Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Nancy H. Hornberger


This study documents practices relating to the use of Isthmus Zapotec or Diidxaza, an Indigenous language of Oaxaca, Mexico, in formal and non-formal education. Drawing on ethnographic monitoring and ethnography of language policy methodologies, I document, interpret, and ultimately engage in Isthmus Zapotec education with the aim of countering social inequalities produced through language hierarchies.

Within the historical and socio-political context of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec where Isthmus Zapotec is spoken, I describe and categorize the actors, practices, and socio-political processes that currently constitute the educational language ecology. I draw on participant observation, interviews, photographs and documents collected during 17 months of ethnographic fieldwork and several subsequent visits in the Isthmus (2013-2015) in order to illustrate the linguistic landscape and the prominent practices in this domain. Increased official recognition for Indigenous languages in Mexico and state-level promotion of local languages are influencing some education practices, although exclusion of Isthmus Zapotec remains the norm. A variety of Isthmus Zapotec teachers, learners, and advocates are working to reverse this exclusionary legacy, however.

The ideologies and social imaginaries of actors in two education sites are analyzed in-depth, illustrating a convivial multilingual paradigm through which teachers and learners of Isthmus Zapotec are creating inclusive communities of practice, in contrast to the exclusionary and manipulative norms in many social and educational spaces. Additionally the strategies of Isthmus Zapotec advocates across education contexts and social scales are compared, exploring how strategies of representing, connecting, and producing are employed to address language inequalities, with differing degrees of speed and visibility. I analyze my own strategies of engagement in Isthmus Zapotec education and discuss conceptual and methodological shifts in how I approach advocacy work in relation to marginalized languages. Endangered or minoritized language education will continue to hold different meanings for different actors from local to global levels; a multi-perspectival approach is necessary to develop new strategies and to support inclusive and convivial imaginaries of multilingualism in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and other contexts of language inequality.

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