Oz Aloni is a visiting assistant professor of Modern Hebrew at Middlebury College. He is also a PhD candidate in Semitic linguistics, under the supervision of Professor Geoffrey Khan at the University of Cambridge. The topic of his doctoral dissertation is the oral culture of the Northeastern Neo-Aramaic speaking Jewish community of Zakho, Kurdistan.
Abstract: Neo-Aramaic Enriched Biblical Narratives
The North Eastern Neo-Aramaic (NENA) dialects are spoken by Jewish and Assyrian-Christian communities that originate from Kurdistan. Major upheavals of the 20th century brought about the dispersion of the NENA speaking communities. All of the Jews of Kurdistan immigrated collectively to Israel in 1951. NENA presents exceptionally wide dialectal diversity: about 150 dialects are known to exist. The NENA speaking region is exceptionally diverse not only linguistically, but also religiously and ethnically. It is a rich “laboratory” for the research of both language contact and linguistic change, and the mutual influence of social and cultural patterns. This talk will provide background about the Jews of Kurdistan and their culture, and will move on to explore one genre of their oral culture: the enriched biblical epic. It will focus on examples recorded from speakers of the Jewish NENA dialect of Zakho (North Iraq), living now in Jerusalem.
Hilaria Cruz is a linguist and a native speaker of San Juan Quiahije Chatino, an endangered Zapotecan language, spoken in Oaxaca, Mexico. She earned her PhD in linguistics at the University of Texas at Austin and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Kentucky. She is a founding member of the Chatino Language Documentation Project, a group that documents and studies the language with the aim to both advance linguistics and respect the wishes of the Chatino people by promoting and honoring their language. Her research interests include morphology, corpus linguistics, language documentation and revitalization, and verbal art.
Abstract: How to Write Chatino Right, Right Now
Post-colonial educational public policies that compel public schools to teach using western languages, such as Spanish, English, or Portuguese, have proven to be an effective tool in eradicating the vast linguistic and cultural diversity on the American continent. Chatino speakers in Mexico have been working since 2003 to reverse Chatino language loss by conducting scientific studies on the language, creating pedagogical materials, promoting Chatino on social media, and leading writing workshops in Chatino communities. Chatino speakers have also confronted misperceptions by Spanish speakers that indigenous languages are not real languages and, in doing so, have demonstrated that Chatino and other indigenous languages are as equipped for communication as any other language.
Sonia N. Das
Sonia N. Das is an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at New York University. She received her PhD in linguistic anthropology at the University of Michigan, and was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia and visiting professor at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales. Her NSF and ACSUS-funded research in Québec was published as Linguistic Rivalries: Tamil Migrants and Anglo-Franco Conflicts with Oxford University Press in 2016. Other research interests include Tamil linguistics in nineteenth-century French India, face-to-face interactions and digital communication among Asian seafarers, and infrastructure projects in Indian and American port cities.
Abstract: Failed Legacies of Colonial Linguistics: Lessons from Tamil books in French India and French Guiana
The archives of two failing colonies from the mid-nineteenth century, French India and French Guiana, elucidate the legacy of colonial linguistics by drawing attention to the ideological and technological natures of printing and far-reaching and longstanding consequences of the European objectification of Indian vernaculars. The French in India advanced the scientific study of Tamil through a press operated by the Paris Foreign Missions that also shipped bilingual books to Catholic schools attended by children of indentured laborers in French Guiana. Analyzing their linguistic forms, metalinguistic commentaries, publicity tactics, citational practices, and circulation histories, this talk will show how religious and scientific movements contributed to Orientalist knowledge production by institutionalizing semiotic ideologies about “error” and “perfectibility” in written languages and texts. Using a comparative approach to situate Tamil linguistics within a transnational field encompassing rival countries and missionary orders illuminates the evolving relationship between technology, multilingualism, and imperialism during the nineteenth century.
James L. Fitzsimmons
James L. Fitzsimmons received his PhD from Harvard University in 2002. He has held writing fellowships at Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collections in Washington, D.C., and the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom. His research interests include the following: anthropology of death, rise of complex societies, and origins of writing. In addition to his articles and book chapters, Fitzsimmons is the author or editor of five books, including Death and the Classic Maya Kings (University of Texas Press, 2009) and Classic Maya Polities of the Southern Lowlands (co-edited with Damien Marken; University of Colorado Press, 2015).
