1. University of Virginia
  2. Arts & Sciences

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.

Current Seminar Schedule

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.

Wednesday May 9, 10:00 am - 12:00 pm (Brooks Hall, 2nd floor conference room)

The Language Immersion Model as Ideology and Practice

Saul Schwartz, University of Miami

Aspirational Immersion in Chiwere Language Activism

Creating immersion environments is a common aspirational goal for language activists working to revive Chiwere, a dormant Native American heritage language for the Iowa and Otoe-Missouria communities. The prospect of Chiwere immersion confronts a number of practical challenges, however, including a lack of fluent speakers and no community-controlled schools. Thus, it is not entirely clear who could create an immersion environment or where such an environment could be located, though some second language learners have experimented with home language nests. Drawing on my experience as a participant observer in one such language nest as well as conversations with other Chiwere language activists, I suggest that Iowa and Otoe-Missouria interest in immersion—despite obvious obstacles—reflects the ideological dominance of immersion in Native American language revitalization, which equates success with new speakers and new speakers with immersion. Given their lack of conventional immersion infrastructure, Iowas and Otoe-Missourias may be better served by other forms of heritage language engagement that do not revolve around developing new speakers. These alternatives come with challenges of their own, however, and must confront pervasive ideologies that fetishize fluent speech as the most legitimate form of linguistic existence and that privilege being (or becoming) a speaker above other modes of heritage language engagement.

Kevin Petit Cahill, Université Lyon 2, France

The Murder Machine, the Flemish Mother and the Irish Monk: The Birth of Immersion Education in Ireland

The beginning of the 20th century in colonial Ireland was a time of fierce debates and innovations regarding education. The Gaelic League, an organisation for the promotion of the Irish language, was pressuring the British government for the right to have bilingual Irish-English schools. But the eager Gaelic Leaguers did not wait for approval from London to start experimenting, and in 1904 they opened the first Irish-immersion course in the form of a “summer college” situated in the Irish-speaking district of the rural West.

Drawing from contemporary press articles and books, this presentation aims at unravelling the historical, ideological, and political conditions that enabled immersion education to become the model for language revitalisation in Ireland. First, Irish immersion was born from the rejection of the English-medium education system imposed in Ireland, which was qualified by a major Gaelic Leaguer as a dehumanizing “murder machine,” merely producing “manageable slaves” to the British Crown. The Gaelic League found inspiration for an alternative education system in Belgium’s bilingual education and its “natural” method for language teaching, which tried to imitate the way mothers taught language to their children. Finally, Gaelic Leaguers drew from the glorious Celtic-monastic system of Irish Colleges, which was believed to have preserved Catholicism and the Irish language during centuries of British occupation. More than a new efficient teaching method, immersion education was considered the first step in a wider societal project for the creation of a new “Irish-Ireland”.


Friday, March 16, 1:00 - 3:00 pm, reception to follow (Brooks Hall Commons)

Dr. Anna Marie Trester

Bringing Linguistics to Work

This workshop is designed to get students of Linguistics thinking about the transferable skills they are currently acquiring and how these apply outside the academy. The world of work needs critical thinkers who deal in abstractions and ambiguity. It needs cross-cultural competency and lack of prescriptivism, flexibility and adaptability, and readiness to embrace change and complexity. Perhaps more than anything, the world of work needs people who are trained to think in systems – people who see puzzles and can find the underlying patterns and processes that structure visible and apparently chaotic surface representations in any domain. We can take our skills and training anywhere, but only to the extent that we recognize them ourselves and make them understood.

Participants in this workshop will be given the tools to bring a linguistic perspective to the texts and interactions that structure their job search. They will hear about people who are bringing linguistics to work in non-academic settings. They will be given the opportunity to practice attending to the language they use in their professional self-presentation in resumes, cover letters, job interviews, and networking interactions. They will leave with a clearer sense of the many ways in which the skills they are cultivating in school may be applied to settings both known and not yet imagined.

Dr. Anna Marie Trester is an interactional sociolinguist who has worked as a trainer at the FrameWorks Institute, a social change communications firm, and served as director of the Language and Communication MA program at Georgetown University. She has published in venues such as Text and Talk, Language and Society, and The Journal of Sociolinguistics. She is co-editor (with Deborah Tannen) of Discourse 2.0: Language and New Media (2013) and author of Bringing Linguistics to Work (2017). She received her MA in linguistics from NYU in 2002 and her PhD from Georgetown in 2008.


Tuesday, February 27, 7:30 pm (Brooks Hall Commons)

Kevin Petit Cahill, Ph.D. candidate, Université Lyon 2, laboratoire ICAR

The revitalisation of Irish in the 21st century:  Is the language turning into a tourism product?

Every summer, more than 20,000 Irish teenagers travel to the west of Ireland to learn Irish for a few weeks in language camps called 'summer colleges'. This popular activity actually dates back from the beginning of the 20th century, when the Gaelic League, an organisation for the promotion of the Irish language and culture, created immersion courses for Irish language learners in 'Irish speaking-districts' where communities of native speakers could be found. 

While the original objective of summer colleges was to bring back Irish as the vernacular of the Irish nation, some contemporary participants conceived their summer college experiences as a tribute to their national cultural heritage even though it did not lead to an improvement in their Irish language proficiency. This mode of engagement with the language is defined as post-vernacular by Jeffrey Shandler, which, he argues, "can be a liberating concept, prompting possibilities of language use other than the vernacular model of full fluency in an indigenous mother tongue" (2006:23).

In this presentation, I will analyse how and why the summer college experience is discursively constructed as a tourism product by camp directors, local children, professional marketing consultants, and governmental agencies. This case illuminates the economic and political aspects of the Irish language and helps us rethink revitalisation projects not just as vernacularisation endeavours in the name of cultural preservation, but as complex social movements made out of people with competing agendas.