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Linguistic Construction of Ethnic Borders

Edited By Peter Rosenberg, Konstanze Jungbluth and Dagna Zinkhahn Rhobodes

This volume focuses on the linguistic constructs involved in ethnic borders. Ethnic borders have proven themselves to be surprisingly long-lived: in nearly all European countries and beyond, border demarcation, exclusion of foreigners, and minority conflicts are some of the most persistent challenges for nations and societies. Which linguistic factors play a role in the formation of these borders, especially those drawn along ethnic lines? Which linguistic constructs contribute to the negotiation, establishment and maintenance of ethnic groups and identities? Under which conditions can processes of linguistic convergence, hybrids, or transcultural identities be observed?
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Linguistic Strategies of Constructing Durable and Permeable Ethnic Boundaries in a Brazilian Quilombo Community

Rita Vallentin


Linguistic Strategies of Constructing Durable and Permeable Ethnic Boundaries in a Brazilian Quilombo Community

Abstract: Ethnische Grenzen spielen in Brasilien nach wie vor eine entscheidende Rolle bei der Definition von „In- und Out-Groups“. Dieser Artikel konzentriert sich auf die Konstruktion dieser Grenzen in einer brasilianischen Quilombo Gemeinschaft. Die Quilombolas berufen sich auf ethnische Kategorien wie “Afro-Brasilianisch” und die Bewahrung einer “afro-brasilianischen Kultur” als entscheidende Faktoren für die Zugehörigkeit zu oder Ausgrenzung aus der Wir-Gruppe. Nichtsdestotrotz verlangen soziale Veränderungen im Quilombo eine ständige Verteidigung der etablierten Grenzen und eine Neukonzeption der „wir“- und „die anderen“-Kategorien. (Ethnische) Grenzen, die bisher unüberwindbar und durabel schienen, werden durch diese Veränderungen im sozialen Feld durchlässiger. Basierend auf einem semi-strukturierten Interview mit einer Quilombola stehen die sprachlichen Mittel und Strategien im Fokus der Analyse, die ethnische Grenzen zwischen von der Sprecherin relevant gemachten Gruppen stärken oder abschwächen.

Schlagworte: ethnische Grenzen, Durabilität – Permeabilität, linguistische Konstruktion von „wir“- und „die anderen“-Gruppen

Keywords: ethnic boundaries, durability – permeability, linguistic construction of in- and out-groups

The Nature of Ethnic Boundaries

As shown by the various contributions at the conference on “Linguistic Construction of Social Boundaries” held at the European University Viadrina, Frankfurt (Oder), ethnic boundaries play a crucial role in group formation and the differentiation of a “we” from “others”. Practices of making boundaries can be closely associated with “practices of othering” (van Houtum/van Naerssen 2002, p. 125), as boundaries naturally enclose entities, and at the same time exclude others. The fact that boundaries are made underlines that they are socially and/or symbolically constructed (cf. Lamont/Molnár 2002, p. 168), and not a product of an a priori division of the world into different territories and different groups. Ethnic boundaries are a special kind of social boundary, dividing groups along different ← 33 | 34 → and changing categories of belonging or exclusion. The difficulty starts when we try to define ethnicity, and the boundaries drawn based on this concept. Ethnicity can be seen as a “subjectively felt sense of belonging based on the belief of shared culture and common ancestry” (Wimmer 2008a, p. 973). A perceived shared culture and a common ancestry includes all the features usually connected with the term ethnicity (language, customs, heritage, religion etc.). With his definition of ethnicity as a “subjectively felt sense”, Wimmer already indicates that ethnic groups are “not things in the world but perspectives on the world” (Brubaker 2002, p. 174–148). Those perspectives are (re-)produced, altered, negotiated or abandoned by subjects building in-groups or we-groups. The “boundary-making” or “boundary work” based on subjects’ “agency” (Wimmer 2008, p. 1027), however, does not only stem from the members of we-groups based on ethnic categories. Recognition of ethnic categories and their acknowledgement from “outside” also define ethnic groups. Hence, it is a simultaneous interplay of self-ascriptions and external ascriptions (Barth 1969, p. 13) which shape the categories of inclusion and exclusion as well as the boundaries around the we-group. It is, according to Barth (1969, p. 15), a question of situational social relevance which categories or features are chosen as the defining ones for in-group membership. Thus, the boundary between “in and out” is defined not by objective criteria, but by what is made relevant as marking ethnicity in the context of a specific situation, by a specific group of people at a specific time. This is why ethnicity itself can be seen as an ongoing “project”, as something rising, declining or even failing – not as a static entity, but as a process resulting (or not) in “groupness” (Brubaker 2002).