Abstract: A Spectrum of Literacy: Writing and the ancient Maya
Most scholars would agree that ancient Maya had the most complex, sophisticated writing system in Precolumbian Mesoamerica. From the third century BC to the Spanish Conquest, the Maya carved or painted hieroglyphics in virtually every media available. To some of us, it might seem that the Maya created a problematic system. It is impossible to write quickly or in shorthand; it refuses to express ideas rapidly. What makes this writing system fascinating is that problems like these are intentional: for the ruling class, broad illiteracy was a key part of statecraft. The emphasis on complex, interwoven imagery and esoteric information in the inscriptions was one of the ways in which they attempted to control information. This paper will examine the degree to which that control was successful, looking at archaeological case studies that blur the line between literacy and illiteracy, from ancient Maya commoners to kings.
Stephanie Ann Frampton
Stephanie Ann Frampton is a scholar of classics and of the history of media in antiquity. Her research focuses on the intersections of material and literary culture in ancient Rome and the Mediterranean. Her first book, Alphabetic Order: A History of the Book in Augustan Rome, will be published with Harvard University Press next year. She has been a recipient of numerous awards, including a “Rome Prize” from the American Academy in Rome and a Mellon Fellowship in Critical Bibliography from the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia. She is an associate professor of literature at MIT.
Abstract: Learning to Write in the West
Of 6000 world languages, fewer than one third are written. Of that third—some 2000 languages—nearly a quarter are written in the Roman alphabet, which is only one of fifty global writing systems. This talk will chart the alphabet that would later come to dominate the inscriptional culture around the globe from its origins in the late Bronze Age Mediterranean, where it emerged out of the intense exchange among a variety of cultures. In particular, the talk will argue that from its first appearance the Roman alphabet—our alphabet—was a deeply multicultural and historical technology, tying the Romans in visible ways to the communities that surrounded them. This represents a continuity with our own experience of the alphabet as an instrument of change in the increasingly globalized modern world, from Gutenberg’s press to the QWERTY keyboard, but it is also evidence of the profoundly local meanings made by even the most common writing systems across time and space.
Joshua L. Freeman
Joshua L. Freeman completed his MA in Uyghur literature at Xinjiang Normal University in Ürümchi, China, and is currently a PhD candidate in Inner Asian and Altaic Studies at Harvard University. His upcoming dissertation, tentatively titled Print Communism: Uyghur Literary Canon between China and the USSR, focuses on a key group of Uyghur intellectuals who mobilized socialist cultural policies to substantially reshape Uyghur culture and identity. In addition to his academic work, he has published numerous translations of Uyghur modernist poetry.
Abstract: From Cultural Periphery to Cultural Capital: Ili and the making of modern Uyghur culture
In China’s Xinjiang province, the Turkic-speaking Muslims of the Ili region were considered somewhat provincial by their brethren elsewhere in Xinjiang until the twentieth century. Yet by the 1950s, the inhabitants of the Ili Valley—now known, like Xinjiang’s other Turkic-speaking agriculturalists, as Uyghurs—came to be seen as the vanguard of the Uyghur people. This talk will explain that remarkable shift by looking to the west. In the early twentieth century, Russian and then Soviet influence was stronger in Ili than elsewhere in Xinjiang, a fact which made Ili’s Uyghur population uniquely well prepared to take a leading role once socialism came to Xinjiang. In addition, Uyghurs of Ili origin dominated the Soviet Union’s small Uyghur diaspora, a community whose cultural influence in Xinjiang was magnified by Soviet power and prestige. By the 1950s, these factors had largely enabled Ili intellectuals to shape Uyghur culture in their own image.
Ana Luisa Gediel
Ana Luisa Gediel has been a professor at Federal University of Viçosa in the Minas Gerais state of Brazil since 2010. She holds teaching appointments in the Department of Languages, the Graduate Program of Applied Linguistics, and the Graduate Program of Social Anthropology. She obtained her PhD in social anthropology in 2010 from Federal University of Porto Alegre in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. Recently, she finished a postdoctoral program in linguistic anthropology at UCLA’s Center of Language, Interaction and Culture (CLIC). Her dissertation and current research focus on sociability between members of the deaf community through the internet in Brazil.
