Voices of Play: Miskitu Children’s Speech and Song on the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua by Amanda Minks (review)
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Voices of Play: Miskitu Children’s Speech and Song on the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua. By Amanda Minks. (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2013. Pp. 240, figures, notes, references, index.)

In Voices of Play: Miskitu Children’s Speech and Song on the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua, Amanda Minks explores how the children living on Corn Island, off the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua, use speech and song in their everyday lives to develop a sense of themselves and others in their lives on Corn Island. These forms of communication are also used to assert authority among the children, establish a hierarchy among themselves, and perpetuate their native Mistkitu tongue, as they live in a predominantly Spanish-speaking world. Through her ethnographic study, Amanda Minks examines how languages, genres, and voices intersect within the children’s social and communicative competence. Focusing on a select group of children, Minks follows them as they engage in their playtime. In doing so, she documents their use of Kriol English, Spanish, and Miskitu as well as the frequency in which code-switching occurs.

Historically, Afro-Caribbean Creoles populated Corn Island, but during the 1980s Contra War, a great number of Miskitu and Mestizos began settling on the island in hopes of finding work as well as refuge from the war. Minks’s ethnography studies the way the children on the island carve out their sense of belonging within their social networks and with other inhabitants of the island. The children featured in her research are from the bottom of the social hierarchy on the island. Given their parents’ inability to establish and maintain financial success on the island, which often resulted in extended stays on the mainland, the children were ostracized by other islanders and not considered true, or native, islanders. According to Minks, in their culture, there is a “traditional practice on the Atlantic Coast that transfers a material and symbolic connection from the womb to the place of birth.” The migratory nature of their lives prevented their connection to the place of their birth. The Miskitu parents were frequently ousted from their homes built on rented land, and in the inflated tourist economy, they did not have the financial means to purchase their own homes or establish themselves financially.

Chapter 1, “Voices of Play,” provides both a historical and demographic background on the island and its inhabitants. Minks introduces the children living on Corn Island and provides a glimpse into their home lives. Minks further goes into detail to explain her methods, theories, and studies, and provides excerpts of bilingual transcripts of their playtime. With each transcript, Minks provides context and an analysis of the children’s play.

Chapter 2, “Histories and Contexts of Communication,” addresses both the historical as well as social context for the children’s language of play. Minks relates, in abbreviated form, a history of the Atlantic Coast. As early as 1679, the intermarriage between escaped African slaves with the indigenous population resulted in the creation of the people group known as the Miskitu. This chapter also establishes a correlation between race and culture that ultimately produced a cultural transformation of Corn Island. In addition, Minks delves into individual family structures of the children she follows, examining their learning environment and how their social networks allow for informal learning.

Minks carefully analyzes the Miskitu language used by the children and explains the structure, alterations, and meanings. Chapter 3, “Vocal Play in Multilingual Speech and Song,” emphasizes how children take ownership of the various languages in their environment, creating their own unique style of communication to express their sense of place and belonging. This ownership takes place spontaneously and uses various methods of [End Page 115] communication. The activities, or modes of play, presented by Minks express a wide array of activities that do not reflect a correlation between complexity and age. She identifies vocal play as an all-encompassing term relating to vocal production that is created expressly for entertainment.

Chapter 4, “Performing Gender in Song Games,” and chapter 5, “Power and Intertextuality in Pretend Play,” describe how the children express and reinforce gender roles through games and songs. Older children bring the younger ones...


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