Taking this constructivist stance towards ethnic boundaries, however, one should not forget that the “cultural stuff” (Barth 1969, p. 15) enclosed by them is not a totally arbitrary “invention” of the subjects themselves. As we will also see in the example of the Brazilian Quilombo in this paper, people return to narratives as guiding frameworks. Boundary-making is embedded into certain social fields (Bourdieu 1993) or, for example, public (political) discourses (cf. van Dijk 1987, Wimmer 2008a). Along these lines, and as Barth himself stated in his revision of “Ethnic groups and boundaries” (1994), the “cultural stuff” a boundary encloses cannot be seen as entirely disconnected from the making of boundaries. It might influence the strategies of boundary making, its shape, and its appearance around the in-group. When we analyze the construction of ethnic boundaries, therefore, we should have a basic understanding of the ethnic group’s social linkages, their narratives as well as their placement within social space. ← 34 | 35 →

The Linguistic Construction of Ethnic Boundaries

If ethnic boundaries are perspectives on the world and “display(s) both a categorical and a social behavioural dimension” (Wimmer 2008a, p. 975) as guidelines for group construction, the question arises how they are constituted. In many cases of ethnic boundary-making, language itself provides the main category of belonging to the “we” or the “other”. However, linguistics still come into play when groups are not divided along language lines. Sanders (2002, p. 327) sees ethnic boundaries as “[...] patterns of social interaction that give rise to, and subsequently reinforce, in-group members’ self-identification and outsiders’ confirmation of group distinctions”. The making of an ethnic or any other social boundary as “social mediums” (Sanders 2002, p. 327) are cognitive processes among interacting subjects which can be analyzed via the medium of language. A linguistic approach assures access to empirical data, as language displays a reflection of what people think, and can hence reveal the cognitive processes behind boundary constructions. As already stated, ethnic boundaries – as “social mediums” – are in a constant flux of transmission, alteration or restructuring. These processes are negotiated through interaction. An analytical focus on linguistic means as word forms or discursive practices thus gives an insight into these processes of negotiation.

A linguistic approach to ethnic boundaries also unfolds what is important to people constructing the boundary, as the boundary itself is rendered “problematic” (cf. Hausendorf 2000, p. 99). The boundary becomes a communicative topic if something about it has to be clarified: in other words, if the two or more interlocutors are not on the same page concerning “sharing of criteria for evaluation and judgement” (Barth 1969, p. 15). Speakers decide on boundaries, membership categories and respective category-bound activities acceptable to the in-group (Sacks 1992), and as other attributions and evaluations are presented as relevant in the course of conversation (cf. Asmuß 2003, p. 109). In doing so, speakers reveal something about the nature of the boundary. This approach is especially fruitful in interview situations featuring a member of the we-group and an outsider as the interviewer. The speaker more often feels the need to explain, legitimize and contextualize the categories of “in and out”, as the boundary does not form part of the shared understanding of the two interlocutors.

Finally, the linguistic approach to ethnic boundaries is helpful because we can consider every speech act as an “act of identity” (Le Page/Tabouret-Keller 1985, Tabouret-Keller 1997). With varying discursive means and linguistic forms, speakers display their identities and locate themselves, the groups they belong to and those around in social space. The questions of identification with a we-group and ← 35 | 36 → social practices of “othering” can thus be pursued with a look at the social realities of the interlocutors and the social positionings they open up in their utterances.

Durable and Permeable Ethnic Boundaries

In his paper about strategies of ethnic boundary-making, Wimmer (2008, p. 1044) introduces several procedures of shifting or modifying existing boundaries. Depending on their “varying degrees of boundedness” (Wimmer 2008a, p. 976), they can be transformed in more or less radical ways. I will introduce a continuum of boundary qualities: from durable boundaries on the one end, to permeable boundaries on the other. A durable ethnic boundary emphasizes a clear-cut separation of in- and out-groups along certain categories. They can be recognized as ‘hard’ boundaries – rather static and not easily negotiated and changed by individual subjects (cf. Schiffauer et al. 2012, p. 20 f.). Permeable boundaries, on the other hand, are “selectively permitting passage, i.e. a dual movement of inclusion and exclusion” (Schiffauer et al. 2012, p. 100). Often, these boundaries are the result of on-going negotiation processes regarding demarcations between the “we” to the “other”, especially in times of social transformation.

As this paper deals with the linguistic construction of ethnic boundaries, the focus of analysis will be on linguistic means and strategies that either strengthen or mitigate boundaries between groups. When speakers use linguistic means to reinforce boundaries between groups, we can speak of an increase in their durability. On the other hand, linguistic strategies of mitigating or relativizing boundaries can be observed as a move towards a rather permeable quality of the boundary established by the speakers.

