1. University of Virginia
  2. Arts & Sciences

Linguistic Anthropology Seminar -- 2012 - 2013

Fall 2012

Wednesday, September 12, 7-9pm (Brooks Hall 2nd Floor Conference Room)

Lise Dobrin, University of Virginia

"Language Shift and the Importance of Identity along the Arapesh Roads"

For as long as linguists have been actively concerned about preserving endangered languages, they have recognized that linguistic communities do not always share their concern. Even when would-be speakers express regret about the language loss they see taking place around them, this sentiment may coexist with contradictory desires, like that for development, or a belief that language shift is inevitable and so not worth devoting limited energies to trying to overcome. In such cases, apparently, whatever value the traditional language might have in establishing local identity is not sufficient to override these attitudes and motivate people to maintain or reclaim their linguistic heritage.

In this paper, I explore the notion of language as heritage, summarizing anthropological research on the contrast between precolonial Melanesia and the West in order to shed light on the different ways in which language shift may be perceived and responded to. Unlike the western model wherein languages are assumed to be the primordial possessions of bounded social groups (e.g., the 'tribe' or 'nation'), in Melanesia cultural property is understood to be fluid rather than fixed, and distinctive social markers are traditionally accorded value to the extent that they are appropriated from others rather than created. When we recognize that language attitudes reflect culturally particular understandings of how social life works, we can begin to see that superficially similar patterns of language shift do not always reflect the same underlying processes. In rural Arapesh areas, locally-driven language preservation activies are unlikely to move forward in earnest until a profound kind of cultural change is complete.

Background reading (pp.123-42 only):  Pigs for Dance Songs: Reo Fortune's Empathetic Ethnography of the Arapesh Roads (Dobrin and Bashkow 2006)


Wednesday, October 3, 7-9pm (Brooks Hall 2nd Floor Conference Room)

Eve Danziger and Ellen Contini-Morava, University of Virginia

"Visiting Relatives can be Tiresome: Extraordinary Nominals in Mopan Maya"

Our work on noun classification in Mopan has led us to consider the role of the Mopan article in introducing relative clauses. Could it be that relative clauses in this language should be analysed as nominals? We turn to the Mopan "Echo Vowel" (EV) enclitic as a possible test for this hypothesis. The EV is formed by copying the vowel of the last syllable of its host word. We account for the distribution of the EV by proposing that it serves a general discourse function of bracketing constituents that are topical and non-predicative, and especially to highlight nominals that are familiar/ given, or that will continue to play a role in the discourse. The fact that the EV occurs on relative clauses but not normally on independent predicates suggests that relative clauses indeed have something of the nominal about them. We propose an analogy between the semantics of the types of relativization that appear with the article (as opposed to other relativizers), and the types of nouns that take the same article (as opposed to other determiners, such as gender markers).

Backround reading:  A Person a Place or a Thing? Whorfian Consequences of Syntactic Bootstrapping in Mopan Maya (Danziger 2008).


Wednesday, October 10, 6:30pm (Nau Hall 101)

Ángel López-García, University of Valencia, Spain

"Politicas Linguisticas en España"

This talk is sponsored by the Department of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese. It will be presented in Spanish.


Friday, October 26, 1-3pm (Brooks Hall 2nd Floor Conference Room)

Joel Kuipers, George Washington University 

"Linguistic Piety in Islamic Java"

This paper examines the changing relations between language, aesthetics, and religious interiority in Indonesia. While the once-traditional ritual speech in eastern Indonesia has become gradually aestheticized, desacralized and rare, in Islamic Java the role of another form of ritualized discourse - Quranic Arabic - is increasingly ubiquitous and sacred, “pure,” but its aesthetic and interior qualities are matters of considerable debate. Even as more experiential, spiritualized forms of Islamic practice are being embraced by formerly purist groups, improved educational standards in Islamic schooling have resulted in greater use of traditional Arabic names, Islamic preschools, and cosmopolitan Arabic language address forms.


Thursday, November 1, 6-8pm (Brooks Hall 2nd Floor Conference Room)

Jack Martin, College of William and Mary

"Switch Reference and Case Marking in Muskogean Languages"

The Muskogean languages of the southeastern U.S. are generally described as having an agentive/nonagentive agreement system, a nominative/nonnominative case marking system, and a well-developed system of switch-reference marking on verbs indicating whether the subject of one clause is the same as or different from the subject of the next clause. A longstanding puzzle is that the case markers are often homophonous with the switch-reference markers (the same suffix marks subject on noun phrases and same-subject on clauses). This talk reflects work in progress. I describe the basic features of case and switch-reference in Creek. I then provide a few suggestive clues that the unusual nominative/nonnominative split in the case-marking system evolved out of a switch-reference system.


