Writing development in two languages

Writing development in two languages: A case study in two P’urhepecha-medium primary schools in Michoacán (Mexico)

Invited talk by Dr Kate Bellamy (KU Leuven)


In this talk I investigate the development of writing skills in P’urhepecha and Spanish in the context of two P’urhepecha communities in Michoacán (Mexico) where P’urhepecha is the main home language. These communities are special since, in the face of immense pressure from Spanish, for over 25 years a group of educators have been committed to prioritizing P’urhepecha in the two local primary schools (e.g. Hamel et al. 2004, Hamel & Francis, 2008).

I will focus on the biliteracy development of a group of 4th grade students at one of these schools. P’urhepecha is a language isolate, with a completely suffixing, agglutinative structure, thus linguistically quite distinct from Spanish. Preliminary analysis of writing samples in P’urhepecha has highlighted the students’ ability to creatively represent their colloquial version of the language, including lexical borrowings from Spanish incorporated into their complex native-language grammatical system (Bellamy & Groff, 2019). This qualitative analysis is now extended to written production in both P’urhepecha and Spanish, first separately and then comparatively, where I will highlight certain patterns iobserved n orthographic conventions, morphological complexity, and lexical borrowing (see also Groff & Bellamy, 2020).

In both languages, the students find creative and unconventional ways to represent oral language in writing, for example through the use of fixed expressions, phonological rather than accepted spellings, and a general lack of punctuation. P’urhepecha writing skills are clearly stronger than Spanish writing skills, instantiated in the longer, more expansive texts, greater coherence and more variation in vocabulary and tenses. The typical P’urhepecha narrative technique of linking clauses with the coordinator ka ‘and’ is present in both languages. Yet borrowings from Spanish are incorporated into P’urhepecha texts, while the reverse is not the case. These features likely reflect the emphasis placed on the indigenous language and the focus on content-based learning in the school context.

Speaker Bio:

Kate Bellamy is currently a Postdoctoral Researcher at KU Leuven (Belgium). She is particularly interested in multilingualism and code-switching, with a focus on P’urhepecha, a language isolate spoken in Michoacán, Mexico. She also works on grammatical gender (in both bilingual and monolingual contexts in Mesoamerica and the Caucasus), lexical semantics, and patterns of word formation in P’urhepecha.

Registration is required (and free) via this form. Please register by midnight the night before the talk. You will receive a Zoom link to the talk about an hour before the event begins.