CF23, CM13 and SF21. In a related project, Kate worked with Lynn Hou to document the structure of San Juan Quaihije Chatino Sign Language; their joint work is found in ELAR deposit 0355: Documenting Chatino Sign Language.

The images at the top show a community member pointing to identify a nearby location (leftmost image, lowered arm) and a distant location (rightmost image, raised arm).

 

Group represented

The Chatino people traditionally inhabit an area of contemporary Oaxaca stretching from the Oaxaca Valley to the Pacific Coast. As an ethnic group, Chatinos are offset from their Zapotec and Mixtec neighbors through differences in cosmology and material culture and through the use of the Chatino languages, which form a shallow family in the Zapotecan branch of the Otomanguean language stock. There are approximately 3,600 residents of the San Juan Quiahije municipality. Their variety of spoken Chatino takes the municipality’s name. There are 11 deaf members of the community who are contributing to the emergence of a new sign language. Researchers call their combined family sign languages, San Juan Quiahije Chatino Sign Language. Hearing people in the community call both signing in the language and gesturing, ‘making hands.’ The geography of the San Juan Quiahije municipality is central to the lives of community members. Located at the base of the southern Sierra Madre del Sur mountain range, the municipality encompasses both the mountaintop town of San Juan and the smaller village of Cieneguilla in the valley below. A constellation of rancherías (seasonal farming communities) are distributed in the lowland valleys extending north, east and west from San Juan and Cieneguilla. The town, village, and surrounding farming sites function together as a closed corporate community whose members grow and exchange the crops suited to distinct mountaintop and valley ecologies. Travel between the town, village, and outlying farm sites is overwhelmingly frequent, since farming tasks, trade, and visits to the homes of family members require community members to move between these locations.

 

Language information

The Chatino languages form a shallow family in the Zapotecan branch of the Otomanguean language stock. Many Chatino languages are represented in the ELAR deposit, 0090: Documenting Chatino Languages. San Juan Quiahije Chatino (a variety of Western Highland Chatino) is named for the municipality in which it is spoken. Speakers of the language call it chaq3 tnya24, ‘our speech’.

San Juan Quiahije Chatino is distinguished by its high degree of tonality: the language has 5 tone qualities that, when used in isolation or fused into tone contours, create 14 phonological tones. Twelve of these tones are contrastive at the lexical (pre-sandhi) level. The tone-bearing unit in SJQ Chatino is the syllable, and words in the language are monosyllabic, so that every word bears one phonological tone. Tone marks aspect on verbs as well as person on multiple parts of speech in Chatino.

Transcriptions in this deposit represent the tones of San Juan Quiahije Chatino following the early conventions of Chatino Language Documentation Project of the University of Texas at Austin (CLDP). Tones are represented using numbers: 0-4 to represent distinct tone qualities, and the pitch levels associated with these numbers range from super-high (tone 0) to low (tone 4). At the end of every written Chatino word is either a single number representing a level tone, or a pair of numbers representing a tone contour. An overview of the CLDP approach to writing tone is found in: Cruz, E., and Woodbury, A. C. (2014). Finding a way into a family of tone languages: The story and methods of the Chatino Language Documentation Project. Language Documentation Conservation, 8, 490–524.

San Juan Quiahije Chatino Sign Language (SJQCSL) is used by 14 deaf people and their hearing associates in the San Juan Quiahije municipality. The 14 deaf people are distributed across 6 families, each of which has developed a distinct set of signing practices. Since many of the families’ signing practices are shared, the name SJQCSL is applied to the constellation of family sign languages in the municipality.

Glosses of SJQCSL in the deposit are written in English and printed in capital letters (e.g., TORTILLA, SCHOOL) and phrasal glosses for a single sign are hyphenated (e.g., ALL-AROUND-HERE.).

 

Special characteristics

This deposit documents communicative practices across modalities in the San Juan Quiahije municipality. It makes evident that for deaf and hearing community members alike, embodied communication is frequent and indispensable. Data from this deposit were used for dissertation research by Kate Mesh comparing pointing to landscape-scale referents by gesturers and signers—the first attempt to systematically compare pointing and signs and pointing gestures from members of a single community.

This deposit records multimodal communication in two broad domains: wayfinding/direction-giving, and household activities, focused on meal preparation.

