Mary Eunice Romero

Katrin H. Lamon Resident Scholar


Language Shift and the Socialization of Pueblo Children

When children learn their first language, they not only learn to communicate, they also acquire cultural and social values, beliefs, and practices that are embedded in the language itself. In subtle yet profound ways, language functions as a tool of socialization, transmitting a culture's essential ways of being to each generation. What happens to this link between language and culture, however, when a people’s mother tongue is replaced by another language—the phenomenon known as “language shift”?

Mary Eunice Romero is exploring this transition in her dissertation, Language Shift and the Socialization of Pueblo Children. Her study examines the shift from native language to English in Cochiti, New Mexico, a Keres-speaking Pueblo community, in relation to its socialization practices. Romero, who is from Cochiti Pueblo, has witnessed the power of language to preserve and maintain the Pueblo traditions that have evolved over centuries, as well as the consequences of a community's gradual embrace of a new language.

Language shift occurs because of internal and external changes in a speech community. In Native American communities, language shifted for a variety of reasons, ranging from the nineteenth-century U.S. Federal Indian Policy of English-only boarding schools that aimed to eradicate native languages and cultures, to the recognition that English will open job opportunities and facilitate interactions outside the community. What may get lost in this transition, Romero asserts, is the social and cultural knowledge necessary for becoming a competent member of the Cochiti world—knowledge that is transmitted through the language itself.

Romero’s three-part study is based on 32 months of field research in Cochiti Pueblo, 35 miles south of Santa Fe, New Mexico. To gather information about traditional child-rearing practices, she conducted interviews with elders who were socialized into the community at a time when the culture and language were fully intact. Because the Cochiti language is unwritten, the elders hold particularly valuable information. Romero then conducted a second set of interviews with the young-parent generation about their own socialization practices. In addition, she observed home and community adult-child interactions. In the final stage of her research, Romero has constructed a language history that illuminates the relationship between language shift and the socio-cultural patterns of socialization.

Affiliation at time of award:
Ph.D. Candidate, Education, Language, Literacy and Culture, University of California, Berkeley

Follow us: