Society for Linguistic Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Abstract: Indigenous language work is characterized by a common, but by no means clear-cut, division between the ways that local communities and academic researchers relate to language (Schwartz and Dobrin 2016). Community members are commonly concerned with enhancing language fluency and maintaining and building connections to family, traditions, and land, among other goals (Ignace and Ignace 2017). Researchers more often focus on language documentation, structure, and the cultural complexities of language use, with only secondary concern for the acquisition of fluency and development of social connections (Hinton 2010, Gerdts 2017, Seifart et al. 2018). Barbra Meek (2010) describes what she terms “disjunctures” that impede the realization of stated language goals of enhancing fluency, which can be conceived in relation to wider sets of beliefs constituting ideological or ontological divides (Kohn 2015). In this session we examine the disjunctures between the ways local Indigenous communities and academic researchers relate to language, while also considering what could be termed “conjunctures”, the social and cultural attachments to language and how those opportunities for wider engagement can be enhanced. The session papers, all based on contemporary ethnographic accounts of language use, examine disjunctures and conjunctures as semiotic systems (Nakassis 2016) embedded in wider ideological assemblages and ontologies, including the mobilization of kinship in everyday practice (Bell 2018; Carsten 2004).
The papers in this session are united in arguing for the merits of using Indigenous language work, tools, protocols and foundational perspectives to de-colonize existing academic-Indigenous community disjunctions. The papers by Ignace and Ignace, Leonard, Twitchell, and Moore propose fundamental realignments of priorities based on identifying, limiting, and re-storying the controlling aspects of colonialism in language work to create and protect space for ancestral voices, current speakers, and future generations. Jules and Volfová examine how this can be accomplished through community-based collaborations that enhance community engagement and capacity. Boltokova considers her own fluent use of Sakha and Russian in resolving the dilemmas of engaged research, while Burge affirms the need for fundamental changes in the valuing of Indigenous languages and the work of Indigenous scholars to move beyond ineffective “feel good” initiatives.
Carsten, Janet. 2004. After Kinship. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press.
2017. Indigenous Linguists: Bringing Research into Language Revitalization. International Journal of American Linguistics. 83 (4):607-617.
2010. Language Revitalization in North America and the New Direction of Linguistics. Transforming Anthropology 18(1):35-41.
Ignace, Marianne and Ronald E. Ignace
2017. Secwépemc People, Land, and Laws: Yerí7 re Stq̓ey̓s-kucw. Montreal, Kingston. London, Chicago: McGill-Queens University Press.
2015. Anthropology of Ontologies. Annual Review of Anthropology. 44:311-327.
2010. We Are Our Language: An Ethnography of Language Revitalization in a Northern Athabaskan Community. Tucson: University of Arizona
2016. Linguistic Anthropology in 2015; Not the Study of Language. American Anthropologist 118 (2):330-345.
Schwartz, Saul and Lise Dobrin
2016. The Cultures of Native North American Language Documentation and Revitalization. Reviews in Anthropology 45(2) 88-123.
Seifart, Frank et al.
2018. Language Documentation Twenty-five Years On. Language 94(4):324-345.