The Linguistic Anthropology Seminar is an informal, interdisciplinary venue for presentations of work by faculty, students, and visiting scholars in linguistic anthropology, linguistics, and related fields.
Current Seminar Schedule
Seminars are usually* held on Friday afternoons in the Second Floor Conference Room of Brooks Hall. Note that this room is up a long flight of stairs. If you would like to come but would find the stairs prohibitive, please contact the organizer so that alternative arrangements can be made.
*Due to COVID protocols, all attempts will be made to hold the seminar outdoors, near Brooks Hall. We look forward to holding future events, some in-person, some on zoom. If you have work in progress you’d like to present or reading group ideas, please get in touch with the linguistics program director, Mark Sicoli.
Friday, September 24, 3:00 - 4:00 pm (outside Brooks Hall, weather permitting)
In-person discussion of an article by Susan Phillips (University of Arizona) recently published in American Anthropologist, "Gang Graffiti as Totemism."
Abstract: In Los Angeles and elsewhere in the United States, gangs demonstrate a profound interrelationship between street life, mass incarceration, gang cartographies, and the development of meaning, which together act as a form of totemism. Long used in anthropology, the concept of totemism remains powerful analytically because of its ability to describe how intentional oppositions are hinged to surrounding environments. Gang writing allows members to infuse themselves into neighborhoods by spatializing the tie of sympathy between signature, person, and landscape. Gang totemic practices originate from similarity in form as well as shared history, and from the contradiction of knowing a system is constructed while continuing to treat it as if it were primordial. Showing how social meaning is tied to the built environment contributes to decolonizing discourses by further eroding the binary between nature and culture. When combined with critical frameworks that look at power and inequality, the concept of totemism may be revitalized in a manner that respects local understandings, is distilled to its essential component parts, and gains relevance across wide swaths of ethnographic cases. The framework of totemism enables understanding of how urban environments become a locus of gang sentiment, moving away from simplistic ideas of gang territoriality.
Keywords: gangs, totemism, prison, graffiti, critical structuralism
Friday, March 16, 1:00 - 3:00 pm, reception to follow (Brooks Hall Commons)
Dr. Anna Marie Trester
Bringing Linguistics to Work
This workshop is designed to get students of Linguistics thinking about the transferable skills they are currently acquiring and how these apply outside the academy. The world of work needs critical thinkers who deal in abstractions and ambiguity. It needs cross-cultural competency and lack of prescriptivism, flexibility and adaptability, and readiness to embrace change and complexity. Perhaps more than anything, the world of work needs people who are trained to think in systems – people who see puzzles and can find the underlying patterns and processes that structure visible and apparently chaotic surface representations in any domain. We can take our skills and training anywhere, but only to the extent that we recognize them ourselves and make them understood.
Participants in this workshop will be given the tools to bring a linguistic perspective to the texts and interactions that structure their job search. They will hear about people who are bringing linguistics to work in non-academic settings. They will be given the opportunity to practice attending to the language they use in their professional self-presentation in resumes, cover letters, job interviews, and networking interactions. They will leave with a clearer sense of the many ways in which the skills they are cultivating in school may be applied to settings both known and not yet imagined.
Dr. Anna Marie Trester is an interactional sociolinguist who has worked as a trainer at the FrameWorks Institute, a social change communications firm, and served as director of the Language and Communication MA program at Georgetown University. She has published in venues such as Text and Talk, Language and Society, and The Journal of Sociolinguistics. She is co-editor (with Deborah Tannen) of Discourse 2.0: Language and New Media (2013) and author of Bringing Linguistics to Work (2017). She received her MA in linguistics from NYU in 2002 and her PhD from Georgetown in 2008.
Tuesday, February 27, 7:30 pm (Brooks Hall Commons)
Kevin Petit Cahill, Ph.D. candidate, Université Lyon 2, laboratoire ICAR
The revitalisation of Irish in the 21st century: Is the language turning into a tourism product?
Every summer, more than 20,000 Irish teenagers travel to the west of Ireland to learn Irish for a few weeks in language camps called 'summer colleges'. This popular activity actually dates back from the beginning of the 20th century, when the Gaelic League, an organisation for the promotion of the Irish language and culture, created immersion courses for Irish language learners in 'Irish speaking-districts' where communities of native speakers could be found.
While the original objective of summer colleges was to bring back Irish as the vernacular of the Irish nation, some contemporary participants conceived their summer college experiences as a tribute to their national cultural heritage even though it did not lead to an improvement in their Irish language proficiency. This mode of engagement with the language is defined as post-vernacular by Jeffrey Shandler, which, he argues, "can be a liberating concept, prompting possibilities of language use other than the vernacular model of full fluency in an indigenous mother tongue" (2006:23).
In this presentation, I will analyse how and why the summer college experience is discursively constructed as a tourism product by camp directors, local children, professional marketing consultants, and governmental agencies. This case illuminates the economic and political aspects of the Irish language and helps us rethink revitalisation projects not just as vernacularisation endeavours in the name of cultural preservation, but as complex social movements made out of people with competing agendas.