1. University of Virginia
  2. Arts & Sciences

Linguistic Anthropology Seminar -- 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.