Society for Linguistic Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
This paper analyzes narratives and exchanges from a 1999 public linguistic event, in rural Tlaxcala, Mexico, celebrating the Spanish translation of Speaking Mexicano: Dynamics of Syncretic Language in Central Mexico (Hill and Hill 1986). The authors, Jane and Ken Hill were present for this event I organized on the urging of Mexican scholars and teachers to celebrate their decade-long research in this region, the Malinche (Malintzin) in the states of Puebla and Tlaxcala. Considered the most extensive description of any Mexican indigenous speech community to date, this volume’s translation made it available to a new audience, eager to engage with its content. “Syncretism” describes the structural incorporation of indigenous languages like Mexicano (Nahuatl) from Central Mexico with majority languages like Spanish (Hill 1999). Breaking new ground, this book and Jane Hill’s later work described Mexicano as syncretic in multiple ways, showing how speakers integrated Spanish grammatically into Mexicano, and then exploited this semiotic flexibility to perform indigenous vs. “urban” identities. Syncretic Mexicano, so-called “mixed speech” still exists within a local ideological landscape in which legítimo Mexicano (“true Mexicano”) is an idealized, largely not-spoken form of Nahuatl, free of the colonial language. Inspired by Hill’s work and collaborations with local language promoter Ramos Rosales Flores (Messing and Rosales Flores 2013), I explore the interpretation of syncretism by locals and scholars from inside and outside Mexicano communities, describing ideologies and metadiscursive practices observed at the event, adding intertextual complexity to the academic and local interpretations of purism.