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Colección: La Educación
Número: (129-131) I,III
Año: 1998

Sociolinguistic Aspects of Broadcasting

Dialectal and Regional Variation

Relying on linguistic analyses of the Sierra Tarahumara conducted by various linguists at different periods and Radio Xetar’s indigenous sources, the station’s staff developed an effective broadcasting strategy to cover the vast and linguistically diverse region. Aside from Spanish, the station broadcasts in Upper Tarahumar to the Rarámuri communities in high elevations, Lower Tarahumar to the Rarámuri communities in the canyons and ravines at lower elevations, Guarojío to the Guarojío in western Chihuahua and southeastern Sonora, and O’Odam to the Northern Tepehuán in southern Chihuahua and northern Durango. It is not known to what extent the Pimas in western Chihuahua and northwestern Sonora, speakers of O’tham, are able to receive and benefit from Radio XETAR’s broadcasts.

These four ethnolinguistic groups are members of the Uto-Aztecan language family and have in common some cultural characteristics and varying degrees of mutual intelligibility, though, as Limón (1988) indicates, each retains a unique sociocultural system. Pericot García (1957) treats Guarojío as a dialect of Tarahumar. Lionnet (1972) also finds Guarojío to be very closely related to Tarahumar in his treatise on the elements of the Tarahumar language. More recently, Miller (1991 and 1992) rated the mutual intelligibility of Guarojío and Tarahumar as under 50 percent. He also reports that the Northern Tepehuán are fluent in Spanish or Tarahumar. A team of linguistic researchers from the State of Chihuahua’s Program for Indigenous Research identified five regional varieties of Tarahumar, which contrasts with the long-held assumption of only two varieties (Upper and Lower Tarahumar) employed in Radio XETAR’s broadcasts. From the onset, the management of the station recognized that more than two varieties of Tarahumar exist, including many micro-linguistic zones whose sizes make them almost impossible to accommodate exclusively in broadcasts. Inhabitants of these zones are reached by the closest variety in the announcers’ repertoire. Radio Xetar’s broadcasts in Tarahumar are also understood, in varying degrees, by some of the other ethnolinguistic groups in the area. The use of the two main forms of Tarahumar for broadcasts will probably promote their standardization. Substantially lower levels of intelligibility between the Pima and Tarahumar languages, for example, would indicate that the Pima might benefit from broadcasts in their own language. Initially it was difficult for the station to find a Pima announcer. On the other hand, Miller’s (1992) indication that Lower Pima in Sonora has an 85 percent lexical similarity with Northern Tepehuán reveals that the Northern Tepehuán perhaps could be used to partially reach the speakers of Pima in Sonora, but not the 700 Pima in Chihuahua, since Sonoran and Chihuahuan Pima are not mutually intelligible. Musical programs based on regional culture are well received by all groups, as these are less hampered by language or dialectal differences. Broadcasts in Spanish are understood by the indigenous population that is bilingual and the mestizo population.

Translation and Codeswitching Issues

The original staffing plan for Radio XETAR was ambitious. In addition to technical personnel, announcers were needed for each of the two major varieties of Tarahumar and the other regional groups. Indigenous personnel were hired for various positions with multiple duties that included programming, announcing, translation, and interpreting, as well as field research in the station’s target communities. Some of the indigenous announcers were not conversant with the concepts and terminology associated with the topics of technical programs in Spanish, such as health care and legal issues, making the task of translation challenging. This problem prompted management to develop a procedure for the verification of the accuracy of program translations. Urías Hermosillo (1991) resorted to requiring program material, already translated by one individual from Spanish to an indigenous language, to be translated back to Spanish by another staff member. Discrepancies between program versions were resolved before a broadcast was authorized. This practice helped the announcers become better translators and enabled management to exercise quality control in the production of programs.

Given that program content often must be translated, Radio XETAR’s announcers employ innovative combinations of languages in their broadcasts, even though they strive to use a designated broadcast language exclusively (Urías Hermosillo 1994). Technical terms often do not occur in indigenous languages. The need arises then for the use of a Spanish term as a loan word and/or some paraphrasing to ensure a concept is being understood. According to some of the radio announcers, loan words use in indigenous language and Spanish broadcasts do not exceed 10 percent and 5 percent, respectively. Code switching or code alternation (changing from one language to another within a discourse) during indigenous language and Spanish broadcasts also occurs infrequently, less than 5 percent. Occasions do arise when it is employed to achieve effective communication, typically in an inter-sentential mode and for the purpose of accommodating new or technical concepts, e.g., in medical programs. It should be noted that among the Rarámuri, codeswitching from Spanish to Tarahumar, the matrix language, has limitations due to sociocultural distance and cognitive dissonance (Ornstein 1975). Perhaps the station’s broadcasts and increased social interaction in the region may come to affect that restricted code switching pattern. There is little research available on code switching among the other ethnolinguistic groups reached by Radio XETAR’s broadcasts.