Friday, November 2, 1-3pm (Minor Hall 125)

Jack Martin, College of William and Mary

"Telling a Story in Five Past Tenses: Time and Tense in a Native American Language"

This paper describes an unusually rich tense system in the Creek (Muskogee) language of Oklahoma. Since the 1800's, missionaries, native speakers, and linguists have agreed that Creek has a measured tense system in which five different verb patterns indicate different degrees of remoteness in the past (Past 1 for today/last night, Past 2 for yesterday, etc.). There have been very few studies of how speakers use tenses in measured tense systems, however. I will present evidence that Creek speakers allow tenses to creep forward (from Past 5 to Past 4 and Past 3) as the situations depicted become clearer and more immediate. This phenomenon is reminiscent of the historical present or dramatic present in English: in both languages, a shift closer in the tense system is correlated with greater immediacy and foregrounding in the narrative.


Wednesday, November 7, 7-9pm (Brooks Hall 2nd Floor Conference Room)

AAA Conference Paper Dry-Runs

"The Referendum and the Boycott: Foreign Oversight and the Voices of Democracy in Post-Conflict Macedonia" (Andy Graan)

"Democracy through Hierarchy: Religious Deliberation at Brazilian Candomblé Conferences" (Elina I. Hartikainen)


Friday, November 30, 1-3pm (Brooks Hall 2nd Floor Conference Room)

Gabriela Pérez-Báez, Smithsonian Institution

"Recovering Voices at the Smithsonian: Collaborative, Collections-based Research on Language and Knowledge"

The Museum of Natural History's Recovering Voices program capitalizes on the Smithsonian's collections to generate research that documents and sustains endangered languages and knowledge systems, in partnership with language communities. As with the material manifestations of endangered cultural practices, the grammars and vocabularies of endangered languages offer insight into how diverse groups understand and engage with the natural world. Dr. Pérez Báez presents on recent activities and future plans of the Recovering Voices initiative.


Spring 2013

Friday, February 8, 1-3pm (Brooks Hall 2nd Floor Conference Room)

Eve Danziger, University of Virginia

"Following Our Noses: Frames of Reference in and out of Space"

In many languages, terminology which was originally devoted purely to space is called to serve in the expression of temporal or other relations (as in English “before” the winter; “close” kin, and so on). Such evidence has led to the widespread conclusion that spatial representation, both linguistic and cognitive, naturally underlies and informs the representation of other domains. But the similarity between the linguistic representation of space and that of other domains may also be present at the level of the types of relationships which are involved. So for example, we might discuss whether a particular spatial description in context (“X is to the left of Y”) shows or does not show the property of converseness (i.e. entails “Y is to the right of X”, see Levelt 1984). And we can discuss the same question for, say, a particular description of social relations (if I call you “grandfather”, does that make me your “grandchild”?), regardless of whether or not the same lexemes are involved (Danziger 1996). Examination of the spontaneous gestures which accompany speech about temporal or social relationships can be particularly revealing in this connection, since what is revealed in such spatialization of non-space relations is precisely the different logical properties that the verbalized semantic relation and the gestured spatial relation have in common.

The classic three-part Frame of Reference typology (Pederson et al 1998, Levinson 2003) lends itself relatively well to characterization of the different relationship types that are thus found in speech and gesture across multiple semantic domains. But a regularized four-part typology (Danziger 2010) allows us to see even more clearly how the particular relational properties of the different Frames of Reference (Relative, Absolute, Object-Centered and Direct) are each related in principled ways to the situation of speech, regardless of the semantic domains in which each may be employed across different languages. Metaphorical extension of lexical items notwithstanding then, when we thus examine the relational analogies between space and other domains, we find that space does not emerge as a necessarily primary or basic domain relative to the others – instead it is the social-subjective situation of speech which plays this pivotal role.

Background reading: Danziger, Eve. 2001. Cross-Cultural Studies in Language and Thought: Is there a Metalanguage? In The Psychology of Cultural Experience. Carmella C. Moore and Holly F. Mathews (eds.), 199-222. Cambridge: Publications of the Society for Psychological Anthropology.


Thursday, March 21, 4-6pm (Brooks Hall 2nd Floor Conference Room)

Michael Wairungu, University of Virginia

"'Bringing Them Down': The Discourse of 'Shrubbing' in a Kenyan High School"

Is it resistance, compliance or both? While embracing Sheng, a nonstandard urban vernacular not approved of by authorities, young Kenyans have also innovated a counterstrategy that they call ‘shrubbing’ or Kuponyoa/Kung’oa to contest schools’ intensive efforts to promote the officially sanctioned standard Swahili and English. Young Kenyans describe ‘shrubbing’ as speaking either of these languages with an ethnic/mother tongue accent and is highly stigmatized. Therefore, peers expect those who seek to speak standard Swahili and English to do so without “errors”. However, a critical look at the ‘shrubbing’ discourse reveals that it is paradoxical because participants simultaneously associate and dissociate with standard Swahili and English. While peers reprimand ‘shrubbers’, they do not reward/praise those who speak standard Swahili and English “correctly”. Instead, they ridicule them by labeling themWasomi (Swahili for scholars). Also, peers document “shrubbers” and the details of their ‘shrubbing’ in an identified space called “Hall of Shame” and further transfer them onto a condemned space called “Hall of Fame” if they continue ‘shrubbing’. Owing to the cosmopolitan nature of Sheng speakers and the underlying ethnic and regional tensions in my two research sites (Nakuru and Mombasa), my project questions why speakers pick on standard Swahili and English and whether ‘shrubbing’ occurs in Sheng. In general, what social meanings are associated with the ‘shrubbing’ discourse and how do these associations articulate with the sociolinguistic situation of Nakuru and Mombasa?

