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Signs of status: language policy, revitalization, and visibility in urban Amazonia

Original Paper

Abstract

This paper examines the implications and implementation of official language policy designed to support endangered Indigenous languages in the municipality of São Gabriel da Cachoeira, Amazonas, Brazil. The policy, in place since late 2001, declared three of the region’s many Indigenous languages (Nheengatú, Tukano, and Baniwa) to be “co-official” at the local level; the practical implementation of this policy, however, has remained limited. I specifically use the linguistic landscape of the city of São Gabriel as an entry point for considering the contested ideologies relating to the use of this official language policy as a strategy for language revitalization, and how some actors in the city have responded to the limited “top-down” implementation by creating space for the use of these languages in public and prestigious settings. I argue that the impact of the policy must be considered not simply in direct examination of the degree to which its articles have been implemented, but also in relation to the semiotic possibilities that it has created for Indigenous people and their allies in language activism. Signage in the official Indigenous languages reveals that the official language policy is embedded in a series of linguistic ideologies that make its implementation (or lack thereof) a complex question.

Keywords

Linguistic landscape Language revitalization Northwest amazon Language ideologies Indigenous languages 

Notes

Acknowledgements

Funding for this research was provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Canada Graduate Scholarship, the University of Western Ontario Department of Anthropology, and the Regna Darnell Scholarship. Institutional support was also provided by Ana Carla Bruno and the Instituto Nacional das Pesquisas Amazonicas, and the Federação das Organizações Indígenas do Rio Negro. I am grateful to Tania Granadillo and Kim Clark for extensive comments on previous drafts of this article, as well as to Jenny Davis for organizing (and inviting me to) the American Anthropological Association panel where I began considering these ideas, and to Jocelyn Ahlers and Anthony K. Webster for comments on that presentation that have strengthened the final version. Any mistakes are entirely my own.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Anthropology, Economics and Political ScienceMacEwan UniversityEdmontonCanada

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