The Brazilian Quilombo as a Social Field of Constructing Ethnic Boundaries

In order to embed the boundary-drawing mechanisms of the interviewees in the existing social setting, a short introduction to the history of the Quilombo Campinho da Independência in Brazil is necessary (see Bourdieu’s concept of the field [champ], 1993). Certainly, Bourdieu’s concept refers to what Wimmer (2008a) and Barth (1994) propose as a macro-level analysis of boundary-drawing mechanisms, including the influences of institutions, political agendas, power distributions and networks. With the data at hand, however, I will focus on a rather micro-sociological approach, seeing “ethnic boundaries as ‘emerging’ from the minutiae of cognition, action, or interaction, variously conceived as conversational encounters” (Wimmer 2008a, p. 986). To enrich the following ← 36 | 37 → analysis, I will now provide information about the community’s history and recent developments which form part of the narrations of the respondents.

The Quilombo Campinho da Independência has a story different from most of the Quilombos in Brazil. Generally, these were founded as more or less “safe havens” by fugitive Afro-Brazilian slaves, who gathered together to find shelter and protection in community-like structures, and additionally to build cells of resistance against their oppressors. The foundation of the Quilombo Campinho did not have such violent origins. According to the common community narrative, three sisters worked as household slaves on a plantation near the colonial hub city of Paraty. When the plantation owner went bankrupt at the end of the 19th century, he endowed the three women with his land. The endowment did not include any written documentation, which would later become a problem. The community grew from the families of the three women who settled on the land and dedicated themselves to the cultivation of local crops. Until the 1970s, the community stayed rather undisturbed. However, the situation changed with the building of Highway 101 between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, which cut through the Quilombo community and spurred the development of extensive tourism around Paraty. Investors became interested in the touristic and real-estate possibilities of the area, while the Quilombo dwellers tried to preserve their claims to the land. Many narratives evolved around the older generations’ struggle to pay a lawyer, to represent their interests to politicians and lobbyists, and to fight against the tourism and real-estate industry – it is a narrative of an Afro-Brazilian David against a “development agenda” Goliath. The abeyance continued until the end of the 1990s. In 1994, the “Associação de Moradores do Quilombo Campinho” (AMOQC) – the Association of Quilombo Campinho Residents – was founded to institutionalize the community’s endeavors of receiving official acknowledgement of their customary right to the land. This acknowledgement and official documentation had to be accompanied by the acknowledgement of the community as a Quilombo community – as lawful descendants of former African slaves. At the end of the 1990s, the political agenda in the state of Rio de Janeiro coincided with an anthropological investigation about the community’s roots, proving that all families stem from the three original founding mothers and that they live a traditional Quilombo “lifestyle”. Hence, the community received the official title “Quilombo Campinho da Independência”, along with property rights to the land on 21 March 1999 as the first Quilombo in the state of Rio.

Ultimately, the newly granted title is an acknowledgement of ethnic boundaries surrounding the community, according to the category of being descendants of ← 37 | 38 → former slaves. These boundaries identify category-bound activities (Sacks 1992) related to the in-group of Quilombolas. The main goal and the main defining feature of the Quilombo community is its self-sufficiency in terms of employment and income, an education system which considers the history of Afro-Brazilians, preservation of knowledge and traditions, a strong connection to the soil in terms of agriculture and harvesting of traditional crops, and connections to other traditional communities in Brazil. The main goal is to never have to leave the community for any undertaking, and to be independent from any outside product or service, while preserving the Quilombo ethnicity across and within the generations to come. The AMOQC tries to support these objectives in several ways. In the early 2000s, community tourism was established, offering a session with a griõ, an older storyteller of the Quilombo, a meal in the community-owned restaurant, a visit to the agroforestry and the arts shop. This ensures employment for many Quilombo inhabitants. Furthermore, several workshops are held, aimed especially at the younger generations to convey and instill what is considered Afro-Brazilian culture. Amongst these are jongos (sessions of African dance), capoeira sessions, education on traditional medicine and herbs, or the manufacture of traditional arts and crafts. The final step to be accomplished is a school run not by the state but by the Quilombo community itself – a motion to this end is currently under review by the prefecture of the state of Rio de Janeiro.