Background reading: Wairungu, Michael. ms. The Rise of Sheng - A Sociolinguistic Revolution from Below.


Thursday, April 25, 4-6pm (Brooks Hall 2nd Floor Conference Room)

James Slotta, Franklin and Marshall College

"All (Local) Politics is Global: 'Global' Chronotopes in the Here & Now of Yopno Politics (Papua New Guinea)"

In the Yopno valley of Papua New Guinea, communication is conceptualized not as a transfer of information, but as a meeting of wills. In such a framing, addressees are more than passive “recipients” of information, they are (or ideally should be) autonomous agents in events of communication. At the same time, the ability of a speaker to compel recipients to act is a mark of political acumen and power, widely held up as an ideal. This tension in Yopno communicative and political life between autonomy/egalitarianism and coercion/hierarchy underpins a potent and prevalent speech genre: revelation. Revelatory speech acts locate the speaker in a realm of rarefied knowledge apart from and above the recipient, legitimizing a speaker’s efforts to compel recipients to action and more broadly, legitimizing age-graded and gendered power asymmetries institutionalized in the men’s cult and now educational and religious institutions of the post-colonial era.

In this presentation, I argue that revelatory speech acts are not only the nexus which links knowledge, power, and value in a local economy of knowledge, but that acts of revelation are central to Yopno engagements with transnational projects ranging from Christian missionization to environmental conservation and development through Western-style education. Though a little discussed dimension of transnational processes in the academic literature, communicative acts - and cultural frameworks thereof - lie at the heart of Yopno conceptualizations of a post-colonial social world in which persons are defined by their place in a global, even cosmic communicative hierarchy organized by the spatio-temporal trajectories of goods in circulation, foremost among which is knowledge. This conception of contemporary social life is both reshaping politicking and power relations in Yopno communities and defining the purpose and value (or lack thereof) of relatively new and deeply contested institutions - churches, schools, and a conservation area.

Background reading: Bakhtin - Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel


Friday, April 26, 1-3pm (Brooks Hall 2nd Floor Conference Room)

Courtney Handman, Reed College

"The Surprise of Speech: Order, Violence, and Christian Language in Papua New Guinea"

The Summer Institute of Linguistics works to make languages as affectively real and authoritative as possible for use in Christian evangelization. When the Guhu-Samane (Papua New Guinea) New Testament was published by SIL in 1975, the translators hoped that they had produced a document capable of shepherding local peoples’ fuller engagement with an evangelical, personal, brand of Christianity. However, the formation of the Guhu-Samane language as a language of Christianity has produced -- instead of an intimate natural voice -- a powerful, violent force. Rather than encouraging a time of Christian love and irenic brotherhood, the era of Christian talk has become one of unsuppressed verbal and physical fighting. I discuss the ways in which the pre-Christian past is now remembered among older men as a time of silence and order. Even if there was fighting in that past, it was nevertheless an organized violence imagined to support a social order that today is disabled by talk. So even as people understand the era of fighting to have ended with the coming of the Word of God, they also see nothing but fighting and disorder to have followed in its wake. I tease out the two different senses of violence, pre- and post-conversion, and discuss how Christian language and practices of translation, contrary to SIL’s goals, make a new kind of fighting possible.

Background reading: Robbins, Joel. 2001. God Is Nothing but Talk: Language, Modernity, and Prayer in Papua New Guinea Society. American Anthropologist 103(4):901-912.


Friday, May 3, 1-3pm (Brooks Hall 2nd Floor Conference Room)

Andy Graan, University of Virginia

"Do As I Say, Not As I Do: Policing Democratic Language in Post-Conflict Macedonia" 

Following a 2001 armed conflict in Macedonia, representatives of the European Union and the United States claimed an influential, but unofficial, oversight role on the country’s domestic politics. While Macedonian politicians debated how best to realize post-conflict legislative reforms, these foreign officials marshaled mass media to publicly comment on the Macedonian political process and to pressure domestic political actors toward specific models of liberal democratic governance. As a result, foreign officials’ political practice in Macedonia produced an uneasy contradiction: how does one dictate democracy? In this talk, I examine the strategies by which foreign officials in Macedonia sought simultaneously to intervene in the country’s democratic process and to disclaim such an interventionist role. In reviewing several examples of foreigners’ public commentary in Macedonia as well as Macedonian political actors’ responses to them, I analyze the routinized, mass-mediated participant structures and interactional forms that enabled the peculiar role of foreign officials in the post-conflict period. From this perspective, I show how the “models of responsibility” that were figured within the public performance of foreign commentary worked to suspend the tensions inherent to externally led projects of democratization.