Category Archives: linguistic anthropology

Friday, April 14th at 3:30 PM: Lev Michael (UC Berkeley)

Please join us for a talk by visiting speaker Lev Michael of the University of California Berkeley. The talk will be Friday, April 14th at 3:30 PM in Rosenwald 011. Refreshments will be provided. Hope to see you there!

“Lexical homology in computational phylogenetics: A comparative Tupí-Guaraní”

Lev Michael
UC Berkeley

Thursday, November 3 at 4:30 PM: Semiotics Workshop (Perry Wong, UChicago)

LVC is cosponsoring a meeting of the Semiotics Workshop, on November 3 at 4:30 PM in Haskell 101, which will touch upon language contact in Mesoamerica.

“Notes on Mesoamerican ‘fashions of speaking’”
Perry Wong
 

with a brief addendum by Chris Bloechl

 

For a copy of the paper, please email Perry Wong at perrywong@uchicago.edu or Briel Kobak at bkobak@uchicago.edu.
For the full schedule and other information, visit our website at: http://cas.uchicago.edu/workshops/semiotics/Persons with disabilities who believe they may need assistance, please contact Perry Wong at perrywong@uchicago.edu or Briel Kobak at bkobak@uchicago.edu.

Barbra Meek (University of Michigan) @ LVC on Wednesday, May 4th!

“Linguistic Manifestations in Encounters of Loss”

Barbra Meek
University of Michigan

The prediction for most aboriginal languages has been extinction and a scholarly orientation toward “loss.” However, many of these languages are still with us today, including those presumed lost. This means that someone somewhere has imagined a future for these languages, for current language users, and in relation to some potential audience. But, as with ideas of “success” (Hinton 2016), not all aboriginal language futures are unfolding in identical ways and not all paths lead to the same end or even to their own intended end. This talk is a reflection on “loss” in relation to the various efforts that have been imagined and implemented in order to project a future for one aboriginal case, the Kaska (Dene/Athabaskan) language, and some of the unexpected possible futures that have emerged along the way.

Wednesday, May 4th at 4:30 PM in Rosenwald 015

Daniel Chen (Toulouse School of Economics) @ LVC on Friday, April 29th!

“Covering: Mutable Characteristics and Perceptions of (Masculine) Voice in the U.S. Supreme Court”

Daniel Chen
Institute for Advanced Study, Toulouse School of Economics

Using data on all 1,901 U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments between 1999 and 2013, we document that voice-based snap judgments based solely on the introductory sentences of lawyers predict Justices votes. The connection between vocal characteristics and court outcomes is specific to perceived masculinity even when judgment of masculinity is based only on less than three seconds of exposure to a lawyer’s speech sample. Although previous studies suggest a significant role for vocal characteristics on real world behavior, prior to our work none has identified a definitive connection using identical phrases. Roughly 30% of the association between voice-based masculinity and court outcomes comes from within-male lawyer variation, whereas 70% comes from between-male lawyer variation. Moreover, voice-based first impressions predict both male and female lawyers’ court outcomes: less masculine males and more feminine females are more likely to win. A de-biasing experiment separately identifies statistical discrimination and prejudice by showing that information reduces 40% of the correlation between perceived masculinity and perceived win and incentives reduces another 20% of the correlation. The negative correlations between perceived masculinity and win rates were stronger in private firms and in petitioner classes with more masculine voices. Perceived masculinity explains an additional 10% of variance relative to best existing prediction models of Supreme Court justice votes. Sincere and strategic voting considerations may explain why liberal justices were more likely to vote against male lawyers perceived as more masculine and conservative justices were more likely to vote for female lawyers perceived as more feminine.

Friday, April 29th at 3:00 PM in Rosenwald 015

Britta Ingebretson @ LVC on Friday, March 11th!