Data and Analysis

In investigating the linguistic construction of ethnic boundaries, I will look at an extract from an interview conducted in the Quilombo in September 2011. This interview is part of a larger corpus comprising six semi-structured interviews with AMOQC members and approximately four hours of narratives within the scope of the touristic offerings of the Quilombo. I was restricted in the selection of my interviewees by the AMOQC president, who only allowed me to interview other AMOQC associates, but not random people from the Quilombo community. This decision was based upon negative experiences with other researchers in the past. As the first Quilombo to be acknowledged in the state of Rio, they have received a lot of scientific attention, not always in accordance with the wishes of the Quilombo Campinho residents. Although my circle of informants was restricted, the data still shows interesting boundary-making strategies with regards to questions of ethnicity. The narratives edited for tourists during the griõ sessions also show how the Quilombo inhabitants want to present themselves and their history in the ethnic contexts of Brazil. ← 38 | 39 →

The extract is from an interview with 35 year old ‘C’, a Quilombola who was born and raised in the Quilombo and plays an active part of the AMOQC, especially working in matters of tourism. In the selection, she speaks about different “others” entering the community and the different effects their presence has or would have on the Quilombo endeavor of preserving their traditional culture. We will see what kind of linguistic devices are used to introduce the categories of the Quilombolas as the “we-group,” and different others as “they-groups”. Furthermore, we will learn how and what kind of boundaries are drawn between them. Finally, we will examine how those boundaries are challenged or even changed in the course of conversation. Although there may be more to find in the transcripts in terms of conversational analysis and the in-group/out-group determination, the focus of this specific analysis will be on strategies either fortifying or mitigating the boundaries the speaker establishes between two or more groups. In order to present a structured investigation, the transcripts will be analyzed in consecutive sequences, first looking at the semantic level of the words used, secondly focusing on the discursive level of the utterances. Finally, prosodic features and/or speech-accompanying gestures will be considered to complement the analysis where applicable.

The data has been transcribed with the EXMARaLDA package (Schmidt/Wörner 2009, following a combination of the transcription proceedings of HIAT (Ehlich/Rehbein 1976) and GAT 2 (Selting et al. 2009). In the sequences, there is a tier for the utterances of C (C [v]), prosodic features (C [pro]), speech accompanying gestures (C [k]), and a free English translation (C [eng]). In the last tier, the utterances of the interviewer are displayed.

The Construction of Durable Boundaries

Dichotomies do not always depict the multi-layered and intertwined social realities of societies such as Brazil. What can be observed in the Quilombo Campinho case is a negotiation of prevalent and new categories, a striving toward validation of those categories and attributions of malleable characteristics. Hence, I agree with Barth’s (1994, p. 13) statement that

“[...] the analysis of ethnicity [is] blunted when cast in the fashionable rhetoric of ‘we and the other’. [...] [E]thnic relations and boundary constructions in most plural societies are not about strangers, but about adjacent and familiar ‘others’. They involve co-residents in encompassing social systems, and lead more often to questions of how ‘we’ are distinct from ‘them’, rather than a hegemonic and unilateral view of the ‘other’”. ← 39 | 40 →

However, in the first part of the analysis, we will focus on the establishment of durable boundaries, establishing a rather clear-cut view of “we” and “other” relative to the speaker. These questions of how and why “’we are distinct from the ‘others’” are a recurring topic (van Dijk 1987) in the interviews and tourist narratives of the Quilombo dwellers. To identify the categories established in the interviews by the speaker, I will follow what Hausendorf and Kesselheim (2002, p. 270, referring to Hausendorf 2000) have called the step of “marking and identifying of a social group”. Hence, in this first section, we will see what kinds of groups the speaker identifies, and what linguistic devices are used to support this identification. Prior to the following conversational fragment, C talks about the beginnings of the projects after the group’s official recognition in 1999, and how the AMOQC tried to start its work in terms of a newly acknowledged Quilombo community.


Transcript extract 1

← 40 | 41 →

As mentioned above, we will first look at the semantic level of this sequence. The speaker starts by introducing an undetermined group um pessoal [line 1], characterized by the attribute of being de fora – ‘from outside’, more specifically from the center of the touristic hub of the area, the city of Paraty. They also receive the attribute of being muitos [line 1] – ‘a lot’, a rather undefined quantity which invites the impression of a fear of being overrun. The group of outsiders is immediately related, if not contrasted, to the group of ‘our community’ – nossa comunidade [line 2], also represented by the follow up personal pronoun a gente – ‘we’. The use of personal and possessive pronouns in this short extract in terms of group identification is striking. Every time C speaks about the community is accompanied by the possessive pronoun nossa – ‘our’ [line 2, 3 and 5]. The “others” are presented in terms of the personal pronoun eles – ‘they’, starting in line 4/time slot 35. Whereas at the beginning of the extract, C mostly uses the conjugated verbal form unaccompanied by a personal pronoun to refer to um pessoal, in the last sentence, eles always precedes the verbs. One has to take into account that um pessoal requires a verb conjugation in the singular form. However, it represents a multiplicity of people. This explains the missing concordance between the verbal form and the personal pronoun. The speaker constantly applies the 3rd person plural conjugation with the subject. The use of the personal pronoun eles can be read as an emphasis of “them” and reinforces the contrast to “us” in terms of ‘our community’, especially considering that Brazilian Portuguese belongs to the so called pro-drop-languages. It infers that the use of the personal pronoun is not obligatory.1

