Linguistic Syncretism and Language Ideologies: Transforming Sociolinguistic Hierarchy on Rapa Nui (Easter Island)

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Abstract

Recent work in linguistic anthropology highlights the role of linguistic ideologies, or cultural conceptions of language, in transforming social relations and linguistic structure and use. This article examines the links between language attitudes and uses in their institutional and interactional contexts on Rapa Nui, a Polynesian island community that is part of the Chilean nation-state. By the 1970s, a sociolinguistic hierarchy and functional compartmentalization of languages between Spanish and Rapa Nui—what I will describe as “colonial diglossia”—had become established in the community, which was rapidly becoming bilingual. Language shift toward Spanish has continued to advance since then. However, rising Rapa Nui syncretic language practice and consciousness, combined with the political successes of a local indigenous movement and changes in the local economy, are now contributing to the breakdown of colonial diglossia, generating better conditions for the maintenance of the Rapa Nui language.

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