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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 October 25, 1:00 - 3:00pm, Brooks 2nd Floor Conference Room

Armik Mirzayan, Visiting Assistant Professor in the Linguistics Program.


Lakota Phonology: Description, Theory, and Typological Implications

One of the outstanding puzzles in studies of the phonologies of languages across the world concerns the extent to which certain sound change patterns are frequent while others are very infrequent. Why do these typological tendencies exist and how do we understand them given the patterns of preferred vs dis-preferred historical sound shifts present in spoken languages?

In this talk I will examine - or rather re-examine - aspects of Lakota phonetics and phonology with specific focus on one particular sound alternation: coda stop voicing. Descriptions of Lakota phonology in linguistic works and language pedagogical materials all show the following set of stop phonemes: voiceless plain, voiceless aspirated, voiceless ejective, and voiced. The voiced plosives (/b/ and /g/) however show a very limited distribution, being confined to initial clusters and to some onomatopoeic words, as well as to final coda positions in some truncated stems when these occur in discourse positions that trigger the truncation (Rood 2015, Ingham 2003, Rood and Taylor 1996, among others). The last pattern - the Lakota truncations with subsequent voicing of an otherwise voiceless (underlying) stop - is the topic of my research here. The changes from voiceless to voiced stop in coda positions - if indeed these are phonetically changes to [+voice] - are interesting because they constitute examples of a phonetic process that goes against a typologically well known tendency: in word final / coda position the feature [+voice] is dis-preferred.

The status of Lakota coda stop voicing is however somewhat uncertain because, to my knowledge, it has not been studied through systematic phonetic measurements. The goal of this study is therefore to (1) outline the gap in, and the need for, a phonetic examination of Lakota coda stop voicing, (2) draw attention to some of the complexities of phonetically documenting the coda voicing phenomenon in an Indigenous context where individual community speech patterns are highly valued, and (3) approach the phonetic study of Lakota coda stop voicing as a natural discourse pattern amongst communities of speakers. It is hoped that in this way the phonetic study will usefully seed the typological discussions on phonetic-phonological tendencies.


Friday October 11, 1:00 - 3:00pm, Brooks 2nd Floor Conference Room

​Joseph Brooks, Postdoctoral Research Associate, UVA. 


Describing Chini Clause Chains with Attention to Language Shift

In this talk I discuss a codeswitching construction used in two villages of inland Madang in Papua New Guinea, where Chini is the traditional language but shift to Tok Pisin has been underway. Like many other languages in northeast New Guinea, much of discourse in Chini is structured by a type of clause chaining where dependent clauses are linked together until the final, independent clause. The linkage morphology indicates dependency relations and a realis-irrealis distinction. Interestingly, active bilinguals of older generations often produce the dependent clauses containing the backgrounded (or 'thematic') information in Chini, but then produce the final clause containing the foregrounded (or 'rhematic') information, in Tok Pisin. This allows the most important part of the information to be delivered in a way that is more likely to reach the attention of a wider audience of hearers, namely younger Chini people whose only active code of use is Tok Pisin. I root this analysis in a discussion about how an ethnographic participatory-based approach to fieldwork, the documentation and analysis of conversation, and research on the local historical processes of shift can each contribute to our understanding of how and why people use their languages the way they do in contexts of shift.


Friday, October 4, 2019, 3:30-5:00pm, upstairs at Grit Coffee on Elliewood, Dutch treat

Peter Austin, Emeritus Professor in Field Linguistics at University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies


Endangered Language Data: What Is It Good For?

An informal conversation with special guest Peter Austin. How is data from endangered languages special? What is it useful for, and to whom is it useful? Join us over coffee to share ideas about the challenges and opportunities presented by work with endangered language data.


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”