Come and join us for the next AGSA Talk – Wednesday Nov 5, 2014 12PM to 1PM

AGSA talks poster

Full Abstracts:

The Authority of Orthography: Or How to Choose a Script

Dr Mark Turin

Chair, First Nations Languages Program

Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology

The much cited political aphorism that a language is a “dialect with an army, a navy and a flag” still resonates in many locations across the world. Yet in the context of contemporary India and Nepal, where I have worked for over two decades with speech communities whose languages are at risk, the statement might be modified to position language as a “dialect with a library and its own unique writing system,” preferably accompanied by a distinct Unicode font.

For complex historical reasons dovetailing with systems of state recognition that reward Indigenous distinctiveness, there is a widespread (and increasingly instrumentalized) belief across many parts of South Asia that a one-to-one correlation between a language and unique writing system should, and can even be made to, exist.

In this brief presentation, I reflect on aspects of a longstanding research partnership with members of the Thangmi-speaking community in Nepal and India. Thangmi lexicographers and community linguists are working hard to both protect and revitalize their previously unwritten language, and are confronting complex questions about orthographic choice, alphabetical order and standardization in the process.

Unsettled Stories: Language Revitalization in Places that Insist on Speaking

Martina Volfova

PhD Student

Department of Anthropology

Much of recent research on landscape, memory, and place has focused on how relationships of political and social power influence the representation of historical events (Foote and Azaryahu 2007). Historical narratives are continually reconstructed to do work in the present and while some narratives become enshrined, others get marginalized or erased (Cruikshank 1998). “Collective histories and sentiments are interactively formed as people variously learn, argue over, celebrate, and resist representations of the past” (White 1999:507).

This paper draws on my experience conducting an ethnographic research project at the University of Utah’s Shoshone/Goshute Youth Language Apprentice Program. Language revitalization efforts aim primarily at addressing severe alterations of sociolinguistic landscapes resulting from colonial practices and policies (Meek 2010). However, the historical and symbolic significance of physical landscapes and locations where revitalization efforts are carried out remain largely unexamined and outside of the scope of these efforts. Meanings, memories, and narratives continuously emerge in these complex spaces, often “disrupting” the sediments of the official history.

I explore the positions from which different people, both Shoshone and non-Shoshone, articulate their stories, memories and understandings of history of the traditional Shoshone territory. I also address silence and argue that silence must be examined as an integral part of communicative strategies (Basso 1990; Gomez Pereira 2008). I demonstrate how material reminders of troubled past continue to resurface, not necessarily by a person’s explicit articulation of the past, but by simply physically being present on the land. Two separate, but intimately connected localities are central to this paper: the Bear River Massacre site in Southeastern Idaho, and the historic Fort Douglas military complex on the University of Utah campus.

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