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chapter 2 Changing Navajo Language Ideologies and Changing Language Use margaret c. field This chapter presents an overview of observations on Navajo language use throughout the twentieth century and contrasts these with contemporary observations about Navajo language use and language ideology today, in the early years of the twenty-first century. Whereas earlier work in the twentieth century by linguists and anthropologists described a comparatively conservative and homogeneous Navajo speech community , a perspective often echoed by the Navajo Nation itself today (House 2002), observations by contemporary linguists and anthropologists (Field 2001; House 2001, 2002; Schaengold 2004) have described it as emergent, heterogeneous, and even contradictory. This chapter adopts a perspective on language ideology as equally complex and dependent on the social categories of age, class, occupation, and religion (among others). I begin by reviewing some current examples of Navajo and English codemixing from naturally occurring discourse and point out that the norms for contemporary Navajo language use differ sharply from those observed and commented upon in the linguistics and anthropological literature of half a century ago. I then provide an example of actual structural change in Navajo grammar, showing how a distributive plural morpheme has come to function like an English plural morpheme. This further illustrates how previous observations on Navajo language attitudes have changed in contemporary usage. I then turn to a discussion of Navajo language ideology and consider how attributing what may be described as a relatively sudden shift in language use to a simple increase in the degree of contact with English language does not entirely explain the recent and rapid shift in Navajo language attitudes. I suggest that this change may be better understood through a consideration of heterogeneity in Navajo language ideologies and norms for language use across different segments of the 32 margaret c. field Navajo population. Following Irvine and Gal (2000), I suggest that contemporary Navajo language use and language ideologies (as in every speech community) may be understood as a result of the interplay between various social groups (age, class, and religious affiliation, in particular ) and the activities that exist within them. Changing Language Use: From ‘‘Resistance to Borrowing’’ to Codemixing Linguists and anthropologists writing in the early 1900s shared common observations on the conservative nature of Navajo language use. The concept of language ideology was not in use at that time, and Edward Sapir actually attributed a conservative ‘‘psychological trait’’ to Athabascan languages rather than speakers (Navajo being a member of the southern branch of Athabascan): ‘‘The Athabaskan languages of America are spoken by peoples that have had astonishingly varied cultural contacts, yet nowhere do we find that an Athabaskan dialect has borrowed at all freely from a neighboring language. These languages have always found it easier to create new words by compounding afresh elements to hand’’ (1949b:196). At present, and in contrast to the norms of half a century ago, codemixing among bilingual speakers of Navajo and English is quite common , especially among middle-aged and younger speakers, as observed by Young and Morgan: In recent years the tempo and extent of cultural borrowing have increased as Navajos in ever increasing numbers have gone to school or experienced life outside Navajo country. Bilingualism has grown as never before , and there is a distinct trend on the part of bilingual speakers to mix the languages. The tribal council has generally insisted upon linguistic purity, sometimes stopping speakers in the middle of their discourse to insist that they speak only one language at a time, but children and Navajo radio announcers, as well as bilingual speakers generally tend to insert words and phrases from English into their Navajo discourse, especially if the person to whom they are speaking is bilingual. (1987:7) Codemixing by fluent Navajo speakers today generally involves mixing English nouns and adverbial phrases but not verbs into Navajo discourse . The extremely polysynthetic nature of the Navajo verb helps to changing navajo language ideologies 33 ensure this, as it is difficult for speakers who perceive verbs as a single conceptual unit to integrate English into the verb complex. The following examples illustrate this kind of codemixing, which is currently common among Navajo speakers. Most of the English nouns in the following examples have not been ‘‘Navajo-ized’’ in terms of phonology, either, suggesting that they should not be termed ‘‘borrowings.’’ For example, the noun ‘‘Christmas’’ (in example 7) has a borrowed alternate form in Navajo (keshmish), but the speakers I recorded chose to use the English form...


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