JOPOL 5(2021)

Beyond Container Models of Language Spaces: Heterodox Geopolitical Knowledge in Belizean Teenagers’ Representations of Language
Britta Schneider

This article gives insight into constructions of relationships between language, community and place in the postcolonial setting of Belize, Central America, as they appear in the visual and written discourses of young teenagers. To this end, posters are analysed that display the languages of Belize, designed by pupils in a school project that was part of an ethnographic field study. In Belize, due to complex interethnic family ties, language and cultural bonds do not necessarily map in a straightforward manner. A larger number of local, ethnically-defined languages is spoken (e.g. Mopan Maya, Yucatec, Quechí, Garifuna, varieties of Chinese, etc.); besides, there are three more dominant and locally non-ethnically-defined languages that display ties beyond the local and national setting. These are English, the official, formalized and written language; Kriol, an English-lexified creole and oral code that indexes national belonging (irrespective of ethnic background), and Spanish, which is the demographically most dominant language but stigmatized not least on grounds of political struggles with Guatemala.

The posters by Belizean pupils show unexpected affiliations of language, everyday culture, politics and place that are partly very different from official national as well as international ideas of how these aspects link. At the same time, they are very telling with regards to the local enactment of international political struggles, transnational economic hierarchies and the continuing impact of colonial power relations. For example, English is always visually represented as linked to places outside of Belize, whereas Spanish is paradoxically constructed as a local, but also foreign, language of Latin America. Kriol is clearly understood as the language of the national space but at the same time, its transnational ties to the US, based on migration, come to the fore. The article introduces popular constructions of links between culture, language and place, which may be drastically different from simplistic ‘container’ models of culture and display the relevance of transnational class structures and of material cultural practices (particularly food) in popular constructions of place

Keywords: Belize, language ideologies, constructions of language and place, ethnographic multimodal data