The verbal forms of moving connected with the out-group reveal the Quilombo as the local point of reference from a spatial point of view. The outsiders ‘come’ (vinham – ‘they came’, vêm – ‘they come’, vem passear – ‘they come to take walks’) into the community, which is the deictic reference point of this group. The verb ‘come’ can be interpreted as a movement towards the speaker’s deictic centre of the utterance. It can be concluded that the verb ‘come’ hence signals proximity (cf. Fillmore 1975/1997). However, this proximity interactively enacted by the “people from outside” is evaluated negatively by the speaker, and the outsiders are rather displayed as intruders. Hence, it seems as if C would like the spatial boundary ← 41 | 42 → around the Quilombo community to become more durable as it is threatened by “outsiders”.

On a discursive level, C uses an interesting discursive means that could be labeled as direct collective speech [line 2–3] (conf. e.g. Günthner 1997; Roth 2005). She reconstructs the opinion of the “we-group” by directly enacting the reactions of the Quilombo community towards the outsiders. In prosodic terms, the change of perspective can be noticed by the change of pitch in her voice. Another incidence of direct speech follows in lines 4 and 5, when C summarizes the enquiries of the reunion dealing with the “others” in the voice of the Quilombo community. On the one hand, this strategy of “choral dialogue” (Tannen 1989, p. 133 f.) has the effect of strengthening the boundary between the “people from outside” and the “we”, as C is reconstructing a generic “we”. As such, a linguistic strategy displays opinions and attitudes of the many; the collective speech carries more weight vis-à-vis the out-group than the speaker’s single or personal opinion. On the other hand, by using the “chorus”, C also sets back her own and very personal opinion and “keeps face” by “avoiding negative self-presentation” during “negative other-description” (van Dijk 1987, p. 118) in the presence of the interviewer, herself a “person from outside”. With the choral dialogue, she produces a certain image of authenticity (cf. Hausendorf 2000, p. 379 f.), in which only things heard in the community about the “others” are reproduced.

The choral dialogues in both cases [lines 2–3 and lines 4 and 5] consist of a statement about the people from outside (‘They are from outside, they should not have taken walks’ and ‘people walk through’), followed by two rhetorical questions each (‘Why do they take walks in our community? Who are the people who come to take walks?’ and ‘they came so for them why? What do they want from our community?’). The speaker leaves those basic who-why-what-questions unanswered, and makes the others appear even more alienated, opaque and questionable in the collective voice she uses. This alienation again strengthens the gap between the two introduced groups, and fortifies the boundary between them.

Now that the two groups are marked and identified, C proceeds to specify rules of legitimization, which could also be interpreted as category-bound activities (Sacks 1992) accepted by the in-group of Quilombolas. ← 42 | 43 →


Transcript extract 2

In the first four lines, C identifies a group “behind” the ‘people from outside’ using the Quilombo for its purposes. In terms of boundary work, I will focus on the extract starting in line 5. It seems as if C changes the deictic perspective from inside the community and herself as part of the “we-group,” to a bird’s-eye perspective observing the community from a certain distance. When it comes to the question of who should earn money with tourism in the Quilombo, she suggests an answer with the indefinite pronoun alguém – ‘somebody’ [line 5]. This is accompanied by the local adverb – ‘there’ [line 5], signaling distance of the speaker from the locus of events. C proceeds with this distanced way of speak ← 43 | 44 → ing by using the demonstrative pronoun aquele – ‘that (one)’ [line 5] twice when introducing the category-bound activities for the in-group regarding who may be legitimized to earn money within the community. Only then does she resolve her line of argumentation, determining who ‘somebody’ and ‘that (one)’ is, namely with somos nós os quilombola [sic!] – ‘it is us the Quilombolas’.

