Technology, ideology, and emergent communicative practices among the Navajo

Peterson, Leighton Craig
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This dissertation examines emerging cultural attitudes, language ideologies, and discursive practices among Navajos and Navajo speakers through the lens of new media technologies on the Navajo Nation. New media such as cell phones and the Internet are significant features of contemporary Navajo communities, and act as both a context for and medium of linguistic and cultural vitality and transformation. They have opened new spaces for Navajo language use, generated emergent uses of the Navajo language, and increased the spaces of language contact and change. This dissertation explores the ways in which ideologies of language and technology have shifted and converged, and describes multiple instances of the transformative nature of technology through the mediation of communities. New technologies do not exist in a vacuum, and novel practices emerge from a wide range of existing observable styles, registers, and norms in Navajo communities. Significant are the shifting geographies of communication, expansion of social networks, and increased circulation of bilingual Navajo hane’, or publicly shared “tellings” in the form of stories, jokes, and information that accompany them. This work analyzes the appearance of new media technologies in contemporary Navajo society within broader discourses of modernity and narratives of progress about, and among, Navajo communities. New technology is not incommensurate with existing practice; rather, emergent practices are part of the broader circulation of Navajo identities, defined here as a process linked to social activities, and emergent practices index the ways in which some Navajos are “doing” community in unexpected ways and unexpected places. New expressive forms and genres have appeared, including a migration to English emails by previously monolingual, illiterate elders, the transition of traditionally oral genres to widely circulated emails, and the appearance of locally created bilingual hip-hop music. These are crucial developments that have immediate implications for Navajo language vitality and cultural continuity.