'Women don't talk': Gender and codemixing in an evangelical Tzotzil village (Mexico)

Akesha L. Baron
Dept. of Anthropology, University of Washington
July, 2006


Women and men have strictly defined roles in a Protestant, Tzotzil-speaking Mayan village in highland Chiapas. Differences in social roles and their attendant ideologies result in men using a wider range of speech styles, including a variety of Tzotzil that is mixed with Spanish, which they elaborate in various male genres.
Men's greater stylistic activity is related to their access to a variety of predominantly male speech genres and seems to translate into greater possibilities for symbolic self-representation. Men thus appear to exploit symbolic resources---i.e., linguistic styles---most in the community as they have the most to gain in terms of access to influential roles in community life. Stylistic differences between men and women are traced through attention to the correlation between gender and mixed Tzotzil. Beyond the simplest borrowings, Spanish items in Tzotzil seem to have clearly masculine connotations in this rural setting. Spanish forms are also acquiring different types of prestige through their use in speech genres. One function of Spanish is to mark public talk and religious talk, which lends it 'overt' prestige. In a speech style favored by the younger generation of men, however, a type of playful speech that challenges authority and plays with multiple meanings, Spanish clearly has a different sort of prestige, a 'covert' prestige. These findings demonstrate the necessity of investigating how language varieties become associated with prestige without assuming that a national language has greater prestige than local languages, and the need to complicate notions of prestige to allow for distinctive kinds of prestige that have different meanings to different genders.