Social Media and Zapotec Language

August 1, 2020 Eloise Kadlecek This is the fifth in a series of blog posts by participants in the 2019 ACLS Digital Extension Grant project “Ticha: advancing community-engaged digital scholarship” (PI Lillehaugen) published on GlobalSL / Community-based Global Learning Collaborative and Ticha. Previous blog posts are available here: Lillehaugen/January 2020; Flores-Marical/February 2020; Kawan-Hemler/March 2020; and Lopez/July 2020. My name is Eloise Kadlecek and I am a rising junior at Bryn Mawr College. I am majoring in linguistics and am especially drawn to indigenous language preservation. I have been a research assistant on the Ticha project since June 2019. Over this time, I’ve become interested in how social media can be a tool for speakers of indigenous languages, and I wanted to get more people engaged with the Ticha Twitter and Facebook pages. I created an Instagram page as well! I started out with several “Zapotec word of the day posts,” taking vocabulary from the Colonial Valley Zapotec dictionary on the Ticha website and creating video posts with pictures, screencaps from Vocabulario en lengua zapoteca (a Spanish-Zapotec dictionary edited by Juan de Cordova, a Spanish Dominican friar, in 1567), and audio files of the modern-day word as spoken in Tlacochahuaya Zapotec. Tlacochahuaya is the same pueblo where Vocabulario was written, and almost 500 years later we can see how these words have changed from the Colonial Zapotec forms! This website is a great resource and is linked here. One of the most interesting parts of posting these “word of the day” videos were the replies we would get. For example, people would reply with a version of the word they use in their own Zapotec community. It is fascinating to see how Colonial Valley Zapotec forms of words changed over time and have so many variations in the different dialects of Zapotec today. The similarities and differences within spelling and pronunciation shows how individual words have changed based on community, geographical location, or other cultural and linguistic factors. One of the posts people engaged with most was one I shared about the numbers 1-5 in Colonial Valley Zapotec. I included a screencap from Arte en Lengua Zapoteca (as seen in Figure 1), a grammar of Colonial Valley Zapotec that was published in 1578 by Juan de Cordova (undoubtedly aided by speakers of Zapotec that aren’t credited). I also included modern day forms of these numbers in Tlacochahuaya Zapotec. [caption id="attachment_56368" align="aligncenter" width="628"] Figure 1. Zapotec Numbers in Cordova’s 1578 Arte[/caption] In the Twitter post, I asked people to share numbers in other forms of Zapotec. Many people responded to this in the form of replies, retweets, and quote tweets. Included in Figure 2 are some of the replies people shared: notice that the words in different Zapotec languages are related, but not identical, e.g. tobi and tób for ‘one’, chupa and chop for ‘two’, etc. [caption id="attachment_56369" align="aligncenter" width="677"] Figure 2. Some tweets sharing words for numbers 1-20 in a variety of Zapotec languages[/caption] People who aren’t directly involved with the Ticha team participated and shared their knowledge in response to this tweet. A conversation about numbers in Zapotec had started on social media, and people both inside and outside Zapotec communities could see these types of tweets and be inspired to learn more about Zapotec language. Information about the complexity and diversity of Zapotec language doesn’t just have to be in an academic setting; people can learn so much just from scrolling through their Twitter timeline. My favorite reply was a video clip of someone teaching their toddlers the numbers in their Zapotec language. Recently a group of Zapotec speakers have joined our team in a project called Conversatorios and are taking part in lessons about Zapotec language prepared by the Ticha team. (See Felipe H. Lopez’s blog about this last month here.) Lately they have been sharing pictures and videos from their communities with captions in Zapotec, using the hashtags #UsaTuVoz and #ZapotecoColonial. You can scroll through these hashtags or go on our account (@TichaProject) to see posts from Zapotec individuals and learn more about their language and culture! Social media as a whole has made it easier, more accessible, and less expensive for people to put their language out in the world-- in written, spoken, or signed form! Members of the Zapotec community (and other indigenous language communities) can connect with each other and share information through platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. As Zapotec and other indigenous languages remain underrepresented in more traditional forms of media, social media can provide a platform that they might not get otherwise. Working with Zapotec speakers who want to use social media in this way, I (a non-Native student) have been able to be part of this important to work of fighting back against linguistic discrimination and injustices. Through social media outreach, working with members of the Zapotec community, and sharing Zapotec vocabulary, Ticha is taking small steps alongside Zapotec communities to highlight this language and culture, by showcasing a history and intellectual tradition that are often denied.