1. University of Virginia
  2. Arts & Sciences

"Performance Anxiety: Memory, Silence, and Shame in Siberian Language Shift"

  • Location: Brooks Hall 2nd Floor Conference Room

From generation to generation, speakers in Buryatia have been shifting from the once-dominant local language, Buryat, to Russian. As the residents of this embattled Siberian republic have grown increasingly concerned about losing the native language altogether, speaking Buryat has taken on affective importance in public life. Interactions that would not normally provoke anxiety, such as ordering tea in a café, have become emotionally heightened as attention is drawn to the linguistic code—and to the speaker’s inability to produce it perfectly. But whose definition of perfect speech is at play, and why does it matter? What is at stake in these interactions? This talk explores shame, insecurity, and emotional responses in interactions in order to examine how cultural expectations shape linguistic production and processes. Drawing on long-term ethnographic research, linguistic data, and archival materials, I will focus on radio and television interviews as sites of public performance in which ideas about what it means to speak Buryat “correctly” become clear. While performance anxiety suggests that speaking well is of paramount cultural value, paradoxically, it also motivates minority language speakers’ silence and is, I argue, a major factor driving language shift. These observations are part of my current book project, “Mixed Messages: Language, Media, and Belonging in Asian Russia.”

Kathryn E. Graber is an assistant professor of Anthropology and Central Eurasian Studies at Indiana University. Trained as a linguistic anthropologist at the University of Michigan, her main interests are in language, media, and property in Russia and Mongolia. Graber’s work has appeared (or is forthcoming) in journals including Language & Communication, American Anthropologist, Culture, Theory and Critique, and Slavic Review. She is currently working on her first book on Russia’s Buryat territories, where she has been conducting fieldwork since 2005. Her website can be found at: http://www.iub.edu/~ceus/faculty/graberk.shtml

Event Date: 
Wednesday, 25 March 2015 - 7:00pm to 9:00pm
Kathryn A. Graber
Speaker Title: 
Departments of Anthropology & Central Eurasian Studies, Indiana University
Event Type: