1. University of Virginia
  2. Arts & Sciences

Alison Broach

P.O. Box 400120

As languages around the world rapidly disappear, the sociocultural situations of endangerment and their impact on communities remains largely unexplored. Ethnographic research consistently shows, “researchers and communities must come to understand what is happening to the speakers, not just what is happening to the language” (Granadillo and Orcutt-Gachiri, 3). This dissertation considers this claim by exploring effects that language shift is having on the Livingston, Guatemala Garifuna community. The Garifuna language is an Arawakan language spoken by Garifuna people—an ethnicity with West African and indigenous Island Carib heritage, originating on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent during the seventeenth century. Today’s population spans Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, the United States, and St. Vincent. But, there is also an unseen population troubled by language loss—deceased Garifuna ancestors. These Garifuna-speaking ancestors are active members of Garifuna family networks, communicating with living kin through spirit possession and dreams.Understanding language endangerment among Garifuna people involves learning how language interacts with kinship and spirituality. According to elders, the growing lack of fluency among youth threatens to fracture relations between the living and the dead. In this work, I discuss the ontological place of language in the spiritual and physical makeup of the Garifuna person as it relates to kinship. I show that the connection between language, spirituality, and kinship drives revitalization in unexpected ways. In these contexts, spirituality and language are woven onto contemporary social landscapes in ways that appear to draw from the very spirituality that elders point to as threatened.

List of Chair and Committee Members: Eve Danziger (Chair), Lise Dobrin, George Mentore, Susan McKinnon, Cynthia Hoehler-Fatton (Outside Reader)


Linguistic anthropology, language endangerment, language revitalization, Guatemala, Caribbean Latin America, ancestors, spirit possession