1. University of Virginia
  2. Arts & Sciences

Linguistic Anthropology Seminar -- 2010 - 2011

Fall 2010

Thursday, September 2, 4:30-6:30pm (Brooks Hall 2nd Floor Conference Room)

Marcin Kilarski, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, Poland

"On the Regularity and Functions of Nominal Classification"

Suggested Reading

Contini-Morava, Ellen, and Marcin Kilarski. Functions of Nominal Classification. Under review for the journal Studies in Language.

Note: Professor Kilarski will also be speaking in the Department of Anthropology seminar series at 1pm on Friday, September 3, 2010, in the Brooks Hall 2nd Floor Conference Room. The title of his lecture is "Eskimo Words for 'Snow' and Linguistic Misconceptions in Social Sciences and Philosophy."


Tuesday, September 21, 3:30-6pm (Brooks Hall 2nd Floor Conference Room)

Susan Penfield, National Science Foundation and the University of Arizona

"Linguistic Research in Indigenous Communities: Finding Common Ground"

The history of linguistic field researchers working in U.S. indigenous communities is fraught with classic stories about the tensions created by conflicting goals, methods, protocols, and power positions. There have been changes in how researchers see themselves in relation to communities, but this fact is not always embraced by indigenous groups, who may have a negative history with the research community. This talk addresses some of the issues, some of the trends toward change, and some of the possible answers. Dr. Penfield's reflections draw from her 40 years of experience working with indigenous tribes in the Southwest and from her perspective as a Program Officer for the Documenting Endangered Languages Program at the National Science Foundation. Collaborative research projects involving both academic institutions and community-based participants are discussed from the point of view of both on-the-ground field work and from the position of funding agencies which support community-based research projects.

This seminar will be a joint discussion with ANTH 5549, Language and the Culture of Preservation.

Suggested Readings

Grenoble, Lenore A. and Lindsay J. Whaley. 2006. Saving Languages: An Introduction to Language Revitalization. Chapter 2: Issues in Language Revitalization, pp. 21-49. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

National Science Foundation. 2010. Documenting Endangered Languages Program Solicitation # 06-577. Section I (Introduction) and Section II (Program Description).


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

John Rickford, Stanford University

"Girlz II Women: Age-grading, Language Change and Stylistic Variation"

Quantitative sociolinguistics, as pioneered by Labov’s studies of Martha’s Vineyard (1963) and New York city (1966), achieved its most ready acceptance within mainstream linguistics for its breakthroughs in the study of change in progress. Its advances included the use of socially realistic data (recordings of people from different social groups speaking in various styles) at one point in time, the age differentials providing evidence of change in apparent time. The importance of seeking confirmatory evidence of change in real time has always been emphasized, e.g. to distinguish between age grading and generational change. However, as Sankoff and Blondeau (2007:561) note, the number of longitudinal studies of real-time change in sociolinguistics over the past forty years is small, relative to the larger number of synchronic, apparent time studies. In this paper I report on a new longitudinal study of stability and change in African American Vernacular English [AAVE], as spoken in the low income, minority community of East Palo Alto, California. Although AAVE has received far more attention within sociolinguistics than any other ethnic or regional dialect, it has attracted only a handful of longitudinal studies, all within the last twelve years. The present study, in which I collaborated with Stanford undergraduate Mackenzie Price, is primarily a panel study of the same individuals at two points in time, focusing in depth on the language of Foxy Boston and Tinky Gates. First interviewed in 1987 when they were 14 and 15 years of age respectively, they used whopping percentages of the canonical AAVE forms, like copula absence, invariant habitual be, and third singular present tense –s absence. Re-interviewed in 2006 and 2008, however, as working mothers in their thirties, they show significantly reduced usage of all these variables. The basic conclusion to be drawn from this and the independent evidence of a recent study of the same community is that Foxy and Tinky’s altered usage represents age-grading rather than generational change. However the picture is not that simple, as revealed by attention to stylistic variation in both speakers, and the evidence of multiple recordings in the intervening years (Rickford and McNair 1994). The importance of style in this case raises questions about the validity of earlier studies of stability and change which may not have taken this variable into account. And it reaffirms the value of what Eckert (2005) has called ‘third wave’ sociolinguistics, in which the study of style and social meaning are central.

Professor Rickford will also be speaking the evening before (Thursday, September 30) at 5:00 pm in Wilson 301 on "African American Vernacular English and the Black/White Achievement Gap in American Schools." His talk is sponsored by the Linguistics Program, the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, and the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies. A reception will follow.

Suggested Reading

Sankoff, G., and H. Blondeau. 2007. Language change across the lifespan: /r/ in Montreal French. Language 83.3:560-588.


Friday, October 22, 11am-1pm (Brooks Hall 2nd Floor Conference Room)

Yuling Pan, U.S. Census Bureau

"Politeness in Historical and Contemporary Chinese"

This talk is based on the author's new book (with Daniel Kadar) which takes a diachronic approach to comparatively examine linguistic politeness in historical (18th century to early 20th century) and contemporary (1950s to present) Chinese. After outlining the main characteristics of linguistic politeness in historical and contemporary Chinese, the author analyzes the motivating socio-political-cultural factors behind the large-scale changes in politeness practice that took place in modern China. She will discuss the implications of such a study for other areas, including intercultural communication and Census Bureau data collection efforts.

