Society for Linguistic Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
The ‘ontological turn’ has resulted in a renewed interested in animacy as a key framework or point of analysis when discussing the ontologies of non-European cultures and languages. Yet, these discussions of animacy reflect more of the ontologies of settler colonial academic institutions and fields than the actual communities under discussion. Utilizing a methodology of ‘stealth ethnography,’ or the study of dominant cultures, structures, and practices by those marginalized within them via embedded participant observation, I trace the ontology of language in the fields of linguistics and linguistic anthropology to their origins in white western European Christian worldviews of human exceptionalism and Euro-linguistic supremacy. In doing so, I demonstrate the inadequacies of methodologies and theories within this ontology to the study of animacy beyond binary categorizations, human-exceptionalism, and human-centric hierarchies. Rather than accessing other ontologies, these methodologies work to re-inscribe the position of unmarked and marked, norm and ‘other,’ by positioning animacy as: first and foremost the domain of humans; restricted rather than expansive; known and knowable rather than unknown and unknowable; the domain of nouns (objects) rather than verbs (processes and practices); shared across all speakers of a language rather than specific to individual and group relationalities and responsibilities; and fixed rather than changing. By demonstrating the implicit ways that our field(s) privilege specific ontologies by masquerading them as universal, objective theories and methodologies of language, this paper provides the framework for other, heretical, ontologies of animacy to be considered.