Interaction and Culture Across Languages: Perspectives from Field Linguistics

Interaction and Culture Across Languages: Perspectives from Field Linguistics

Friday, April 8, 2016/ 1:30-3:30 PM
Education 1205

Graduate students in the UCSB Department of Linguistics will present their recent research at the intersection of language documentation and interactional analysis.

“Tea Ceremonies and Consonant Mutation: Repetition in Nivkh Discourse as a Means of Preservation”
Dibella Caminski  (Linguistics, UCSB)

In this paper, Caminski examines how repetition is used to preserve grammatical features in the discourse of speakers of Nivkh, an endangered isolate language of Siberia. Nivkh exhibits initial consonant mutation, an unusual grammatical feature that quickly being lost due to pressure from Russian. Initial consonant mutation is a fundamental part of Nivkh grammar; it is obligatory in extremely common constructions, such as transitive verbs with overt direct objects. Repetition not only reinforces this obligatory grammatical feature, but it is also a tool employed by speakers to co-construct narratives of the past and thus preserve cultural knowledge. Using two archived Nivkh conversations, Caminski shows that repetition is used to co-construct narratives about the past and cultural rituals such as tea drinking. However, she also demonstrates that more knowledgeable speakers use the repetition of verbs exhibiting initial consonant mutation to correct interlocutors’ grammatical errors, thereby helping to preserve this unique grammatical feature. In addition, this exploration highlights the importance of natural discourse in language documentation projects.

“How to Become a Kisii Folktale: Generic Features of Moralizing Narratives among the Gusii People of Kenya”
Daniel Hieber (Linguistics, UCSB)

Among the Gusii people of southwest Kenya, there is a particular kind of narrative genre, referred to as ‘folktales’ (ómogano (sg.), émegano (pl.)), that are considered a central part of Gusii culture, and are meant to impart moral lessons to their audiences. This paper describes the way that narrators establish the moralizing authority of these folktales by minimizing the intertextual gaps between them, actively constructing them as traditional or ancient, drawing on culturally-recognized character types that invoke certain moral stances in the audience, and by downplaying the narrator’s role in the performance as a means of objectifying the narrative. It is these moralizing features that define the genre ‘folktale’ for the Gusii.

“Negotiations of Ethnicity among Rma-Speaking Tibetans: Language as a Tool for Ethnogenesis”
Nathaniel Sims (Linguistics, UCSB)

Rma is an indigenous Tibeto-Burman language spoken by about 80,000 people in the mountainous region of Western Sichuan, China. Historically, Rma-speaking peoples were not incorporated into larger systems of governance (Scott 2014). Shortly after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the People’s Liberation Army invaded this region and its residents were subjugated to Chinese rule and classification. Rma speakers were subsequently divided into two different ethnic groups, “Qiang” and “Tibetan”. Although there has been a growing body of descriptive linguistic research on the Rma language (Evans & Sun 2013), as well as anthropological research on the political and historical factors involved in Rma speakers being officially designated either as Qiang (Meakin 2004) or as Tibetans (Wang 2000), there is a dearth of work examining the ways that Rma-speaking Tibetans have responded to these classifications, how they view themselves, and how other groups perceive them. This paper attempts to fill this gap in the literature through an ethnographic study involving Rma speakers belonging to both Qiang and Tibetan ethnicities. I focus on the ways speakers use language to position themselves in relation to other Rma speakers as well as Mandarin and Tibetan speakers, and how ethnonyms have evolved to take on new meanings and interact with existing forms of local identity.

Sponsored by the IHC’s Language, Interaction, and Social Organization (LISO) Research Focus Group and Interdisciplinary PhD Emphasis.