This seminar is generously sponsored by the East Asia Center.

Suggested Reading

Yuling Pan and Daniel Kadar. Forthcoming 2011. Politeness in Historical Contemporary Chinese (Selections from Chapter 2). London/NY: Continuum.


Spring 2011

Wednesday, February 2, 8-9:30pm (Brooks Hall 2nd Floor Conference Room)

Omar Velázquez-Mendoza, University of Virginia

"Verbal Polysemy and the Analogy to the Prepositional Dative of the Old Spanish Personal a"

My presentation focuses on the progressive grammaticalization process through which Spanish has favored the use of the preposition 'a', the indirect object marker, to introduce human, individualized direct objects. My analysis compiles the earliest attestations of this phenomenon coming from documents composed during the Spanish High Middle Ages, between the 11th and the 13th century. These old examples of the personal 'a' clearly show that the animacy marker introduces noun phrases whose verbs develop, through time, multiple meanings. As shown in (1) and (2), this polysemy makes these verbs fluctuate between ditransitivity (the simultaneous coexistence of a direct and an indirect object within a sentence) and monotransitivity (the association of only one object with only one verb).

a. si uero filii mei noluerint seruire a sancto facundo exeant deilla hereditate; si uero uoluerint... [SAHAGÚN, §1029, 1098 CE].
‘If finally my children don’t want to serve (animate) Saint Facundo may they vacate the inheritance; if finally they don’t want…’
b. Do et dono ipso solare tibi suprascripto Diaco propter creacionem quam sub Deo creaui[s]te et propter seruicium bonum quod michi seruisti... [SAHAGÚN, §606, 1059 CE].
‘I give and donate this piece of land to you, aforementioned deacon, for the favor you did under God and for the good service that you did for me…’

a. Me siento un excluido. La Iglesia sigue siendo mi familia, pero intentaré servirla con otros excluidos, en una pequeña aldea de Mauritania [CREA, 1995 CE].
‘I feel excluded. The Church is still my family, but I’ll try to serve it (along) with other excluded ones, in a little village in Mauritania.’
b. Así que le sirvo un whisky bien cargado [CREA, 1981 CE].
‘Thus I serve him a strong whisky.’

The syntactical-semantic fluctuation shown above, I argue, is a factor that has contributed to the analogy embodied by the personal 'a' in Old Spanish—an analogy on the part of individualized, human direct objects toward the oblique marker 'a(d)' that introduces indirect objects. This tenet departs from previous historical accounts of the accusative 'a' in that it conceives of this marker as a morphosyntactic analogy toward oblique phrases functioning as indirect objects, not toward the Latin dative. To support this claim, I offer independent evidence on why noun phrases performing as indirect objects in Modern as well as in Old Spanish are, in form, obliques and not datives.


Friday, February 25, 1-3pm (Brooks Hall 2nd Floor Conference Room)

Claire Bowern, Yale University

Patience Epps, University of Texas, Austin

Patrick McConvell, Australian National University

"Hunter-Gatherers and Language Change"

For the vast majority of human history, people have not lived in cities supported by agricultural food sources and reliant on monetary economies. However, most models of language shift, spread and change have been developed with Neolithic farming dispersals in mind, and have either discounted or ignored language spreads by hunter-gatherers. The NSF-funded project 'Dynamics of Hunter-Gatherer Language Change' examines anecdotal (but nonetheless widespread) claims in the literature regarding the properties of languages spoken by hunter-gatherer communities, and the linguistic outcomes of hunter-gatherer groups' interactions with their neighbors. The methodologies employed crosscut linguistics, anthropology, archaeology, and evolutionary biology. Current findings in the domain of language indicate that hunter-gatherer language contact patterns are very diverse, and that some of them replicate the patterns of dominant contact that are more familiar from colonial interactions between indigenous groups and colonizers. That is, we may see differences in language contact outcomes between hunter-gatherers and agriculturalists not because hunter-gatherer language contact is different, but because agriculturist language contact is more uniform in outcome. Likewise, systematic study of features of hunter-gatherer languages (such as flora/fauna, numeral systems, and basic vocabulary) is revealing of a much greater diversity than one would expect from the previous literature. In this set of three short talks, we introduce the goals of the project and its relevance to understanding the relationship between social structure and language change, with a focus on rates of lexical borrowing and on variation and change in numeral systems.

The presentation will be followed by a reception in Brooks Hall Commons.


Friday, March 25, 1-3pm (Brooks Hall 2nd Floor Conference Room)

Qing Zhang, University of Arizona

"The Enregisterment of a New Mandarin Style: An Integrated Approach to Linguistic Innovation"

The study of linguistic innovation and change in contexts of socioeconomic changes is a prolific area in sociolinguistics. Especially productive is variationists’ work as pioneered by William Labov. While demonstrating the inextricable link between linguistic innovation/change and the social world, most studies have been predominantly concerned with exploring the processes of change, discovering distribution patterns of innovation, and the (lack of) formation of new community norms in a regional variety. The focus on regional variation and change to address the internal workings of the linguistic system and questions of linguistic theory has overpowered the examination of the social meaning in innovation/variation as constructed and contested in human social practices (see e.g., Bucholtz and Hall 2008, Eckert 2008).