Friday, March 1st @ 3:00PM in Rosenwald 015

Shepu or Mandarin? Attention and second order indexicality in a Chinese yoga studio

Britta Ingebretson
University of Chicago

In this talk, I will examine how the phonetic qualities of language become mobilized in processes of second-order indexicality in a yoga studio in Huangshan, China. Shepu, a portmanteau of Shexianhua (She county dialect) and Mandarin, is the local term for the dialect of Mandarin spoken in She county, a nonstandard dialect which incorporates many phonetic, prosodic, and tonal qualities from Shexianhua. Second-order indexicality is the process through which indexical relationship between ways of speaking and certain types of speakers becomes naturalized, such that ways of speaking become seen as iconic of, rather than indexing, certain types of speakers, and thus linking linguistic traits to other socially meaningful non-linguistic traits. While much literature has been devoted to showing how listener judgments allow the listener to classify speakers as belonging to certain social categories, in this talk I will show how the process also works in reverse. If listeners have already classified individuals as a certain social type, they are more likely to be attentive to and pick out the qualities of speech which conform to their preconceived perceptions than they are with other speakers, regardless of actual speaker variation. I show how this process works with three speakers of Shepu

Ross Burkholder @ LVC & LCC on Friday, November 13th

Friday, November 13th @ 3:00 PM in Rosenwald 301

Language use in MOBA Gaming Communities

Ross Burkholder
University of Chicago

In this talk I discuss a recent project investigating language use in Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) games, focusing in particular on language use in the community surrounding the game DOTA 2. During the course of this talk I hope to describe, compare, and highlight specific areas of language use in MOBAs.

Describe: What kind of language is being used in-game?
– How do variables effect individuals language use?
– How has language use changed over time?

Compare: How does the register used in MOBA games compare to…
– Other MOBAs?
– Other online gaming communities?
– Other computer mediated language?

Highlight: How does the multilingual nature of the community effect language use?
– What strategies are used when no mutual language is available?
– How are responses to multilingualism framed and formed?

In order to answer these questions, this study makes use of a small (but growing) corpus of game replay files, looking at various frequencies, concordances, and collocations. As this project is in the beginning phases, there will be more emphasis during the talk on the formulation of research questions, and the methodologies used in order to answer them, than on the presentation of results. Discussion of all aspects of this project is strongly encouraged.

9th June: Andrea Beltrama (UChicago)

Monday, June 9th @ 3:00 PM, Cobb 104

From semantic to social meaning. The case study of intensifiers.

The phenomenon of intensification is pervasive in natural language. Examples of such expressions, in English, include very, really, so, extremely. Linguists have addressed intensification with respect to two specific areas: intensifiers’ semantics, and intensifiers’ usage in the social landscape. Yet, an actual integration between these two approaches is currently missing. Exploring this relationship
represents the main goal of this talk.

The presence of a principled connection between semantic and sociolinguistic facts stems from the following observation. While the use of an intensifier with a gradable predicate comes across as fairly neutral (in (1)), the occurrences in (2) normally index a richer constellation of indexical information. First, these expressions are intuitively labeled as informal, colloquial, fit for spoken registers. Moreover, they normally suggest an association with readily identifiable and specific social and psychological traits, or even full-fledged social types (“Valley girl”, “Generation X”, and others)

(1a) The tank is totally full (Gradable. Source of the scale: scale of fullness)
(1b) The house is very big (Gradable. Source of the scale: scale of size)
(1c) The building is so tall that planes almost touch it (Gradable. Source: scale of height)

(2a) Your attitude is very UChicago. (Non-gradable. Source: stereotypical traits of Uchicago)
(2b) I totally left this at home (Non-gradable. Source: certainty about the proposition)
(2c) I’m so next in line! (Non-gradable. Source: eagerness/enthusiasm about being next)

My leading hypothesis is that speakers, when making use of intensifiers, are exploiting the semantic notion of gradability as a stylistic resource to construct social meaning and social evaluations. In particular, I suggest that intensifiers that semantically target non-lexical scales create a marked linguistic environment, which emerges as a suitable attachment site for social meaning and the related social evaluations.

4 November: Jeff Good (University at Buffalo)

Monday, November 4th @ 3 PM, Harper 140

Magical ideologies of language change: Connecting micro-level variation to macro-areal diversification

In many respects, historical investigation of the Bantu language family serves as a model application of the Comparative Method to a genealogical unit outside of Indo-European. The close relationship of hundreds of languages occupying the greater part of southern sub-Saharan Africa is beyond question, and there is  consensus on many important features of the proto-language. At the same time, despite more than a century and a half of scholarship, significant issues regarding the development of the family remain unresolved almost to the point of seeming intractable. No shared innovation has been found that uniquely delineates Bantu from its closest relatives, no family-wide subgrouping has become accepted, and no fully convincing explanation has been offered for Bantu’s incredibly successful spread throughout southern Africa.

