BA, Anthropology, Spanish, Latin American and Caribbean Studies, 2010
International Institute Individual Fellowship
Georgia Ennis conducted a research project focused on the sociolinguistic study of the pronoun vos in Ecuadorian Spanish. One of the primary goals of her research was to investigate in what situations and with whom vos may be used to address a conversational partner, as well as how its use functions as a marker of class, race, and geographic origin.
As I interviewed students and their parents in Ecuador this past summer about their uses of and beliefs about different second-person singular pronouns, I wondered how I had gotten here. While it felt overwhelming during the academic year to develop a research proposal, apply for grants, and finish the Institutional Review Board (IRB) application, all of my past work felt very far away from the reality of conducting fieldwork. Being in the field was often very humbling and sometimes frustrating, but after each interview I walked away with new questions, as well as some unexpected answers to the questions I had come with.
My research project is a sociolinguistic study of the pronoun vos in Ecuadorian Spanish. In Ecuadorian Spanish, vos is used in conjunction with the pronouns tú and usted. In Ecuador vos is not a dominant form and its use is mostly confined to the highland region. One of the main goals of my research was to investigate in what situations and with whom vos may be used to address a conversational partner. I wished to investigate its place within Ecuadorian language ideology, as well as the social markers assigned to its use. I had initially thought that the use of vos is largely confined, or believed to be confined, to rural areas and indigenous communities. This can create linguistic tensions and stereotypes when rural speakers migrate into urban areas such as Quito. Although many of my initial thoughts and research questions were confirmed by my time in Quito, I also came to realize that voseo is a much more complex linguistic and social practice than I had originally thought.
Despite sometimes leaving my interviews feeling that I understood less than when I started, fieldwork was an amazing experience. One of the most personally valuable aspects of conducting fieldwork was the opportunity that it gave me to visit people’s homes. I was consistently overwhelmed by the generosity of the families that I visited in sharing their time, experiences and perspectives with me. It was an extraordinary experience to be able to sit around their kitchen tables in their concrete homes while the rain beat down so loudly on the tin roofs that I could barely understand them at times. I learned a great deal about how many other people live, as well as about language. The greatest outcome of my trip to Ecuador has been a realization that I want to pursue community development and social justice as an advocate and educator, both in the U.S. and abroad. My time working in a low-income area of Quito palpably demonstrated to me the need to bridge the inequalities in our world systems through social work and education. On many levels, voseo encapsulates the complex intersection of ideologies about appropriateness in language, as well as class, race and geographic origin in Ecuadorian Spanish. Looking ahead, I am excited to return to Ecuador as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant following my graduation.