1. University of Virginia
  2. Arts & Sciences

Linguistic Anthropology Seminar -- 2013 - 2014

Fall 2013

Friday, September 13, 10am-12pm (Brooks Hall 2nd Floor Conference Room)

Ramona Kunene (University of Witswatersrand)

"A Multimodal Comparison of Zulu, Sotho, and French Oral Narratives"

Oral narratives in face-to-face interaction include the use of both auditory (linguistic and prosodic) and visual (gesture) dimensions. This talk examines how discursive activity develops in children. I examine age related changes in the way children and adults gesture while narrating leads us to better estimate the relative weight of social and cognitive factors in narrative development (Berman, 2004). Studies on late language acquisition have shown that from 9 years of age and onwards, narratives gain in linguistic complexity and children increase their frequency of co-speech gesture use to represent the narrated events and characters, to maintain the internal coherence of the narrative, and to mark the transitions between the account of events and the commentaries (Colletta et al., 2010; Graziano, 2009; Kunene, 2010). This cross-linguistic study investigates if discourse development is universal across all languages as well as the effect of the type of language; French is an analytical and verb-framed (Talmy, 1985, 1991) whereas Zulu and Sotho are agglutinative and verb-framed languages (Kunene, 2010). Results show a significant age effect on the pragmatics of speech and gesture activities, which follows a universal pattern. However, the language structure and culture determines how the developmental trend is distributed across the languages under investigation. This ability has an implication on second language acquisition as well as the written modality. There are implications that can give new direction to language planning and teaching in the South African multilingual context.


Friday, November 15, 2-4pm (Brooks Hall 2nd Floor Conference Room)

Previews of AAA Papers by UVa Linguistic Anthropology Faculty & Graduate Students

Eve Danziger, University of Virginia

"Word and Command: The Participant Strucuture of Listening in Mopan Maya"

In the study of ritual speech production, it is well understood that the individual Goffmanian Author may be stylistically sidelined, creating a sense of unquestionable necessity that derives from the impression that the speech originates directly from a supra-individual Principal. I extend this insight to propose some listener-oriented analogs to Goffman’s famous terminology. In many contexts, it is unclear whether the important Mopan Mayan verb tz’okes is best translated with English believe or with English obey. And this is not just incidental polysemy. To 'obey' a cultural rule in Mopan is actually to 'believe' something about it: that it is part of the body of traditional law handed down by our elders, whom traditional law also instructs us to respect, believe, and obey. Obedience in the context of this kind of belief consists of bypassing the listener’s counterpart of Goffmanian Author – call it the Critic – who would evaluate in personal terms the likely individual reliability of the particular speaker, and the plausibility of the particular speech content. Instead, when listening to the instructions of elders, the virtuous Mopan receiver is positioned as the listening counterpart to Goffman’s Principal alone, and assumes the risks of faithful obedience, regardless of personal opinions about speaker or speech content. Drawing on Rappaport (1997), I propose the term Acceptor for this aspect of the listener role. Listener 'acceptance' of this kind benefits from all the self-evidence of tautology, and can contribute its own not inconsiderable share to the pragmatic manufacture of unquestionable necessity.


Lise Dobrin, University of Virginia (with Saul Schwartz, Princeton University)

"Objectivity in Linguistics and the Limits of Collaboration"

Contemporary documentary linguistics is founded on the principle that basic linguistic research can be done in ways that are relevant for indigenous communities. Since the goals of documentation are to preserve language data for the next generation of scholars and to facilitate languages' continued use by speakers, linguists must imagine future developments in both linguistic research and indigenous publics. One methodology intended to lead documentary process and products to reflect indigenous communities' interests is collaboration. However, we argue that adherence to a notion of objectivity limits what linguists are able to achieve thorough their collaborative relationships, as those relationships are theorized out of the research process itself. Drawing on recurrent tensions in the now burgeoning literature on linguistic field methods, we illustrate how the assumption that knowledge production must be objective creates challenges for linguist-community collaborations. The human demands and pitfalls of collaborative work make it a struggle for linguists to justify within their wider profession; at the same time, the participant roles and project goals established through explicit negotiation may result in outcomes that don’t end up being valued by communities in the ways hoped for or expected. For linguists striving to imagine other cultural publics and other linguistic futures, the most productive path forward will build not on the linguistic tradition of typologizing situations and structures, but on the anthropological tradition of envisioning the lives and values of the people with whom we work from the inside out.


Anna Eisenstein, University of Virginia (with Andrea Smith, Lafayette College)

"Shifting Terms, Shifting Voices in Narratives About a Lost World"

This article introduces the concept of 'temporal heteroglossia,' building on the work of Russian literary critic M. M. Bakthin. According to Bakhtin (1981), heteroglossia, or the 'simultaneous use of different kinds of speech' (Ivanov 1999:100), exists not only in the minds and products of novelists but is a characteristic of language itself. In our research, we identify a 'temporal heteroglossia,' a mixing of speech styles from contemporary and earlier ways of speaking. Elderly former residents of 'Syrian Town,' a neighborhood in Easton, Pennsylvania demolished in the 1960s, spoke about this place and time with enthusiasm. In the process, they alternated between contemporary and anachronistic ethnic labels and terminology, and words prevalent in earlier eras entered into their narratives. In this paper, we discuss intentionality versus accident in these incidences of “temporal heteroglossia,” and relate our findings to current research on temporality, codeswitching, and chronotopes.


Lydia Rodríguez, University of Virginia

"Bilingualism and Literacy Driven Change in Co-speech Gesture"

The question of how people think about time has been a classic topic in linguistic anthropology for more than half a century (Whorf 1941). Much of the current literature on the relativity of temporal thought has focused on how grammatical differences between languages affect temporal conceptualization, and some studies have shown that mental representations of time are influenced by the direction of reading and writing in different languages (Tversky, Kugelmass and Winter 1991). However, few studies have focused specifically on differences in temporal conceptualization between literate and non literate speakers of the same language, and even fewer studies have described how exposure to literacy interacts with linguistic factors, such as bilingualism. The present study is based on the analysis of spontaneous co-speech gesture as a methodology for exploring the effects of bilingualism and literacy in temporal thought. It describes how the temporal concepts of pastness, presentness and futurity are represented in the gestural repertoire of monolingual and non-literate speakers of Chol―a Maya language spoken in the Mexican State of Chiapas―, bilingual speakers of Chol and Spanish who are non-literate, and bilingual speakers of Chol and Spanish who are literate. Preliminary results of this research show that temporal conceptualization, rather than being a cognitive universal solely conditioned by perceptuo-motor experience (e.g. Lakoff and Johnson 1999, Kranjec 2001), is affected not only by the language one speaks, but also by literacy factors.