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Language and Belonging

Local Categories and Practices in a Guatemalan Highland Community

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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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6. Belonging as a Local and Interactional Problem

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In this first analytical chapter, I want to show how belonging is a communicative problem (Hausendorf, 2000, 99f.), and is thus processed and negotiated in interaction. A second major point in the following analysis is that belonging has to be considered as part of local frames of reference (Anchimbe & Janney, 2011, 1451), taking seriously the sequential unfolding of participants’ emic perspectives. Strikingly, this has to be considered a matter of categorial organization. Belonging is made a topic and object of discussion explicitly in the following extracts. An official representative of a governmental institution – the ‘trainer’82 – comes to the community to conduct a training on economic and social female empowerment with the community women. The workshop is a specific interactional setting with different roles distributed to the trainer as an authority and expert, and the participants expected to deliver answers and executing tasks. Within this setting, the women face two different tasks: On the one hand, they have to answer the questions to the satisfaction of the trainer. On the other hand, they have to deal with the categories that are proposed by the trainer as an authority in this workshop.

Asking the women to categorize themselves into a system of ethnic categories is something the trainer does in all of her workshops with rural women in agricultural contexts. In the wider social context of Guatemala, this kind of categorization is part of everyday identity practices. In the bigger cities, but also in the smaller towns...

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