Discourse forms and social categorization in Cha'palaa
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This dissertation is an ethnographic study of race and other forms of social categorization as approached through the discourse of the indigenous Chachi people of northwestern lowland Ecuador and their Afro-descendant neighbors. It combines the ethnographic methods of social anthropology with the methods of descriptive linguistics, letting social questions about racial formation guide linguistic inquiry. It provides new information about the largely unstudied indigenous South American language Cha’palaa, and connects that information about linguistic form to problems of the study of race and ethnicity in Latin America. Individual descriptive chapters address how the Cha’palaa number system is based on collectivity rather than plurality according to an animacy hierarchy that codes only human and human-like social collectivities, how a nominal set of ethnonyms linked to Chachi oral history become the recipients of collective marking as human collectivities, how those collectivities are co-referentially linked to speech participants through the deployment of the pronominal system, and how the multi-modal resource of gesture adds to these rich resources supplied by the spoken language for the expression of social realities like race. The final chapters address Chachi and Afro-descendant discourses in dialogue with each other and examine naturally occurring speech data to show how the linguistic forms described in previous chapters are used in social interaction. The central argument advances a position that takes the socially constructed status of race seriously and considers that for such constructions to exist as more abstract macro-categories they must be constituted by instances of social interaction, where elements of the social order are observable at the micro-level. In this way localized articulations of social categories become vehicles for the broader circulation of discourses structured by a history of racialized social inequality, revealing the extreme depth of racialization in human social conditioning. This dissertation represents a contribution to the field of linguistic anthropology as well as to descriptive linguistics of South American languages and to critical approaches to race and ethnicity in Latin America.