1. University of Virginia
  2. Arts & Sciences

Linguistic Anthropology Seminar -- Spring 2012

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

Adam Harr, University of Virginia

"'Speaking the Names, Naming the Titles': Ritual Voices and the Politics of Indigenous Revival in (One Corner of) Post-Authoritarian Indonesia"

In the first-ever election of a district governor on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2008, candidates were faced with the problem of communicating with a newly constituted voting public. In the absence of viable mass media outlets, a number of candidates chose to punctuate key moments in their campaigns with large-scale ritual performances ostensibly aimed at venerating ancestral figures. This presentation considers the ways in which participation (Goffman 1981; Levinson 1988) in ritual (Rappaport 1999; Seligman et al 2007; Stasch 2011) was a uniquely effective means for crafting and circulating an “inhabitable” political message (Silverstein 2003, 2011). Focusing on one gubernatorial candidate’s use of spirit mediums on the campaign trail, I show how participation in ritual and ritual oratory produced persuasive indexical links between the candidate and indigenous modes and models of authority. At feasts after formal campaign events, the candidate’s son and party leader regularly became possessed by specific ancestral spirits, who spoke in an esoteric poetic register and performed acts of healing. The candidate’s silent, peripheral inhabitation of these complex productions of ancestral voice and agency allowed others to attribute to him qualities that legitimated his bid for authority. As this presentation shows, however, the intrinsic polyphony of ritual performances meant that the inhabitable message produced in ritual inevitably eluded the candidate’s control.

Background Reading: Seligman, Adam. (2010). Modern and Sincerity: Problem and Paradox. Hedgehog Review 12(1): 53.

Friday, April 13, 1-3pm (Brooks Halls 2nd Floor Conference Room)

Elina Hartikainen, University of Chicago & Carter G. Woodson Institute for African American Studies, University of Virginia

"Practitioners, Scholars and Practitioner Scholars: Double Voicing and Dual Addressivity in Brazilian Candomblé Conferences"

This presentation examines the dually addresive and double-voiced character of public conferences organized by Brazilian practitioners of Candomblé, an African diasporic religion. Modeled on academic conferences these events aim to present Candomblé practitioners as public authorities on social issues and to provide a forum where practitioners from different temples can gather to discuss shared concerns. In this presentation, I analyze how participants work to balance address to both a general public as well as to a public composed of Candomblé practitioners.  Specifically, I examine participants’ double-voiced adoption of scholarly registers.  On the one hand, Candomblé practitioners understand the adoption of scholarly registers like conferencing to provide a means to establish themselves as expertslike academics in the eyes of the general public. On the other hand, Candomblé practitioners are highly critical of the ways in which the religion has been represented by academics and so conference participants must take care not to be misrecognized as academics. I argue that conference participants use three key strategies to resolve this double-bind: (1) metapragmatic commentary that emphasizes the academic mode’s incompatibility with religious norms for enacting expertise, (2) a patterned use of personal and temporal deictics that locates participants and the events’ practitioner addressees in a middle-ground between scholarly and religious modes of interaction, and (3) requests for blessings that ground  participants’ “expert” presentations in a religious interactional order. In conclusion I suggest that these attempts to manage the dangers of conferencing  produce a new kind of public subject: an expert whose authority to speak in public is measured not only by competence in an academic register but also by recognition among a set of publicly validated religious experts.

Background Reading: Lempert, Michael. (2011). Avoiding “The Issues” as Addressivity in US Electoral Politics. Anthropological Quarterly 84(1): 187-207.


Friday, April 20, 1-3pm (Brooks Hall 2nd Floor Conference Room)

Lydia Rodríguez, University of Virginia

"The Spatialization of Temporal Relationships in a Tenseless Language: Deictic Temporal Adverbs, Sequential Predicates and Spontaneous Gesture in Chol Maya"

In this presentation I will discuss how notions of time are spatialized in the speech-accompanying gestures of Chol speakers. Chol is a Western Mayan language spoken mostly in Southern Mexico.  In most of the literature on gesture studies, particularly in research that has been conducted with languages from the Indo-European family, gestures that co-occur with time expressions are reported to be consistently linear (Calbris 1990; Cienki 1998; Cooperrider and Nuñez 2009; Casasanto and Jasmin 2012). I propose that this linearity, far from being a universal feature of temporal thought and gesture, is instead merely a reflex of the grammatical feature of inflectional tense, in which the time of a narrated event is expressed in relationship to the time of speaking. The tendency to describe “time” gestures as based in an abstract “timeline” may thus be the result of decades of research that have concentrated on tense languages. In line with the findings of other researchers who have described temporal gesture in languages that have other grammatical means for conveying temporal information, such as aspect (cf. Le Guen 2009, 2011), I argue that a linear conceptualization of time is absent from Chol speakers’ gestural repertoire. In order to determine whether Chol temporal gesture is linear or not, I have analyzed spontaneous gestures co-occurring with two different sets of grammatical constructions: 1) utterances that contain deictic temporal adverbs, in which a temporal relationship is established between the moment of speech and the time of the narrated event; and 2) sequential predicates, a type of grammatical construction that comprises two different event times, one serving as deictic anchor for the other. In this presentation, I will first give some linguistic examples of both types of grammatical constructions. Secondly, I will show examples of prototypical gestures co-occurring with each of these grammatical categories. I will also make an explicit comparison between Chol temporal gestures and the type of co-speech gestures co-occurring with similar types of grammatical contexts in English.

Background Reading: Casasanto, Daniel and Kyle Jasmin. (2012). The Hands of Time: Temporal gestures in English Speakers. Cognitive Linguistics 23(4): 643-674.