JOPOL 6(2022)

Pitfalls of WEIRD Ideologies in the Context of Language Maintenance: Individual Agency Versus Mayan Socialization Practices on the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico
Melanie Uth & Eriko Yamasaki

It is obvious that 500 years of colonial history have left their mark on discussions regarding the maintenance of American indigenous languages and cultures, with many concepts having their origin in US/European-oriented cultural settings (in so-called WEIRD, i.e. western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic, societies; see Henrich et al. 2010 and references therein). Thus, ultimately dating back to European humanism as it evolved during the age of Enlightenment (see Emirbayer & Mische 1998; Littlejohn & Foss 2009; Lerch et al. 2017, and references therein), the concept of Individual Speaker Agency is currently becoming more and more important in the debate about the revitalization of (American) indigenous languages, among them Yucatec Maya, spoken on the Yucatan Peninsula in south-east Mexico. That notwithstanding, on the Yucatan Peninsula, the intergenerational transmission of Yucatec Maya is slowing dramatically despite the increase in positive attitudes towards the language and a growing activism for its (re)vitalization. Taking this issue as a starting point, this paper discusses to what degree the concept of Individual Speaker Agency is (in)congruent with linguistic socialization practices in Maya speaking communities. Instead of focusing on the role of Individual Speaker Agency, we suggest that the focus should be shifted even more to the situation and needs of Maya speaking parents, concentrating on the role of local parental beliefs and socialization practices, on the one hand, and on the disharmony between ‘WEIRD’ based institutional education and the Mayan socio-cultural setting, on the other.  

Keywords: Yucatec Maya, language socialization practices, language ideologies, Agency Hypothesis, language (re)vitalization