ASA15: Symbiotic anthropologies: theoretical commensalities and methodological mutualisms

(P02)
The medium is the message: attention to language and ways of speaking in understanding sociality
Location Room 11
Date and Start Time 16 April, 2015 at 09:15
Sessions 2

Convenor

  • Alexander King (Franklin & Marshall College) email

Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

Session explores the symbiosis between linguistics and anthropology. Language form shapes the content of the message in subtle ways requiring careful attention. Linguists have developed robust methods useful to anthropologists and are looking to us for help with understanding the social contexts.

Long Abstract

Malinowski stressed the importance of recording ethnographic information directly in the native tongue (1922:23-24). This corpus inscriptionum, to use his phrase, provides an invaluable record of linguistic and cultural information that is useful for the ethnographer and many others. Unfortunately, Malinowski's students ignored this advice and contributions from linguistics generally, often working as if language were a transparent medium through which messages can be transmitted and translated unproblematically.

Inspired by Dell Hymes's famous quip 'language is too important to leave to the linguists and linguistics is too important ignore', this panel explores the productive symbiosis between linguistics and social anthropology. Linguists are increasingly conducting fieldwork, confronting a new generation of students with all the complexities that experience-near research entails. They are revaluing the project of basic description, creating documentation not only as a way to preserve data but as an act of recognition of their fellow human beings who inhabit other social worlds. Linguists have never before been more open to the disciplinary perspective of anthropology, seeing it as a welcome guide. At the same time, linguists' longstanding commitment to clarity in research design can constructively complement anthropologists' methodological openness. For example, linguists are thinking hard about the disposition and management of the many varieties of information all researchers now hold in their possession, and they have well-developed models for comprehensive data management plans that simplify the future use of material for sharing with the source community and use in further research projects.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

The importance of language documentation for anthropologist and quick how-to guide

Author: Alexander King (Franklin & Marshall College)  email

Short Abstract

Language documentation is an exploding sub-field in linguistics, giving anthropologists handy tools to produce resources for their own work and a legacy fro the source community, as well as other scholars. I present some tips for making the work simpler.

Long Abstract

All anthropologists should take to heart Dell Hymes's frequent quip, "Language is too important to leave to linguists and linguistics is too valuable to ignore." This century will see the disappearance of hundreds of languages and a significant reduction in the use of thousands of others, at the very least. Documenting endangered ways of speaking (in any language) is part of producing sophisticated and ethically robust anthropology. Most indigenous communities want knowledge documented and many are enthusiastic about collaborative projects with anthropologists. Producing language documentation has never been easier with the recent proliferation of computer software and inexpensive quality audio equipment. Collaborative anthropology need not eclipse theory driven anthropology or divert junior scholars from the production of PhD dissertations and journal articles critical for professional advancement. This presentation will provide anthropologists with a six-step program to add a language documentation element to their current ethnographic research practices. Documentary linguists preach to their colleagues that people speak in a context, and this context needs attention. Anthropologists know that, of course, but they need to be reminded of the importance of form in expression and the documentation of specific, original forms leads to a richer and deeper anthropology. It is also a vital part of ethical research practices, good relations with source communities, and an easy way to make a significant impact now and forever. A small investment in time and money produces anthropology that makes a difference in people's lives.

Spatial orientation and the formation of social subjects: An example from colonial and contemporary southern Quechuas

Author: Bruce Mannheim (University of Michigan)  email

Short Abstract

Spatial orientation is a core feature of grammar and interfaces to cognitive processes and to the formation of social subjects. In this paper I show the social consequence of spatial orientation and its corresponding forms of semiotic interpretation for southern Quechuas, colonial and contemporary.

Long Abstract

Spatial orientation is a core feature of grammar, one that interfaces on the one hand to cognitive processes and on the other to the formation of social subjects. A key distinction that underlies the construction of space in grammar is between egocentric orientation, in which deictic expressions (person, time, and space) are anchored in the 'speaker' (actually in a social role collapsed into the speaker) and allocentric orientation, which is oriented in an aspect of the social situation other than the speaking participants (for example, a house or a visible and named place). There are distinct forms of semiotic interpretation associated with each orientation type, interappelating distinct kinds of social subjects and social relations.

