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Current Linguistic Anthropology Seminar

The Linguistic Anthropology Seminar is an informal, interdisciplinary venue for presentations of work by faculty, students, and visiting scholars in linguistic anthropology, linguistics, and related fields.

Seminar Schedule -- Fall 2019

Seminars are usually held on Friday afternoons in the Second Floor Conference Room of Brooks Hall. Note that this room is up a long flight of stairs. If you would like to come but would find the stairs prohibitive, please contact the organizer so that alternative arrangements can be made.

To volunteer a talk or propose a discussion topic, contact Lise Dobrin.

Friday September 13, 3:30 pm, reception preceding (Brooks Hall Commons)

Danilyn Rutherford, President of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research

Sponsored by Department of Anthropology, Linguistics Program, and Disability Studies


Becoming an Operating System 

In this paper, I describe a remarkable experiment in communication called PODD, which is designed to give “all the words” to people considered incapable of language. Most speech therapists require their disabled clients to demonstrate skills using a limited set of symbols before they qualify for a communication device. By contrast, nonverbal people are supposed to learn PODD the same way babies learn language: through immersion. PODD books are binders of laminated sheets of icons, arranged according to the pragmatic functions of language. Caregivers carry the books on straps across their backs and use them to engage in conversation. As they do so, they act as “operating systems,” listing directions as they navigate from page to page, then animating the selected utterance in an enthusiastic tone. The hope is that new users will learn to produce their own utterances through sounds or gestures that indicate which pathway to take through the book.

PODD plays on the fantasy of all assistive and augmentative communication systems, which are designed to liberate a speaking subject trapped by the limitations of their bodies and minds. But PODD confronts its users with the other side of signs: the textual and technical infrastructure on which sign use always rests and the uncertainties that dog it at every turn. Drawing on interviews and participant observation in trainings with my nonverbal daughter, I show how caregivers struggle to inhabit a community of sign use in which referential meaning is both longed for and beside the point. 

Suggested Readings:

Kulick, D. (2015). The problem of speaking for others Redux: Insistence on disclosure and the ethics of engagement. Knowledge Cultures. 3. 14-33. 

Gal, Susan. (2015). Politics of Translation. Annual Review of Anthropology. 44. 225-240. 10.1146/annurev-anthro-102214-013806.


Saturday, September 14, 10 am (Brooks Conference Room)

1st Annual Southeast Regional Linganth Exchange 

The UVa linguistic anthropologists are delighted to host a one-day conference covering a wide array of topics. Speakers and subjects include:

Robin Riner, Marshall U: “The Language of Moral Injury” 

Lise Dobrin, U Virginia & Saul Schwartz, U Florida: “Recordings of What, Recordings of Whom? Representational Decisions in Daniel Everett’s Corpus of Pirahã” 

Michelle Morgenstern, U Virginia: “Communicating On, Through, & With Tumblr(.com)” 

Elise Berman, U NC Charlotte: “Neocolonial Practices and ‘Downshifting’ Students: Marshallese Students, Language Policy, and Rethinking Language Socialization” 

Jennifer Reynolds, U South Carolina: “Critically Remediating an ICE Raid” 

Dan Lefkowitz, U Virginia: “Representation in Popular Media: Language, Race, Class in OITNB” 

Steven Black, Georgia State U & Robin Riner, Marshall U: “Care as a Methodological Stance: Research Ethics in Linguistic Anthropology”

Amy Paugh, James Madison U: “Psychology and the ‘Language Gap’”

Eve Danziger, U Virginia: “Know Thyself: Figure-Ground Reversal in Mopan (Mayan) Kinship” 

Xochitl Marsilli-Vargas, Emory U: “Speaking for Someone Else: Translating Care and Rationality in Minor’s Asylum Petition Cases”

Elaine Chun, U South Carolina: “Strategies of Antiracist Language”

Sonya Pritzker, U Alabama: “Developing Biocultural-Linguistic Anthropology in Teaching and Research”