Working Papers in Educational Linguistics (WPEL)




Speaking Isthmus Zapotec has represented different forms of material and symbolic capital at different times and places throughout the pre-Hispanic, colonial and post-colonial history of Mexico. This chapter explores the shifting and contrasting discourses of value around the language in the current era of neoliberal multiculturalism drawing on an ethnographic study of the use of Isthmus Zapotec in educational contexts in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. The effects of educational politics across historical eras and into the present have largely devalued Isthmus Zapotec use and contributed to the material inequalities experienced by Isthmus Zapotec speakers. The social capital associated with Isthmus Zapotec remains subject to negotiation, however, as local actors continue to revalue Isthmus Zapotec through communal, genealogical and place-based discourses, as well as individualist, ahistorical and mobile discourses. This case illustrates the influence of both politico-economic trends and local agency in the negotiation of linguistic capital, and argues the importance of attending to local counter-discourses.