I am a linguistic and sociocultural anthropologist interested in the ways in which children acquire, transform, and develop awareness of language, culture, and morality through everyday interactions with caregivers and peers, especially in contexts of sociocultural change.
I received my MA in Sociocultural Anthropology from Freie Universität Berlin and my PhD in Linguistic Anthropology from the University of California, Los Angeles. Since 2009 I have conducted fieldwork in the indigenous Aché communities in eastern Paraguay, a former hunter–gatherer collective recently settled on reservations after deforestation, persecutions and disease. Sedentarisation has led to rapid sociocultural transformations, among them change to agriculture for subsistence, missionisation, and language shift from their heritage language (Aché) to the national language (Guaraní). In 2013 and 2014 I have conducted a language socialization study to explore the emergence of a new contact language, result of convergence between Aché and Guaraní, learned as first language by the children. I have also documented how and when children still differentiate between words belonging to Aché or Guaraní, an important skill in an ideological context where language is a frequent object of discourse in relation to ethnic identity and cultural continuity.
My dissertation explores the theoretical implications of these observations. Drawing on conversation analysis, phenomenology, and language ideologies, I discuss how the perception of differences between languages relates to the perception of the linguistic code as a distinct aspect of language use. I argue that language and linguistic distinctions are the products of strategic syntagmatic juxtapositions and paradigmatic substitutions (codeswitching, repair, repetition) of distinct linguistic resources in the sequential unfolding of discourse. My work contributes to the understanding of the impact of metalinguistic awareness on language shift and convergence, as well as teaching and language revitalization.
In my current project, funded by the British Academy and developed in cooperation with Dr Harry Walker, I continue my research with Aché children, focusing on moral socialisation in relation to environmental transformations. While today the Aché live in villages and subsist by small-scale agriculture, some families continue to go on monthly hunting treks in a nearby forest reserve. Forest and village are tied to past and present modes of existence. A more egalitarian ethos dominates on hunting treks, where resources and responsibilities are distributed across all participants. The village space with separate family units allows for greater autonomy, accumulation of resources, and monetary compensation. Analysing children’s socialisation in these two contexts, focusing on their understandings of rights and duties, fairness and justice, cooperation and sharing, I investigate whether and to what extent forest and village afford different moral frameworks that may hint at ongoing changes in the configurations of morality among the Aché.