Discursively, C creates an arc of suspense for the hearer by using different strategies to make the resolution even more convincing. By distancing herself using words like alguém, lá (na comunidade) and aquele, she expresses objectivity and exclusion of her personal opinion. The syntactic duplication of the relative clause initiated with aquele – which could also be recognized as “listing” (Roth 2005, p. 192) – reinforces and also delays the final argument. The utterance ‘it is us the Quilombolas’, hence, gains argumentative weight. The sequence concludes with a specification of attributes the speaker gives to ‘us Quilombolas’, an accentuation (“Herausstellung”, Hausendorf 2000, p. 222 f.), and also culminates in an emotional climax. In an outraged tone, she emphasizes that the history they have is ‘our history’ – a historia nOssa, prosodically underlining the possessive pronoun ‘our’ [line 7]. The “other” is directly addressed in this part of the sequence in the form of a generalized você – ‘you’ [line 7]. Whereas Roth (2005, p. 182), for example, depicts the generic you as a strategy to make a reference to the in-group, in the case of C the out-group, the ‘people from outside’ are referred to in this generalized form2. This gives the impression of an enacted dialogue between the Quilombolas and any member of the out-group, as ‘you’ is not specified and can be occupied by anybody. Together with C’s word choice rouba – ‘he/she steals’, the outraged pitch and the generalized you, the sequence ends in a rather dramatic way, without leaving any negotiable space between the in-group of Quilombolas and the out-group of ‘people from outside’. The speaker makes it clear that the boundary between the two groups is durable and not movable.

The construction of permeable boundaries

In the following extract, we will look at the linguistic means C uses to establish boundaries between an in-group and an out-group, which are not as clear-cut and durable as in the former example. Rather, the boundaries might be “blurred” (Wimmer 2008, p. 1030) or, in other words, they are made permeable. ← 44 | 45 →

Before this sequence, C speaks about the formation of the Quilombo community starting with the three founding mothers in the 19th century. She emphasizes that only descendants of those three women and their expanding families are allowed to live in the community, and are recognized as part of the Quilombola we-group. The interviewer asks whether that might pose a problem in terms of marriage rules, and C argues that today it is not a problem anymore to marry somebody who is not a Quilombola her/himself. However, in the course of her argument, it appears as if the community does not have a unified opinion on the matter, and as if she was looking for arguments in favor of marriage outside the Quilombo community. The transcription begins when C relates the issue to her own personal story. She is married to one of three foreigners living in the Quilombo. One French man, one Argentinean man and one Ecuadorian woman are each married to a Quilombola, and are recognized as a special group with their own category, distinct from the pessoal de fora – ‘people from outside’ introduced above.


Transcript extract 3

The speaker separates her own personal life from her social membership to the in-group of Quilombolas. This can be noticed in the switch from the initial a gente fala na nossa leitura – ‘we discuss in our Bible readings’ [line 1], contrasted with ← 45 | 46 → the personal story that eu casei com o meu marido – ‘I got married with my husband’ [line 1]. This is followed by three short statements about the development of her personal life, all using the first person singular as origo [line 1–2]. Contrasting the third person personal and possessive pronouns with the first person personal and possessive pronouns, she illustrates that however “deviant” her personal life might be, she still belongs to the we-group. Naturally, the boundary between C’s social and personal identity (cf. Fearon 1999) can be seen as permeable here.

In the following, C specifies the category her current Argentinean husband belongs to. As with the other out-group members, he is labeled as a ‘person that comes from outside’ [lines 2–3]; however, the speaker introduces a category-bound activity differentiating her husband from other out-group members: the involvement of the ‘heart’ [lines 3–4]. C transfers the solution of the marriage problem addressed above onto personifications of the ‘heart’ which ‘speaks’. She puts her line of argumentation on a metaphorical level, so that hardly any counter-argumentation is possible.

Discursively, the insertion of the personal story has another effect on the boundary between the Quilombolas and the out-group(s). The previously established “we-they” contrasts are softened or relativized by “I-he” sequences, forming a small we-group of its own but comprised of a Quilombola and an outsider. The boundary between “in” and “out” is relocated and a permeable space opens up. Furthermore, the speaker starts to distinguish the out-group of foreign spouses from any other outsider by means of syntactical constructions with mas – ‘but’. Those constructions received a lot of attention in terms of prejudiced discourse (van Dijk 1987, p. 86 ff.), mitigating or strengthening stereotypes in discourse (Roth 2005, p. 202 ff.) or in discursive construction of national identities (Wodak et al. 2009, p. 36). To analyze their function in this specific sequence, we have to take into account “(t)hat [...] the strategic function of an (expressed) proposition is determined by the nature of its link with another, previous or following, proposition” (van Dijk 1987, p. 87). In the two cases at hand, the mas-construction has an effect of boundary weakening by “perforation”. In line 3, the adversative conjunction ‘but’ follows the proposition that her husband is a ‘person from outside’. Hence, this fact is mitigated by arguing that this alone is not the cause for exclusion along the durable boundary between “us” and “them”. If the ‘heart’ [line 3] plays a crucial role in Quilombola relationships, this boundary becomes permeable. In the second incident, the ‘but’ is related to the small “I and he” we-group, and again the argument of the ‘heart’ [line 4] resolves the introduced problem of being separated occasionally. The balancing and relativizing function of mas is further emphasized prosodically through the lengthening of the vowel ‘a’. ← 46 | 47 →

In the following sequences, C makes her final argument about why foreign spouses are no “real” outsiders, and how the boundary towards them is permeable rather than durable. Prior to this last excerpt, she states that some people from the community would still prefer the Quilombolas to only marry people from within the community. She voices her opinion that nobody can influence love, and that this is a decision of ‘heart [...] soul [...] and god’ (coração [...] alma [...] deus). After the interviewer’s question whether the land then could be sold or transferred to the foreign spouses in the Quilombo, she negates the question right away.


