Navajo poetry, linguistic ideology, and identity : the case of an emergent literary tradition
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This research concerns the emergence of Navajo orthographic poetry written in both English and Navajo. This research is based on fifteen months of ethnographic and linguistic fieldwork on the Navajo Nation. Navajo poetry is influenced by a number of factors, including linguistic ideologies that inform the form, content, and language codes used in a variety of poems. The poems connect with a number of oral traditions along both thematic and poetic parameters. Navajo poetry can be seen, then, as a way of circulating and affirming Navajo identity. By investigating the points at which Navajo poetry emerged first in English and then later in Navajo, I show how the poetry fits into an ideology that sees these poems as exemplars of proper language usage. Likewise, the use of code-switching from English to Navajo is important as an index of Navajoness and becomes more and more prominent over time. Code-switching clusters around salient Navajo concepts and themes, such as place names and kinship terms. This poetry also connects with verbal art in that is uses a number of poetic devices including certain particles, parallelism, metonymy, themes, and onomatopoeia. Further, one cannot take Navajo written poetry as the animating force behind poetry performances. Rather, one needs to understand that the written form is only a way station of the continual journey from oralization to reoralization. Poetry is, in this case, performance. There is no primacy towards the written form. Likewise, these performances can be seen as a part of the circulation of a Navajo identity, especially in poems that retell crucial moments in Navajo history and bring those moments to life the enactive performances, that is performance that do not just describe the past but enact and evoke the past through quoted speech and first person accounts. Navajo poetry can be seen as a social phenomenon that attempts to circulate certain features of Navajoness as well as affirm and perpetuate certain beliefs a about language.