1. University of Virginia
  2. Arts & Sciences

Linguistic Anthropology Seminar -- 2011 - 2012

Fall 2011

Friday, October 7, 1-2:30pm (Brooks Hall 2nd Floor Conference Room)

Peter Hook, University of Virginia

"Alignment, Realignment and Paths of Syntactic Change: A Case Study of Indo-Aryan"

 Diatopy, or the study of variation across space as opposed to across time, may be enlisted as a resource in a general program of syntactic reconstruction (Harris 2008:84-5).  This paper proposes a test of the idea by juxtaposing the results from reconstruction by a diatopic comparison of present-day features with diachronic changes as they are known from the historical record.

In a recent publication V.P. Liperovsky (2007:150) provides data on case alignments and agreement in the Indo-Aryan language Braj in which he demonstrates a striking divergence from the patterns found in Braj’s (geographically) proximate neighbors Hindi-Urdu and Panjabi.  Surprisingly those divergences run closely parallel to the divergences in case alignment and agreement in the (geographically) more distant Indo-Aryan language Kashmiri.  Examples of these divergences include the use of the nominative/absolutive forms of personal pronouns [(1a) and (1b)] where speakers of Hindi-Urdu must use the dative/accusative (1c) and the agreement of the finite verb in person and number with the direct object [cf. (1a) and (1b) vs. (1c)]:

1a.  tai-nẽ   …    mAI                 bacāyau       ũũ                          (Braj)

        you-ERG    I.NOM/ABS   saved.Msg   am                    

      '… you have saved me.'                              

1b.  tsye            chu-th-as             bi                 bačōv-mut       (Kashmiri)

you.ERG   be-2sgERG-1sgNOM/ABS   I.NOM /ABS   saved-Msg 

      'You have saved me.'

1c.  tū-ne           mujhe                 bačāyā    hai                 (Hindi-Urdu)

you-ERG   me.DAT/ACC    saved       be.3sg.DEFAULT

      '… you have saved me.'

On the basis of these data (and other data as recorded by Hendriksen for Kochi and Kotgarhi) I argue that alignment congruences in geographically discontinuous corners of the Indo-Aryan language area are relics. They are to be regarded as evidence that Braj and Kashmiri preserve morphosyntactic patterns that were at one time more generally distributed across the languages of the western Indo-Gangetic plain.

To test this conclusion the paper adduces data from Old and contemporary Marathi. In (2a) from Old Marathi the alignment is congruent with that found in modern Braj and Kashmiri. In (2b), from the modern language, the alignment is in accord with that found in modern Hindi-Urdu [see (1c)]: 

2a. dzoD-unu  tumhĩĩ            dīdhal-e-ti

join-GER you.NOM/ABS gave-Mpl-2pl.NOM/ABS

'[X] joined you [to Y]...'                                                  [Master 1964: 131]


2b.bhumike-lā   nyāy               tumhi     dil-ā-t

role-DAT     justice(Msg)  you.ERG gave-Msg-2pl.ERG

'You were the one who did the role justice.'                                   [maharashtratimes.indiatimes.com]

The relevant data from Old Hindi-Urdu are not available but using diatopic comparison we can safely reconstruct its pattern of alignment and agreement as being parallel to those seen in (1a), (1b) and (2a).

Other patterns, however, may or may not be reliably reconstructed using diatopic comparison.


Harris, Alice. 2008. Reconstruction in Syntax. In G. Ferraresi and M. Goldbach (eds).Principles of Syntactic Reconstruction. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.  Pp. 73-95.  

Hendriksen, Hans. 1986-7. Himachali Studies.[3 vols]. Kobenhavn: Munksgaard.

Liperovsky, V. P. 2007.  Notes on the marking of actants in Braj.  In Masica, Colin P. (ed).Old and new perspectives on South Asian languages: grammar and semantics. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. Pp. 144-52.

Master, Alfred. 1964. A grammar of Old Marathi. Oxford: Clarendon Press.


Related reading 1. Original Call for Papers from conference where this paper was presented: ICHL-Reconstructing-Syntax-CFP

Related reading 2: Harris, Alice. 2008. Reconstruction in Syntax. In G. Ferraresi and M. Goldbach (eds).Principles of Syntactic Reconstruction. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.  Pp. 73-95.  


Friday, November 4, 1-3pm (Brooks Hall 2nd Floor Conference Room)

Linda Lanz, College of William and Mary

"Language Endangerment and Change in Iñupiaq"

To what extent do recent changes in young speakers' and heritage learners' use of Iñupiaq (Eskimo-Aleut) conform with current expectations of language change in the face of language obscolesence? I suggest that several changes are underway in young speakers' Iñupiaq, including phonological, phonetic, and morphosyntactic. Some are already well established (30 years or more), while others have only recently been described. For example, young speakers' phonological inventories differ from those of older fluent speakers, as does their usage of inflectional morphology. In at least one case, I argue that the trend to teach spoken language simultaneously with literacy skills has led to a phonemic shift. All the changes seen so far are in line with cross-linguistic studies on other endangered languages undergoing change.

Related reading: Palosaari, Naomi & Lyle Campbell. Structural aspects of language endangerment. (Proofs).


Friday, November 11, 1-3pm (Brooks Hall 2nd Floor Conference Room)

Eve Danziger, University of Virginia

"Where No Man Has Gone Before: The Science of Fiction and Pragmatics of YouTube"

In recent debate about the evolutionary origins of Art, scientific attention has turned to the problematic existence of literary fiction. What possible selective pressures might favor the giving of respectful attention to narratives that are known to be untrue? Some evolutionary psychologists have proposed that interest in fictional narratives is parasitic upon the survival value of narrative gossip, in which individuals profit from discovering, for their own social group, who is mating with whom, and who is dominating whom. This paper examines the validity of this claim with respect to a popular genre of video narrative that can be found widely on YouTube--the production of pastiche versions of existing short YouTube videos. An alternative proposal about the adaptive value of fiction is proposed.


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.