Brigittine M. French
Chair, Peace and Conflict Studies Committee
Brigittine French earned a PhD from the University of Iowa in 2001 and joined the Anthropology Department at Grinnell College in 2003. French is a linguistic anthropologist whose primary research interests are centered on human discourse, power, and conflict in highly charged political contexts. She has conducted ethnographic research in Guatemala among Maya communities and the Republic of Ireland.
French is the author of Maya Ethnolinguistic Identity: Violence, Cultural Rights and Modernity in Highland Guatemala (2010) published by University of Arizona Press. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, Journal of Human Rights, American Anthropologist and Annual Review of Anthropology among others.
In addition to her work in the Anthropology Department, French is Chair of the Peace and Conflict Studies Program at Grinnell College and Book Review Editor for the Journal of Linguistic Anthropology.
The Semiotics of Collective Memories
Annual Review of Anthropology
Vol. 41: 337-353 (Volume publication date October 2012)
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Maya Ethnolinguistic Identity: Violence, Cultural Rights, and Modernity in Highland Guatemala
"French offers interesting data and speaks in new ways to the interplay of gender politics and symbolism on one hand, and the dynamics of bilingualism and language shift on the other." -Joseph Errington, author of Linguistics in a Colonial World: A Story of Language, Meaning, and Power “French offers interesting data and speaks in new ways to the interplay of gender politics and symbolism on one hand, and the dynamics of bilingualism and language shift on the other.” —Joseph Errington, author of Linguistics in a Colonial World: A Story of Language, Meaning, and Power In this valuable book, ethnographer and anthropologist Brigittine French mobilizes new critical-theoretical perspectives in linguistic anthropology, applying them to the politically charged context of contemporary Guatemala. Beginning with an examination of the “nationalist project” that has been ongoing since the end of the colonial period, French interrogates the “Guatemalan/indigenous binary.” In Guatemala, “Ladino” refers to the Spanish-speaking minority of the population, who are of mixed European, usually Spanish, and indigenous ancestry; “Indian” is understood to mean the majority of Guatemala’s population, who speak one of the twenty-one languages in the Maya linguistic groups of the country, although levels of bilingualism are very high among most Maya communities. As French shows, the Guatemalan state has actively promoted a racialized, essentialized notion of “Indians” as an undifferentiated, inherently inferior group that has stood stubbornly in the way of national progress, unity, and development—which are, implicitly, the goals of “true Guatemalans” (that is, Ladinos). French shows, with useful examples, how constructions of language and collective identity are in fact strategies undertaken to serve the goals of institutions (including the government, the military, the educational system, and the church) and social actors (including linguists, scholars, and activists). But by incorporating in-depth fieldwork with groups that speak Kaqchikel and K’iche’ along with analyses of Spanish-language discourses, Maya Ethnolinguistic Identity also shows how some individuals in urban, bilingual Indian communities have disrupted the essentializing projects of multiculturalism. And by focusing on ideologies of language, the author is able to explicitly link linguistic forms and functions with larger issues of consciousness, gender politics, social positions, and the forging of hegemonic power relations. University of Arizona Press
Ph.D. in anthropology, University of Iowa, May 2001