1. University of Virginia
  2. Arts & Sciences

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 2020

This year, all seminar presentations will be held virtually.

To volunteer a talk or propose a discussion topic, contact Eve Danziger.


Friday, November 13, 2:00 pm (Virtual)

Joseph Brooks, Post-doctoral research associate, Anthropology Department, U. of Virginia*


The Fruits of the Intellectual Low Ground: Immersion, Relationality, and Linguistic Analysis in a Chini Village (Papua New Guinea)

Our understanding of how languages work has benefited increasingly from methods and technological innovation in documentary linguistics (Himmelmann 1998; Woodbury 2011, inter alia). One development that has occurred along the way is an intensive valorization of scientific principles, where documenting languages is seen as "part of a much broader concern for putting linguistics on a proper empirical footing" (Himmelmann 2012). However, attention has also been drawn to problems arising from basing knowledge production on what Dobrin & Schwartz (ms) argue are tacit but fundamentally asocial principles of objectivity in linguistics. In this talk I seek to add to the epistemological position in linguistic fieldwork practice that values learning the local language(s) and building close relationships through locally desired means. Doing so is not only important from an ethical standpoint, but also results in deeper knowledge about some areas of grammar than our so-called best practices and efforts toward scientific rigor are assumed to be capable of accomplishing. I focus my discussion on a frequent clause chaining construction in Chini, a language of Papua New Guinea. The realis chain linker ndaka codes temporal succession ('and then') and on occasion occurs in a distinct but nearly identical form, ndakɨ, together with a prosodic difference. Hundreds of recorded examples in the documentation originally left me convinced of a straightforward (and in my view, uninteresting) analysis.  It was only after about 10 months of fieldwork that my experiential knowledge of this construction, as gained in unrecorded social interactions, revealed a subtle but crucial difference in the possible pragmatic implicatures of using ndaka versus ndakɨ. The pragmatic difference relates to Melanesian ways of speaking that avoid direct coercion in efforts to influence the behavior of one's listener(s). I explain how my realization about the pragmatic and cultural dimensions of this area of Chini grammar was embedded in my relationships with two people in Andamang, Frank Manna and Paul Guku.

*Funding for this research was generously provided by the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme (ELDP)


Friday, October 23, 2:00 pm (Virtual)

Grace East, PhD candidate, Linguistic Anthropology, U. of Virginia


Language in the Elephant’s Stomach: Emerging Codes and Language Ecologies in Nima, Accra

This chapter focuses on language ideologies and linguistic practices of community members in Nima, one of Accra, Ghana’s largest and most diverse immigrant communities. Residents often affectionately call Nima tombin giwa (the elephant’s stomach) in the local Hausa variety in reference to the fact that anything you could possibly need or want can be found inside. While this is often in reference to material items, such as spices, provisions, housewares, and more, Nima is also host to a pluralistic population that encompasses various languages, cultural backgrounds, and points of geographic origin. My broader project focuses on mutually reinforcing themes of language maintenance/emergence and place-making as well as how immigrants from across West Africa who used Hausa language have shaped and been shaped by the linguistic ecology of present-day Accra. In Nima, the community-wide use of a local Hausa variety and practice of Islam promote values of hospitality and unity that allow for a diversity of immigrants to feel a sense of belonging. In this chapter, I examine the ways in which multilingual users of Hausa engage with code-switching, language mixing, and creation of emergent codes in a linguistically pluralistic setting. Based on intensive participant observation, semi-structured interview, and engagements with local social media content, I compare knowledge from Newman’s (2000) Hausa grammar as well as Sadat’s (2016) overview of Ghanaian Hausa to argue that this emerging Hausa mixed language draws from Ghanaian Englishes, Akan Twi varieties, and more. This results in patterns of linguistic blending that manifest lexically, morphologically, and phonologically as well as pragmatically in conventional discourse patterns. Additionally, I examine the ways in which language ideologies manifest in language choice and contexts of use for residents who live in and contribute to these complex and multilayered language ecologies. My research engages with Makoni and Pennycook’s (2005) notion of language “disinvention,” which urges critical reexamination and deconstruction of the colonial presupposition that languages are distinct, bounded, and isomorphically tied to one people and one territory. In Nima, the local Hausa variety is one of fluidity and adaptability, which changes in response to the linguistically complex people who use it as well as the language ecologies in which it thrives.