Mixtec in California: Language & Identity + Language maintenance

Just south of UC Santa Barbara, in Oxnard, California, is a large agricultural community that is home to thousands of speakers of indigenous Mexican languages. In this context, I work with current and heritage speakers of Tu'un Savi (Mixtec), a group of understudied Otomanguean languages from Oaxaca and Guerrero. Oxnard is home to at least a dozen distinct varieties of Tu'un Savi, which are in contact with each other, Spanish, English, and other indigenous languages like Zapotec. The overarching research goal of my work with the community is to understand this complex multilingual and multidialectal diasporic contact situation from both a sociocultural and a structural perspective.

For my dissertation research, which is funded by an NSF DDRI grant, I combine ethnographic, sociophonetic, and discourse-analytic methods to understand the linguistic practices that young Mixtec women use to construct Mixteca identity in the face of first-generation language shift. In addition to the use of Tu’un Savi itself, I examine how heritage speakers (who do not currently speak Tu’un Savi) use linguistic variation in both Spanish and English as markers of Mixtec ethnic identity. Data come from ethnographic interviews, recordings of individual style-shifting in diverse interactional contexts, and language-attitudes interviews with members of the broader Oxnard community.

As part of my research, I also work in tandem with community-led language-focused projects to promote language maintenance, such as medical interpreters' networks, Mixtec literacy classes, and a local group for indigenous youth.

language & social power

Another strand of my research focuses on using linguistic tools, theories and methodologies to understand the tumultuous political world we all live in: how it came to be, and how we can transform it. I'm especially interested in the ways that powerful groups use linguistic resources to construct discourses of their own marginalization.

One of my papers, recently published in the Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, analyzes the construction of supposed "reverse racism" against white people, focusing on the euphemization of cracker as the C-word (Bax 2018). A shorter version of this paper was awarded the 2017 Society for Linguistic Anthropology Graduate Student Paper Prize.

I also have a manuscript in progress about gendered interpretive agency in heterosexual online dating practices, specifically examining interactions in which a woman's non-response to a man is interpreted as a deliberate affront.

linguistics & education

A third strand of my work is focused on linguistics pedagogy, particularly as a tool for effecting social change. This research (and outreach) has been conducted as part of UC Santa Barbara's SKILLS (School Kids Investigating Language in Life and Society) program. With the SKILLS program, I taught sociocultural linguistics in local public high schools and community centers for five years.

In my Master's thesis, I studied the effects of the SKILLS curriculum on high school seniors' language attitudes toward marginalized and hegemonic varieties of English. This study found that the program significantly improved participants' attitudes toward African American English. The paper is currently being revised for publication.

With Juan Sebastian Ferrada, I've also written a reflexive piece about my experience teaching in the SKILLS program, was recently published in Feeling It: Language, Race, and Affect in Latinx Youth Learning (Routledge), edited by Mary Bucholtz, Dolores Inés Casillas, and Jin Sook Lee (Bax and Ferrada 2018).

previous research

In my past life, I was a generative syntactician. (I now take a more discourse-functional approach to structural linguistic analysis.) With Michael Diercks, a professor at Pomona College, I coauthored a paper about object marking in Manyika (Bantu), based on data collected in an undergraduate Field Methods class.