Direction-giving is often in landscape-scale space, and draws on references to the local and regional topography. It makes reference to both truck travel and travel by foot. San Juan and Cieneguilla are connected to outside communities by dirt roads that are rendered impassable when extreme weather (heavy rains and hurricanes) floods the streams that cross them. Yet the municipality has long maintained a thriving relationship to the surrounding Chatino and mestizo (non-indigenous) communities, primarily by traveling to these communities on foot. A series of footpaths were widened into dirt roads in the latter half of the 20th century, making truck travel convenient, if still challenging after extreme weather events. Today citizens travel outside of the municipality with relative ease: trade draws them to a variety of commercial centers in the Juquila district and the wider state of Oaxaca. Increasingly, people from the municipality seek temporary or permanent work in these locations. They travel well beyond the state, as well: as many as one third of the citizens of the municipality migrate to the United States in order to earn enough money to buy construction supplies for house-building and to supplement seasonal harvests that provide food for only part of the year. Interviews with community members—deaf and hearing alike—touch on these facts, as participants discuss local, regional, national, and international locations, and the paths to reach them.

The traditional livelihood in Chatino communities is swidden farming, and harvested crops are made to last through skilful food preparation. Much of the spontaneous conversation recorded in this collection is from women participating in food preparation, with activities ranging from daily tortilla- and tamale-making to overnight preparations of large quantities of food for community festivities. Women work jointly around a large clay griddle (comal) suspended over a wood-fed fire. Young girls are observe food preparation practices and begin participating around the age of 9. Much of the footage of food preparation features hearing users of San Juan Quiahije Chatino. It is directly comparable to footage of deaf women preparing food that was collected by Lynn Hou and is can be found in the ELAR deposit, 0575: Documenting Language Structure and Language Socialization of San Juan Quiahije Chatino Sign Language.

 

Deposit contents

This deposit records multimodal communication in two broad domains: wayfinding/direction-giving, and household activities, focused on meal preparation.

This deposit contains Local Environment Interviews, following the protocol in: Kita, Sotaro (2001). Locally- anchored spatial gestures, version 2: historical description of the local environment as a gesture elicitation task. In Stephen C. Levinson & N.J. Enfield (eds.), Manual for the field season 2001, 132-135. Nijmegen: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics.

A total of 42 Local Environment Interviews, comprising 11 hours of footage, are in the deposit:

  • 5 interviews with deaf signers of SJQCSL
  • 37 interviews with hearing speakers of San Juan Quiahije Chatino
  • for 2 deaf signers, and 28 hearing speaker-gesturers, the videos are accompanied with ELAN annotation files containing translations and transcriptions into Spanish. All talk surrounding communicative bodily gestures is transcribed and translated
  • there are also several hours of video-recorded household activities, including footage in which women prepare tortillas, tamales, salsas, and other foods for daily consumption and for parties at which 40 or more people would be in attendance

A small subset of these videos is accompanied with ELAN annotation files containing translations and transcriptions into Spanish.

Deposit history

The data for this deposit were collected by Kate Mesh during her dissertation research. After an early trip to the San Juan Quiahije municipality in 2012, Kate returned to the municipality in the summer of 2014, and for 8 months (January to August) in 2015. Footage in this deposit is from the 2014 and 2015 trips alone.

From 2012 to 2015 Kate worked with research collaborator Lynn Hou, who appears in many of the recorded videos. Joint work with Lynn, including all of the recordings of signers from 2012, is archived in the deposit, 0359: Documenting Chatino Sign Language. Additional work of Lynn’s is documented in the deposit, 0575: Documenting Language Structure and Language Socialization of San Juan Quiahije Chatino Sign Language.

 

Acknowledgement and citation

Users of any part of the collection should acknowledge Kate Mesh as the data collector and the researcher. Individual speakers whose words and/or images are used should be acknowledged by respective name(s) or pseudonym(s). Any other contributor who has collected, transcribed or translated the data or was involved in any other way should be acknowledged by name. All information on contributors is available in the metadata.

To refer to any data from the corpus, please cite as follows:

Mesh, Kate. 2018. Gesture, Speech and Sign in Chatino Communities. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: http://hdl.handle.net/2196/00-0000-0000-0010-119F-A. Accessed on [insert date here].

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