19th Annual Michicagoan Conference

May 5-6, 2017

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor


2017 Conference Theme

The Writing’s on the Wall


With a keynote address by

Friederike Lüpke

Professor of Linguistics, Department of the Languages and Cultures of Africa

SOAS, University of London


The annual Michicagoan Conference focuses on the social and cultural analysis of semiotic forms centering on language, providing graduate students with an attentive forum in which to present their work and have it discussed by faculty and students. The conference promotes ongoing scholarly exchange and collaboration among students and faculty of the University of Michigan, the University of Chicago, and regional affiliates. We welcome work from graduate students at all stages and encourage participants to submit formal conference papers as well as to present their proposals and research reports. Commentators for each panel are drawn from participating faculty.


This year’s Michicagoan theme addresses signs of inevitability and the inevitability of signs. Linguistic anthropologists have long emphasized the contingency and unpredictability of semiotic and sociohistorical processes. But what about when things just seem inevitable? Looking at symptoms of imminent language death, benchmarks of language development, or compulsive patterns of interaction — certain signs, sequences, and structures seem bound to repeat. Not only attuning to future-oriented acts of forecasting, predicting, and prophesizing, “The Writing’s on the Wall” asks participants to investigate the pragmatics of backward-looking, told-you-so reconstructions of the past.


Participants might consider the following dimensions of inevitability:

– Authority and expertise: Predicting the future or reconstructing the past often requires rituals, experts, and authorized genres. What kinds of expertise is drawn upon in interpreting the inevitable? Who or what can make a prediction? How do these prognostications and post-factum assessments circulate in public space?

– Mediation and writing: Predictions can be mediated by objects and technologies, and by forms of writing, reading, and analysis. Auguries, regressions, weather forecasts — what technologies and literacies are mobilized to read the past or future?

– Prediction and failure: To utter “the writing was on the wall” offers a retrospective account for a seemingly inevitable outcome. But what about cases when the inevitable doesn’t happen? How do actors deal with interactional breakdowns, failed signs, or ambiguous results?

Any research topic addressing the spirit of the theme is welcome, but some might include:
–        Language change and shift
–        Language death
–        Scientific prediction and forecasting
–        Speech acts and performativity
–        Political speech
–        Religious language, divination, prophecy
–        Ritual semiosis and materiality
–        Entextualization and dialogism
–        Semiotics of temporality
–        Natural language processing


Students will have 15 minutes to present. To apply, submit a 250-word abstract to the link below. If abstracts are accepted, complete papers will be due by April 21. There is no registration fee for the conference. Transportation expenses for Chicago student presenters will be covered. Meals will be covered for all registered attendees.


Submission link: https://goo.gl/forms/VRGyo3PJ4CobtDhK2

Deadline: March 3, 2017


All other inquiries, including questions concerning access for persons with disabilities, can be directed to michicagoan2017@umich.edu.