1. University of Virginia
  2. Arts & Sciences

Linguistic Anthropology Seminar -- Fall 2008

Friday, August 29, 3-5pm (Brooks Hall Library)

Ellen Contini-Morava, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia

"The Message in the Navel: (Ir)realisness in Swahili"

What does it mean to say that a language L "encodes" some semantic substance? One answer (Position A) is that (at least some) messages communicated by means of expressions in L can be interpreted according to that semantic substance. Another (Position B) is that specific grammatical forms in L conventionally, and invariably, signal information related to that semantic substance. According to Position A, the semantic substance exists independently of individual languages—presumably as a cognitive universal—and may find expression in a variety of ways without being regularly conveyed by any particular linguistic form. As such, it is in principle "encodable" in any language. For example, Chafe (1995:363) argues that "the realis-irrealis distinction…can be thought of as a covert semantic pressure that emerges in different languages in different ways", even in languages like English which lack overt morphosyntactic marking for this substance. Similarly, Givón (1994:268) lists "irrealis assertion" as a subcategory of epistemic modality that is universally applicable, even to such phenomena as propositions within the scope of the adverb maybe in English (as in Maybe she left, p. 271). In Position B by contrast, each language articulates its own grammatical content, and a given semantic substance may or may not be "encoded in" its grammatical forms. For example, Elliott’s (2000:57) survey includes "only languages where there is evidence of an obligatorily marked grammatical category for reality status". The question of the status of realis/irrealis as a "grammatical category" will necessarily be answered differently depending on how one conceives the relationship of meaning to morphosyntactic form (and of course depending on how one defines realis/irrealis).

I will argue that Position B is more methodologically sound, as it is tied to specific linguistic forms which serve as a control over the scope of the analysis. By contrast, Position A is at best an analysis of the messages that linguistic forms may be used to communicate. My data will be taken from Swahili, a Bantu language of East Africa, which encodes a number of distinctions related to modality from which messages of (ir)realisness can be inferred.

Suggested Reading

Elliott, Jennifer R. 2000. Realis and irrealis: Forms and concepts of the grammaticalization of reality. Linguistic Typology 4: 55-90.


Wednesday, October 15, 4-5:30pm (Brooks Hall Library)

Prashant Pardeshi, Kobe University

Peter Hook, University of Virginia

Two Perspectives on the Compound Verb in Indo-Aryan

1. "Synchronic exploration in search of a diachronic path: An areal-typological study on the grammaticalization of PUT/KEEP in Northeast, Central and South Asian languages" (Pardeshi abstract)


2. "Using Google to Find Parallel Functions in Divergent Forms: Perfectivity in Russian and Hindi-Urdu" (Hook abstract)


Friday, October 17, 1-3pm (Brooks Hall Library)

Tara Sanchez, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia

"What the Multilingual Community Contributes to a Theory of 'Speech Community'"

The concept of 'speech community' is central to sociolinguistic research, yet researchers neither agree on its definition nor thoroughly understand its inner workings. In an effort to contribute to both endeavors, I summarize empirical findings from my own work in a multilingual community as well as those reported in the literature on various multivariety communities (e.g. bilingual, bidialectal, etc.), and relate them to previous proposals regarding the 'speech community'. The theory proposed here is primarily based on ethnographic observations and linguistic data (129 sociolinguistic interviews, as well as a diachronic corpus of written texts) collected by this author in 2003 on the Dutch Caribbean islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaao. Interviews were conducted in Papiamentu (Iberian creole); Papiamentu speakers are also fluent in, and use daily, Dutch, Spanish, and English.

In this paper, I propose that 'shared linguistic norm' central to defining a speech community originate in more or less tangible 'subgroups' of same. In contact situations, such norms may be (are often?) the direct result of language transfer, and as such, 1) can be transparently traced back to their origin and 2) serve as identity markers of these linguistically defined subgroups. In monolingual communities, the connection to such subgroups (e.g. women, lower middle class, etc.) may not be as transparent, but it is no less real. In fact, I argue that this finding from the multilingual community may help explain the community-wide distribution of previously reported variants in monolingual situations.

Suggested Reading

Patrick, Peter L. 2002. The Speech Community. In J. K. Chambers, Peter Trudgill, and Natalie Schilling-Estes (eds.), The Handbook of Language Variation and Change, pp. 573-597. Malden, MA: Blackwell.


Friday, October 31, 1-3pm (Brooks Hall Library)

Suzanne Menair, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia

"From Mischief to Misunderstanding: Verbal Play and Race Relations on Chicago's Trading Floor"

Suggested Readings

Bauman, Richard. 2004. Introduction: Genre, Performance, and the Production of Intertextuality. Pp. 1-11 of A World of Others' Words: Cross-cultural Perspectives on Intertextuality. Malden, MA: Blackwell.


Thursday, November 13, 4-5:15pm (Brooks Hall Library)

Eve Danziger, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia

"Once More with Feeling: A Forbidden Performance of the 'Great Speech' of the Mopan Maya"

An utterance whose performativity cannot be suppressed even by quotation or staging achieves this effect through sustained indifference to the mental state of the proximate utterer. We can say that no relevant distinction of Goffmanian ‘animator’ from ‘principal’ exists in these cases. One genre of Mopan discourse that has this property is respect-greeting talk among kinsmen. Such talk cannot be simulated by those who are not in the appropriate relationships to one another, for fear of supernatural consequences. Above all, sexual partners may not engage in it. On one occasion early in my fieldwork however, a Mopan husband and wife did agree to demonstrate this genre to me. They were well aware that what they were doing was highly taboo, as their use of containment strategies makes clear. They insisted on anonymity, and they limited the extent of their violation, refraining from direct address to one another. Finally, at certain crucial moments in their speech, they giggled nervously. Laughter is actually forbidden in the context of respect-greeting speech, so that this constitutes a clear, if momentary (and apparently involuntary) intrusion of the performers’ animators into the personae of their principals. I propose from this example to approach a more general consideration of the conditions under which utterances that are immune to hedging by explicit quotation may sometimes nevertheless be mitigable by implicit quotation via double-voicing.

Suggested Readings

Du Bois, John W. 1986. Self-Evidence and Ritual Speech. In W. Chafe and J. Nichols (eds), Evidentiality: The Linguistic Coding of Epistemology, pp. 313-336. Ablex Publishing: Norwood NJ.


Friday, November 14, 3-4:30pm (Kaleidoscope)

Mark Turin, Cornell University & University of Cambridge

"The Linguistic Survey of Sikkim: Preliminary Results, Methodological Challenges, and Social Context"

From September 2005 to November 2006, under the auspices of the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology and in close partnership with the Government of Sikkim, India, I directed the first phase of a modern linguistic survey of Sikkim. During the survey process, the research team visited 105 government and private secondary schools across Sikkim to administer an extensive questionnaire on language use to students in classes 8-12. The preliminary results of these 17,000 completed survey forms offer insights into the process of language shift from indigenous mother tongues to regional vernaculars, the growing importance of linguistic heritage and feelings of group belonging over actual competence in specific languages, and the symbolic and practical steps taken by the state government to support linguistic diversity in Sikkim.

Dr. Turin's lecture is generously cosponsored by the University of Virginia Linguistics Program and the Center for South Asian Studies. A reception will follow the lecture.