Transcript extract 4

C again uses the generalized you in the beginning of this sequence. As in the sequence above, this generalized you refers to the out-group, and is presented with a negative connotation accompanied by the activity ‘you take away the space of my generation’ [line 1]. Once more, this seems like an enacted dialogue with the generalized “other”. This impression is supported by C’s salient tone pitches in words she considers important: tirando (‘take away’), espaço (‘space’), todo mundo (‘everybody’), de fora (‘from outside’) and nossa (‘our’). Sometimes the tone pitch is even accompanied by lengthened vowels. The emphasis of nossa cultura – ‘our culture’ – in contrast to the pessoas de fora – ‘people from outside’ [line 2] is not ← 47 | 48 → only laid on by the tone pitch, but also by the gesture and sound of slapping her knee thoroughly during the enunciation of the word nossa. All in all, this sequence shows a very emotional reaction of the speaker towards the question of selling the land and of admitting outsiders into the Quilombo community. However, she still relates this rather general out-group to the previously introduced group of foreign spouses by saying that people who want to live differently from the Quilombo culture could never have a successful marriage inside the Quilombo [lines 3–4].


Transcript extract 5

← 48 | 49 →

In the following, she redefines category-bound activities for the in-group of Quilombolas that also apply for the second type of out-group, the foreign spouses. Only following the rules of the Quilombo community makes them different from the other out-groups that C introduced in the first extract above. C uses third-person plural pronouns, verb endings and possessive pronouns for the description of the activities: a gen/ quer viver (‘we/ want to live’), quer viver (‘we want to live’), nosso[a]s [sic!] forma[s] [sic!] (‘our way’), a gente sabe (‘we know’) [lines 4–5]. The subsequent conclusion of C is that there are two types of ‘people from outside’. Here, we can find a strategy Hausendorf and Kesselheim (2002, p. 266) labeled “contrasting two different social groups”:

“By comparing social groups participants draw multiple boundary lines between themselves and others, or among several out-groups. In accordance with their concrete communicative goals and embedded in a broader socio-political context, they place the groups at greater or lesser distance from each other, they express their comparability and their incompatibility, and define thereby the relative position of these social groups in a multidimensional ‘social space’”.

C splits the group of people from outside into essas outras pessoas de fora – ‘those other people from outside’ and algumas pessoas de fora – ‘some people from outside’. The word choice in identifying the two groups illustrates the speaker’s attitude towards them. Essas (‘those’) marks a certain distance from the speaker as part of the in-group. This is strengthened by outras (‘other’), which already indicates that there is another group apart from them. The outras also excludes ‘those people from outside’ in terms of the category-bound activities for the in-group. They are the ones not complying with the rules, not following a Quilombola lifestyle, and hence they could not marry successfully into the Quilombo community. Strictly speaking, algumas pessoas de fora – ‘some people from outside’ could also be seen as a sub-group of the people from outside in general. Thus, C not only contrasts two different groups, but also undertakes “dividing a social group into subgroups” (Hausendorf/Kesselheim 2002, p. 277). Algumas (‘some’) is an exception to the general other which is characterized by C through another “but”-construction: ‘there come some people from outside, but knowing...’. The vowel in mas (‘but’) again is emphasized, this time not with a prolonged vowel, but with an exposing accent. Compared to the other group from outside, not “playing the same game” (Barth 1969, p. 15) of the Quilombolas, C depicts the ‘knowing’ group from outside as closer to her own we-group. By doing this, she also legitimizes the decisions of her personal life concerning the Argentinean husband, as she certainly categorizes him belonging to the group of algumas pessoas de fora. However, the convergence of the we-group and the ‘knowing group of outsiders’ ← 49 | 50 → does not imply a “fusion” (Wimmer 2008, p. 1031) of existing categories. Rather, by introducing a second group between the we and the other, she strengthens the boundary between the two “real antagonists”. At the same time, through acknowledging that not everyone is excluded right away, but that there are exceptions to the rule, she keeps her face in the presence of the interviewer.

