1. University of Virginia
  2. Arts & Sciences

2012-2013 Sesquicentennial Associateship awarded to Ellen Contini Morava

— from Fred Damon

Professor Contini-Morava, a Bantu language specialist, will take the spring semester of 2013 to pursue her longstanding interest in the cognitive, communicative, and cultural functions of noun classification systems in Mopan, a Mayan language spoken in Belize and Guatemala. She has been planning and conducting this project for several years working with her compatriot in linguistic anthropology, Eve Danziger, an expert on Mopan. The Mopan classification systems have some resemblances to those reported in other languages, but some features seem to be unique. Using collections of transcribed Mopan folktales and recordings, together with consultation with native speakers, she hopes to understand the role of the classification markers in discourse.

This is very important work.

As many know de Saussure’s innovative work on language at the turn of the last century led to semiotics and directly or indirectly most of 20th century sociological and anthropological thought, foremost of course in the guise of structuralism. In a sense returning to that paradigm-setting time, Contini-Morava will be asking fundamental questions about those forms of human sociality that lie somewhere between the innate conditions of the human species and the intricate consciousness that social life generates. Working in the best comparative tradition, Contini-Morava is moving from her deep experience in one body of data (her Bantu/Swahili material),  to another body of data (the Mayan material) that seems to resist what we think we know.

Good should come from this, with some luck something that deepens or transforms our understanding of what is probably the first order of human consciousness, classification.

Thursday, 23 February 2012