For Southern Quechuas and for their Inka ancestors spatial orientation is preferentially (and grammatically) allocentric; for colonial Spaniards, for Spanish-speakers in the Andean republics today, and for anthropologists spatial orientation is preferentially egocentric. I illustrate these differences and the social consequences thereof, with examples from southern Andean visual and verbal culture, colonial and contemporary.

Crowd-sourcing nativisms: morphology and ideology

Author: Jonathan Roper (University of Tartu)  email

Short Abstract

Language activists often see loanwords as problematic, especially in lesser-used languages. Recently attempts have been made to crowd-source native neologisms in two small European languages, Estonian and West Frisian. This paper looks at the linguistic ideologies and realities involved.

Long Abstract

The influx of loanwords is often seen as a problem by language activists and planners, especially for lesser-used or minority languages. Nativist interventions in response to such linguistic foreignisms can take a variety of forms; historically, one typical pattern was for a quasi-governmental Academy to lay down which native forms should be used. More recently attempts have been made to crowd-source native neologisms, though of course the 'experts' have not entirely given over their role to lay language-users as they are still in charge of choosing which of the suggested items to approve and promote. It is in such a light that I wish to discuss at two recent language campaigns involving two small European languages, Estonian and West Frisian: the 'S├Ánaus' events in Estonia (2002, 2010, 2014) and 'It Moaiste Fryske wurd' competitions in the Dutch province of Friesland (2011, 2013, 2014). In looking at which words are considering to require replacement, and what are adjudged suitable replacements, the talk will focus on both linguistic ideology and morphology.

Exploring the relation between language variants and environmental change

Author: Elena Burgos-Martinez (Durham University)  email

Short Abstract

Using ethnographic examples from my recent fieldwork among the Bajo of North Sulawesi, in Indonesia, I intend to explore how processes of semantic intrusion protect cultural identity in 'the intersection' between cultures.

Long Abstract

The way communities conceptualize their environments (socio-ecologically) varies greatly in between places, and often within the same place. Concepts such as 'nature' , a third person entity, do not operate in the same fashion worldwide. The Bajo have successfully accommodated 'foreign' notions of sustainability and resilience to their life-ways and environmental rhetoric. But how do they perceive their environment (s) and how does this impact on the metamorphosis their language experiences? Often, the interweaving aspects of linguistic changes and the environmental permutations in which these are embedded are simplified when we argue that language is a mere projection of human perception and thought; a relation that is never uni-directional, shaping not only the world(s) we construct but also our perception of them.

Language documentation and language revitalisation - partners or just good friends?

Authors: Julia Sallabank (SOAS, University of London)  email
Peter Austin (SOAS University of London)  email

Short Abstract

We explore through two case studies the relationship between language documentation and revitalisation. We argue that work on both has failed to pay proper attention to local ethnographies and beliefs and ideologies about language and its role in society held by both communities and researchers.

Long Abstract

Language Documentation (or Documentary Linguistics) has the goal of "compiling a representative and lasting multipurpose record of a natural language or one of its varieties" (Himmelmann 1998). It involves creating archivable audio, video and textual recordings of language use and translating and annotating them, including contextual metadata. The approach emphasises transparency and multifunctionality, arguing that recordings and analysis should be available and accessible to a wide range of users for a wide range of functions, including community members.

Language revitalisation is concerned with increasing the number of speakers of a language and the range of domains within which it is used. This often involves collaboration between researchers and community members to create relevant materials and curricula as well as contexts within which the language can be used. Revitalisation is increasingly seen as not limited to language but as benefiting minoritised communities through increased self-confidence and awareness of minority rights. The origins of language revitalisation are older than language documentation; however it has not attracted the same level of funding or recognition. It has also been undertheorised and seen as a waste of time by some mainstream linguists.

We explore through two case studies the relationship between language documentation and revitalisation. We argue that work on both documentation and revitalisation has failed to pay proper attention to local ethnographies and management of language use, and the crucially important but poorly researched beliefs and ideologies about language and its role in society held by both speech communities and researchers.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.