Lourdes de León
Sabbatical Stay at UCLA
Lourdes de Leon
Lourdes de León

Motivated by the opportunity to work closely with colleagues specializing in child language and socialization, 2007-2008 UC MEXUS-CONACYT Sabbatical Fellow Lourdes de León, professor of anthropology and linguistics at Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social (CIESAS), undertook a one-year sabbatical stay at UCLA that was co-hosted by Professors of Anthropology Elinor Ruth Ochs and Alessandro Duranti.

De León has conducted research in the Zinacantec Maya community for much of her academic career, focusing primarily on the topics of language socialization, interaction, and communicative competence in children from infancy to late childhood. Given her interests, UCLA's Sloan Center on the Everyday Lives of Families (CELF) and the Center for Language, Interaction, and Culture (CLIC) provided what she calls "the ideal space" for her sabbatical study of cross-cultural language socialization.

While at UCLA, de León advanced her skills in the microanalysis of interaction and conducted "i-fieldwork" through videographic analysis of American families' daily lives in weekly thematic seminars with colleagues from CELF. Having the ability to view siblings' lives around dimensions of play, chores, and argument, she says, offered many lines of comparison with the indigenous cultures she has studied. Access to CELF's data on 30 dual-earning families in the Los Angeles area and their everyday lives (e.g., meals, household chores, play, homework, and after-school activities) further enabled comparisons of family organization and language socialization.

De León was particularly intrigued by comparisons in language socialization practices between American middle class families and Zinacantec Maya families. Exploring the emergence of pointing gestures and the interactional patterns and practices that shape and organize attention in Zinacantec Maya homes among young children, she found that while infants in this context are positioned in interactional and corporeal arrangements that tend not to privilege face-to-face interactions in the same way as Euroamerican middle class socializing environments do, they nonetheless learn to point at roughly the same age as Euro-American infants (about the age of 12 months).

That Maya infants learn to speak in spite of the fact that they are not addressed with a special register in face-to-face interactions, as language acquisition theories expect, highlights the importance of attending to participant configurations other than traditional speaker-listener dyadic models. Her research on socializing practices at home also indicates that threats and teasing are regularly used in both Euroamerican as well as Maya families as language socialization practices, and in ways that are linked to culturally specific notions of morality and emotion. Additionally, CELF data on siblings has sparked her interest in their daily interactions and the role that they play in language socialization in both cultures.

Through her stay, de León developed and expanded collaborations in multiple academic departments and with research centers at UCLA and other UC campuses. She co-taught "Language Socialization" with co-host Elinor Ochs and audited courses taught by Professor of Applied Linguistics Charles Goodwin and Professor of Anthropology Marjorie Harness Goodwin, who also taught one week of seminar topics in linguistic anthropology to students in the graduate program in Indoamerican Linguistics at CIESAS in the summer of 2008. She also collaborated with Dr. Patricia Greenfield and advised her students at UCLA's Psychology Department on topics of Maya children socialization and learning. In May 2008, Barbara Rogoff, professor of psychology at UC Santa Cruz, invited de León to give a talk on her research on the Tzotzil Maya community titled "Directives and the Social Organization of Attention in a Maya Family" as part of an ongoing collaboration on children's learning in Indigenous communities. While in Northern California, de León met with Patricia Baquedano, associate professor at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Education, to develop future collaborative research projects and discuss student exchange. Two edited volumes on the topic of children's language, Socialización, lenguajes y culturas infantiles: Estudios interdisciplinarios (currently in press) and Nuevos senderos en la adquisición de lenguas mesoamericanas: Estructura, narrativa y socialización were also completed during her stay.

According to Wendy DeBoer, director of international academic programs at UC MEXUS, de León's sabbatical stay at UCLA embraces the spirit of the program. "Dr. de León's sabbatical fellowship was ambitious in the very best sense of the word. She was not only productive in terms of her own advancing her own research and exploring comparative data, but in actively pursuing collaborations with key intellectual counterparts in anthropology, psychology and linguistics at UCLA and other UC campuses. Her stay highlights the value of academic exchange and the positive results that can be achieved when scholars take advantage of these binational opportunities."

Elinor Ruth Ochs, professor of anthropology and director of CELF, served as de León's faculty host and Alessandro Duranti, professor of anthropology as co-host. Dr. Lourdes de León can be reached at lourdesdeleonp@gmail.com.