In this talk, I present a study on linguistic innovation that integrates variationist sociolinguistic methodology with linguistic anthropological theories of enregisterment (Agha 2007) and indexical order (Silverstein 2003). Based on my research over the past decade, the study shows that a new Mandarin style is emerging in China. It is a supra-regional variety that is undergoing enregisterment, whereby a linguistic variety takes on salient cultural values. It is used by Chinese Mandarin speakers to index modernity and cosmopolitanism. This research is unique with respect to both linguistic anthropology and variationist sociolinguistics. In linguistic anthropology, studies on enregisterment tend to examine historical data on varieties that have already gone through the process. My study traces a variety that is currently undergoing enregisterment. Within variationist sociolinguistics, studies on language variation and change have focused almost exclusively on regional dialects. The current case examines the formation of a new social dialect that is supralocal. The study demonstrates that enregisterment involves (1) a shift in the indexical order of the innovative linguistic forms that constitute the new style and (2) ideological contestation over their social meaning due to the unstableness of their second-order indexical value. The eventual enregisterment of the new Mandarin style depends on the outcome of the ideological struggle over its second-order indexical value.

This seminar is generously sponsored by the East Asia Center.

Suggested Readings

Zhang, Qing. 2005. A Chinese Yuppie in Beijing: Phonological Variation and the Construction of a New Professional Identity. Language in Society 34:431-466. Focus on pp. 449-459.

Zhang, Qing. 2008. Rhotacization and the "Beijing Smooth Operator": The Social Meaning of a Linguistic Variable. Journal of Sociolinguistics 12.2:201-222. Focus on sections 1, 2, 5, and 6.


Thursday, April 14, 5:30-7pm (Brooks Hall 2nd Floor Conference Room)

Suzanne Wertheim, University of California, Los Angeles

"Comedic Personal Narratives and Performing Competence/Competent Performance"

This talk focuses on a new genre of comedic performance that I am calling the Comedic Personal Narrative. This emergent genre, ever-increasing in popularity, can be found in 8-15 storytelling evenings each month in Los Angeles, and in mediated presentations as well, on radio shows such as Snap Judgment and KCRW's Unfictional as well as the podcast of The Moth. The most prestigious Los Angeles storytellers presenting comedic personal narratives are industry professionals: stand-up comedians, sitcom writers, producers, actors, etc., and performances are frequently for insider audiences, especially at the most highly regarded storytelling evenings.

Comedic personal narratives - a previously undocumented narrative form - bring together verbal art, performance styles, and identity work in interesting ways. Linguistic and narrative structures give us insights into social positions, social relations, and psychological states; narratives are an important site for the performance and presentation of the self and identity work, and they provide psychological insight into hidden presentations of the self. In addition, they present culture as process, and are frequently used for the transmission of morality and tradition. In this talk I'll be looking in particular at comedic personal narratives as a vehicle for repositioning and re-presenting the self using linguistic and narrative structures such as formal parallelism, tense and temporality, semantic roles, and comedic control of the audience's reaction. These, and other linguistic structures and comedic mechanisms create competent performances of verbal art that are also performances of social and professional competence.

Pizza will be served at this event!

Suggested Reading

Labov, William. 1972. The Transformation of Experience in Narrative Syntax. In Language in the Inner City, 354-396. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.


Thursday, April 21, 7-9pm (Brooks Hall 2nd Floor Conference Room)

Frank Bechter, University of Virginia

"Stories without Endings: Convert Culture and Conversionary Form"

There are approximately 300,000 deaf signers in the United States, 95 percent of whom come from non-deaf, non-signing homes. Such prelingually deaf individuals often have no exposure to the signing community until school age or later. Deaf signing society consists, therefore, overwhelmingly of “converts,” and its representational forms reflect this fact in many ways.

In this talk, I analyze an enigmatic deaf narrative genre I call “Stories Without Endings.” The label follows a native’s criticism of one such tale perceived, to my surprise, to have no ending. In support of this criticism, however, another tale was brought forward from the interviewee’s school years which, although told now with enthusiasm up to its cut-off point, indeed had no ending—no clear “finalization” at the level of plot—much to the interviewee’s frustration. Over the course of my research, the principle emerged in relation to many deaf stories.

Sign language narratives reorient deaf consciousness to perceive the world as being made of “deaf lives.” Deaf lives are subaltern subject positions that are invisible until conventional frameworks of moral order are interrupted. In Stories Without Endings, narrative logic itself is interrupted.

Suggested Reading

Bechter, Frank. 2009. Dialogism at large. In Of deaf lives: Convert culture and the dialogic of ASL storytelling. Doctoral dissertation (Chapter 5), The University of Chicago.