The final argument of the speaker before moving to another topic in the interview is that cultural features of the outsiders’ backgrounds do not stand a chance of being incorporated into the Quilombo community [lines 9–10]. Instead, she stresses the main goal of the we-group in terms of cultural preservation: a gente sabe que a gente tem a nossa a gente quer fortalecer a nossa – ‘we know that what we have is ours, we want to strengthen our (culture)’ [lines 9–10]. She closes her argument with three utterances of ‘we’ (a gente) and two incidences of ‘our’ (nossa) related to the word ‘culture’ (cultura) in line 9. The above citation is accompanied by clapping on the lap, again highlighting and dramatizing the words ‘we’ and ‘our’. Consequently, the we-group and the boundary around them is reinforced in this final argument of the speaker.

To conclude, C establishes three different groups in the course of the sequences we have taken a closer look at so far. One is the we-group of Quilombolas, legitimized by genetic lineage to the three founding mothers and by category-bound activities of “Quilombo-culture”. The second group is the out-group, consisting of ‘people from outside’, which the speaker conveys as intruders, and in terms of marriage as unsuitable partners for the Quilombola people. The third and final group is again an out-group, but closer to the we-group. They are labeled as ‘knowing’ people from outside who comply with the rules of the Quilombo, and hence might be suitable spouses even though they come from outside. C establishes “multiple boundary lines” (Hausendorf/Kesselheim 2002, p. 268) between the in-group and others in these extracts. Regarding the use of linguistic means and content, the boundary line to essas outras pessoas de fora has a durable quality, whereas the boundary to algumas pessoas de fora is permeable. Still, the boundary around the Quilombo we-group never dissolves or blends in with another out-group. Every time a higher grade of permeability is indicated, the speaker makes sure to remind the interviewer of the boundary around the we-group.


We have seen that C uses manifold linguistic strategies of mitigation or strengthening of ethnic boundaries between her own we-group and different types of outsiders. She establishes boundaries of different qualities. Considering the out-group of ‘people from outside’ generally, “we” and “other” are divided by a durable ← 50 | 51 → boundary which cannot be crossed. The other out-group of foreign spouses – or other spouses from outside complying to the rules – is connected to the Quilombo through a rather permeable boundary “selectively permitting passage” (Schiffauer et al. 2012, p. 100) under certain circumstances. The permeability of one boundary increases the durability of the other in the case of the Quilombo. The distance to the “real” out-group is actually widened when another group is introduced between them.

Two other conclusions can be drawn from C’s boundary-making strategies. When established ethnic boundaries are challenged, as in the case of marriage rules in the Quilombo, subjects try to negotiate and legitimize their new placement in the social field. As for foreign spouses, the boundary switched due to social transformations within the community. Reality superseded the norm of only marrying inside the Quilombo, and the new permeable boundary reflects these transformation processes. It seems as if the speaker would mediate between two poles of past and present – norm and normality. She tries to preserve older norms of exclusion based on ethnic categories. On the other hand, she introduces the permeable boundary in terms of internal transformation processes. However, she always gives an impression of continuity by strengthening the “we” of the Quilombolas to prevent the permeable boundaries from reaching a point she may regard as too porous. Finally, it can also be seen that mechanisms of relativizing and “saving face” during the negotiation of boundaries play a crucial role for boundary-making in conversation.

This paper has focused on a micro-level analysis of linguistic boundary making. Surely, a meso- and macro-level analysis, as Wimmer (2008a) and Barth (1994) propose, would be of further benefit toward enriching the data and providing a more thorough understanding of ethnic boundary-making strategies within the Quilombo and elsewhere.

Transcription (partly following HIAT and GAT)

·– micro-pause
··– pause shorter than 0,5 seconds
···– pause between 0,5 and 1 second
(1s)– pause longer than 1s
(inc. 0,5s)– duration of incomprehensible parts
tenhaa or tenhaaa– elongated vowels
carIOca– emphasis
tiv/tem– auto-correction of the speaker ← 51 | 52 →
img– salient upwards change of tone pitch
img– salient downwards change of tone pitch
img– m (backchannel behaviour) with falling tone
img– m (backchannel behaviour) with falling and rising tone


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1  Nonetheless, there is a debate as to whether Brazilian Portuguese, especially in colloquial and spoken contexts, may no longer belong to the group of pro-drop-languages. It “lost” three of the six verbal forms from peninsular Portuguese, hence using the personal pronoun becomes more frequent, if not obligatory, to prevent ambiguity (cf. Weydt 1997, p. 14).

2  The reference to the in-group with a generalized you is what C carries out in line 11: que te rouba nosso conteúdo historico! – ‘who robs you our historical substance!’. Here she is referring to the group of Quilombolas affirmed by the follow up possessive pronoun nosso – ‘our’.