This talk reconsiders these issues through the examination of the comparative linguistics of a small, linguistically diverse region of Cameroon known as Lower Fungom, which is located within the putative Proto-Bantu homeland. By treating Lower Fungom as a microcosm for Bantu, it becomes possible to explore how a local ideology that links languages to relatively ephemeral political entities results in patterns of language change which are neither tree-like nor wave-like but, rather, “magnetic”, with varieties in contact constantly converging and diverging from each other to reflect shifting patterns of solidarity and antagonism. This ideological stance is further associated with a system of beliefs wherein code choice is perceived as a means to access the magical protection associated with a given community. This fosters multilingualism and frequent language shift as strategies through which individuals can attempt to increase their spiritual security.

Through the examination of specific structural features of the languages of Lower Fungom, it will be argued that the presence of these ideological patterns can take us far in understanding why there was never a clean linguistic “break” between Bantu and its closest relatives, why clear-cut subgroups never formed, and why the family spread so successfully. More generally, it will be suggested that detailed investigation of the ways that local language ideologies relate codes to communities has a significant role to play in addressing the actuation problem in language change.

25 February: Tasos Chatzikonstantinou (UChicago)

Monday, February 25h @ 2:00 PM, Location TBA

Verbal acts in the songs of the old Greek underworld

In this talk I discuss the discourse patterns that emerge in the lyrics of Rebetiko, an urban folk music genre that flourished in the port of Athens in the early 20th century. In the 1920s, a ghetto sub-culture was formulated around that part of the city that included people who were living on the margins of the Athenian society as well as thousands of Greek immigrants who arrived from Asia Minor (Emery, 2000). I will show that as a particular conceptualization of authenticity was established within this community (Damianakos, 1985; Tragaki, 2007), this social reality was reflected in the lyrics of Rebetiko.

I focus on cases that I consider to be instances similar to dissing, a verbal expression of disrespect towards deviations from a specific conceptualization of authenticity. This discourse pattern is also employed by other music genres (e.g. Hip Hop) where authenticity is central to their ethos (Androutsopoulos & Scholz, 2002). Another indication of authenticity is suggested to be the particular slang that was developed within the community under discussion (Petropoulos, 1967) and which was extensively used by Rebetiko artists in order to give an authentic “street” flavor to their songs (Holst, 1990).  I will argue that the moment Rebetiko became commercialized the extensive use of slang was, in part, a strategy to retain alive the Rebetiko conceptualization of authenticity though its genuine connection with the authentic sub-culture had been weakened.

11 February: Chris Corcoran (UChicago)

Monday, February 11th @ 12:30 PM, Social Sciences 302

The authentication of Sierra Leonean refugees

Competing ideologies of the acoustic characteristics of voice During the Sierra Leone civil war, 1991–2002, many European countries granted asylum to Sierra Leonean refugees. Those without documentation were given an opportunity to participate in a language analysis interview. There are many problems with the authentication process employed in these types of interviews (e.g., Eades 2010, Corcoran 2004). However, this paper focuses on the particular issue of competing ideologies associated with voice quality and prosody: relative breathiness, pitch, loudness, and tempo. From 2000­–2010, I contributed to assessments or counter-assessments in nearly fifty cases. European interviewers frequently admonished applicants to “speak up” in order to properly represent themselves. Applicants who spoke slowly using a lowered quiet breathy voice were identified as having something to hide or, at best, as rubes who did not understand how recording devices worked. In contrast to these Western assessments, I argue there are pan West African ideologies that associate these features with “good speech” (Obeng 2003: vii; Irvine 1973: 160­–­64, 1974; Yankah 1995) and, in particular for Sierra Leoneans, with positions of full Sierra Leonean citizenship in opposition to categories such as “stranger” (Dorjahn and Fyfe 1962). Supplementing previous work with current fieldwork with Sierra Leoneans living in the US, this paper presents acoustic analyses and ethnographic observation to contrast Sierra Leonean and Western ideologies concerning these characteristics of speech. Using Silverstein’s (1981) explication of the limits of awareness, I discuss how these ways of speaking have been taken up in naturalizing discourses and confound our ability to identify them as sites for potential misunderstanding.