Nahuatl Nation: The Significance of Indigenous Language Education in Mexico
Magnus Hansen

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Brown University

Primary Discipline

This dissertation is a study of the ways in which the Nahuatl language education participates in different projects of identity and community construction, in Mexico and beyond. It is based on ethnographic, linguistic and historical research in contexts where the Nahuatl language is used in educational projects. In the dissertation, I argue that the there are two main ways in which Nahuatl becomes a vehicle of community: One is through the use of Nahuatl as a symbol of communal, ethnic or national belonging. This use is based on the role of Nahuatl as a nexus of indexical relations between different ideologies of history and nationalism at different semiotic scales. The other way that Nahuatl participates in the formation of communities builds on its role as a native language through which speakers experience communal relations with each other. This use is based not on indexical relations between the language and metalinguistic ideologies, but rather on indexical and iconic relations between the language and specific subjective experiences within the lives of speakers. In this way the language’s use as a symbolic vehicle of political identity, can be seen as separate from its function as a vehicle of individual subjectivity. I argue that this distinction between the role of the language in subjectivity formation and identity formation is important for understanding how the Nahuatl language takes on different meanings for different people and in different contexts, and for distinguishing between processes of cultural appropriation, heritage reclamation and decolonization.
About Magnus Hansen
Magnus Pharao Hansen is a doctoral candidate in linguistic anthropology at Brown University, and fellow at the center for US-Mexican studies at University of California San Diego. He holds a master’s degree in Mesoamerican languages from the University of Copenhagen. He has carried out research on the Nahuatl language in the state of Morelos since 2003, and conducted several months of fieldwork on the Otomi language of San Jeronimo Acazulco, Estado de Mexico.His dissertation project studies the current process of integration of Nahuatl in Mexican higher education after the 2003 Law of Linguistic Rights, and the ways this process ties in with social and political processes in Nahuan communities and the Mexican Nation. This research has been carried out in communities and educational institutions in Veracruz and Morelos.He is particularly interested in the how subjective experiences with language affects educational decisions and outcomes of Nahuatl-speaking students, and in the relation of experience and life history to linguistic ideologies and language choices. He has published several articles on the Nahuatl variety of Hueyapan, Morelos.

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