LVC will host Tatiana Nikitina of CNRS – Paris at an unconventional time: this Monday, November 20th at 3:30 PM in Cobb 202. Information about her talk is below. As usual, there will be a reception after the talk and an opportunity to talk more with the speaker.
Discourse reporting in narrative performance: A case study from West Africa
Current approaches to language endangerment are firmly grounded in the Western ideology of language (Foley 2003). Language loss is commonly viewed as a result of speakers shifting to a new language, and criteria for vitality assessment are concerned with the way a particular language, in the sense of Saussurean langue, is being transmitted to next generations of speakers (Fishman 1991; UNESCO 2003; Krauss 2007, inter alia). This approach sometimes results in striking discrepancies between a professional linguist’s assessment and the views expressed by language users.
In this talk I discuss a case study of Wan, a Southeastern Mande language spoken in central Côte d’Ivoire. Wan is doing well by all established vitality measures, yet its speakers consistently claim to be “losing” their language. This apparent paradox is rooted in the special attitude to language displayed by the local community: language is understood as traditional ways of speaking, and those can only be fully realized in specific communicative practices which are currently at the point of extinction. The case of Wan presents a curious combination of an objectively “healthy” sociolinguistic situation and exceedingly pessimistic perceptions voiced by speakers.
Among the morphosyntactic strategies that are central to culturally valued language use are strategies of discourse reporting. Across West Africa, traditional narratives are performed interactively by a speaker who constantly switches between the role of narrator and those of the story’s characters (Nikitina 2012). A skillful performer employs a variety of linguistic means that facilitate such switching, including the use of invented language that serves to signal historical or ontological distance between the story’s characters and the current audience. I focus on one particular aspect of discourse reporting that is characteristic of West African story performance: the strategic use of logophoric reporting style.
Logophoric reporting attested in West African languages differs in important ways from the syntactic phenomenon that has been described as logophoricity in such languages as Japanese, Italian or Latin. I discuss different types of logophoric reporting and show how they function in traditional West African narrative performance. I also discuss the ways in which logophoric reporting is endangered by European discourse reporting strategies.