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Language and Belonging

Local Categories and Practices in a Guatemalan Highland Community


Rita Vallentin

In this book, the author introduces belonging from a sociolinguistic perspective as a concept that is accomplished in interaction. Belonging can be expressed linguistically in social, spatial and temporal categories – indexing rootedness, groupness and cohesion. It can also be captured through shared linguistic practices within a group, e.g. collectively shared narrative practices. Using conversation analysis and an analysis of narrative as practice bolstered with ethnographic knowledge, the author shows how belonging is tied to locally contextualized use of deictics and to collectively shared narrations of the past in a Guatemalan community. The book examines the understudied phenomenon of belonging at the intersection of pragmatics and linguistic anthropology.

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1. Introduction


It was a damp morning during the summer of 2009 in Guatemala when Lola1 climbed up a steep path with her eldest daughter and myself to collect ripe macadamia nuts from her small parcel of land. During a short break, and with a view over the community houses, smoke billowing from their hearths, she points to a small piece of land where the cemetery lies. She tells me that her grandparents are buried there because they were born ‘here’, that her father is buried there as he was also born ‘here’ and that, one day, she too will be buried in the very same cemetery because aquí nací y aquí voy a morir ‘I was born here and here I’m going to die’. As unanticipated as LOA’s articulation of life and death that morning on our way to work was, it was deeply revealing regarding her understanding of local attachment through the trajectory of generations. It pointed to a specific spatially bound conceptualization of belonging.

Arriving at this conclusion, and, hence, the overall topic of this book, has been a long journey. It started when I traveled to Guatemala as a Master’s student in 2009. I was doing research on global connectedness and its repercussions on community members’ perceptions of being part of a global imagined community (Anderson, 1983) based on the experiences of a rural community in the western highlands of Guatemala, the Nueva Alianza. The Alianza has an extraordinary story of struggle, and, as...

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