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Inscribing indigeneity: Ethnolinguistic authority in the linguistic landscape of Amazonian Ecuador

  • Michael Wroblewski EMAIL logo
From the journal Multilingua


This article takes a linguistic anthropological approach to analyzing multilingualism in the linguistic landscape of the Amazonian city of Tena, Ecuador, a key locus of indigenous Kichwa language revitalization, identity formation, and politics. Following recent scholarly reconsiderations of multilingual linguistic landscapes as sites of ideological contestation and performative display, I seek to expand on the foundational concept of ethnolinguistic vitality. Building on an analysis of shifting materiality and semiotics of bilingual Kichwa-Spanish hospital signs, I argue for the use of longitudinal and deep ethnographic study of public sign-making in progress to identify oppositional struggles over ethnolinguistic authority, or control of authorship in displays of ethnolinguistic presence. In Tena, Kichwa-language signage represents a new venue for the decolonization of politics, the performance of indigeneity, and the centralization of state power, which are expressed through competing visions by agents with distinct ideological orientations toward language. I submit ethnolinguistic authority as a critical concern for the ethnographic study of public inscriptions of minority languages, which reflect contrasting ideologies of language, notions of group identity, and claims to representational sovereignty.

Funding source: Wenner-Gren Foundation

Award Identifier / Grant number: 7827

Funding statement: This work was supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation. (Funder Id:, Grant Number: 7827).


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Published Online: 2019-08-21
Published in Print: 2020-03-26

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