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Language Policy and Activism in Afro-Latin America

Friday 1 October 2021
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During the past two decades, Afro-Hispanic languages have slowly entered the process of official recognition in Latin America. Papiamentu (Spanish creole from the Dutch Antilles), for example, became a language of instruction in 2003 in primary and secondary schools (Dijkhoff & Pereira 2010). Along the same lines of cultural enthusiasm, UNESCO proclaimed Palenquero (Spanish creole from Colombia) “Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” in 2005, and this language is now taught in local primary schools in the village of San Basilio de Palenque (Lipski 2010).

As for the other Afro-Hispanic contact varieties of the Americas, the process of official recognition has not gone that far …yet, but some steps have been taken in a similar direction. A clear example of this incipient process is the case of Afro-Bolivian Spanish, an Afro-Hispanic contact variety spoken in the Yungas, Department of La Paz (Bolivia). Recent publications on this contact variety (Lipski 2008; Sessarego 2011, 2014, 2021) have triggered an important process of language pride and revitalization among the members of the Afro-Bolivian community. Afro-Bolivians have recently taken a new look at their traditional language, which was previously regarded by many as a sort of embarrassing “broken Spanish”. The local attitudes toward this variety have greatly changed now. Afro-Bolivians have recently created the Instituto de Lengua y Cultura Afroboliviano with the aim of promoting and revitalizing their language, which is now perceived as a symbol of cultural and ethnic pride. 

This phenomenon triggered another cultural process. A group of Afro-Bolivian activists, in cooperation with international linguists, have recently launched a radio program (Somos Afrobolivianos Podcast), which focuses on linguistic rights and language discrimination (https://liberalarts.utexas.edu/spanish/news/new-series-of-radio-interviews-on-afro-bolivian-language-and-culture). Such a program, in tandem with the aforementioned Instituto de Lengua y Cultura Afroboliviano, is spreading linguistic awareness of this Afro-Hispanic variety and promoting its official recognition at the local and national level. An important step in this direction has been taken in September 2021, when the first legal proposal to support the use of Afro-Bolivian Spanish in education, radio and television was presented to the Municipality of Coroico, Department of La Paz, Bolivia, by a group of scholars and political activists (Proyecto de ley municipal autonómica de protección del patrimonio lingüístico del pueblo afro de Coroico).

This paper critically reviews the process Afro-Bolivian Spanish is going through; it also discusses opportunities and threats that this variety may face, within the current political scenario, to acquire visibility, recognition and, potentially, a new role in society. 

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