Abstract: Sign Language Mediated by Digital Technology as a Link to Build Cultural Identities
In 2002, Brazil’s National Congress passed a federal law that recognized Brazilian Sign Language (LIBRAS) as a form of communication and expression for Deaf people (BRASIL, 2002). This legal status helped Deaf Brazilians advocate for access to an entire culture of signed language. Deaf Brazilian leaders started to disseminate their ideas and built strategies for the promotion of LIBRAS by YouTube. This proposal presents the status of LIBRAS by espousing ideological connections between LIBRAS and Deaf cultural identity. The subjects of the videos connect Deaf community members in their own language and promote specific aspects of deafness. This study was based on an ethnographic online approach, in which we argue that digital technology is a vehicle to disseminate Deaf leaders’ message about the value of LIBRAS in Brazil. Furthermore, ideologies linking LIBRAS and Deaf Brazilian identity are embedded in these discourses.
Wah Guan Lim
Wah Guan Lim is an assistant professor of Chinese at Bard College in New York. He is a scholar of transnational Chinese literature and theater. Currently, he is completing a book manuscript that examines the politics of culture and performance across Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, and Singapore in the 1980s. He received his BA from the University of New South Wales, MSt in Chinese studies from Oxford University, MA in East Asian studies from Princeton University, and PhD in Asian literature, religion, and culture from Cornell University.
Abstract: Theatre of Rebellion: Danny Yung and political Hong Kong theatre
No other date has had a greater impact on the lives of Hongkongers in its recent history than the year 1997. For the decade after the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration that sealed Hong Kong’s impending return to the People’s Republic of China, its dramatic stage was flooded primarily by a genre of production known as the “1997 plays,” which on-the-one-hand imagined what life would be like in the post-handover period and on the other reminisced upon a nostalgic colonial past. This talk will focus on the pioneering efforts by Hong Kong’s foremost avant-garde dramatist Danny Yung and his experimental theatre group Zuni Icosahedron. I argue that Yung’s Opium War—Four Letters Addressed to Deng Xiaoping (1984) not only spearheaded the “1997 plays” that precipitated a dialogic discourse about identity, but also distinguished itself by employing paradigm shifts with which to view the normally assumed Hong Kong-Chinese power dynamic. As a result, it gave voice to Hong Kong subjectivity while also accelerating deep reflection and critique about what it means to be Chinese.
Bruce Mannheim is a professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan and a leading linguistic anthropologist, who studies the interrelations among language, culture, and history, particularly in South America. His publications span the disciplines of anthropology, linguistics, and colonial Latin American history, and include collaborations in psychology, bioarchaeology, and history of art. He is editor, with Dennis Tedlock, of The Dialogic Emergence of Culture; and with Alan Durston of Authority, Hierarchy, and the Indigenous Languages of Latin America. His current research project is a theory of cultural replication—the ways in which cultural forms are stabilized across time and spread across populations. He is currently completing a book, The Horn of Time, which is the first step in that project.
Abstract: Indexicals and Interdiscursivities
Culture and politics are often found in nooks and crannies of everyday life, part of a nuanced, interdiscursive network of knowledge and practice, connected to each other through multiple, cross-cutting indexicals. The job of ethnographers and historians is to trace these as formally and precisely as possible, to discover the macrocosm of people’s lives in their microcosmic practices. This talk will make a case for textual microanalysis as a primary analytical tool of historians and ethnographers, drawing on interdiscursive relationships between a southern Quechua song and textile, readable not by generalizing to an abstract matrix (“cosmology”) but horizontally through the fine structure of the objects themselves.
Laura Miller is the Ei’ichi Shibusawa-Seigo Arai Endowed Professor of Japanese Studies and a professor of anthropology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She has published more than 70 articles and book chapters on Japanese culture and language, including topics such as English loanwords in Japanese, girls’ slang, self-photography, elevator girls, and the wizard Abeno Seimei. She is the author of Beauty Up: Exploring Contemporary Japanese Body Aesthetics (University of California Press, 2006), and co-editor of three other books. Miller is currently doing research on the Japanese divination industry and on the ancient shaman ruler named Himiko.
Abstract: Reifu Talismans in Japan: From secret transmission to commonplace symbol
A reifu (霊符) is a paper talisman with a unique pseudo-script written on it. Normally, reifu are prepared according to procedures passed down through oral transmission between religious practitioners and their adepts. This talk will trace the history of reifu and highlight some of the ways they are being created and used in contemporary Japan. A change in the technology of reifu production has moved their manufacture out of the hands of ritual specialists and into a range of easily accessible public domains. Egalitarian access to reifu through reproduction in books, magazines, manga, and on the internet has shifted control and distribution away from a religious context into new realms. This talk will explore how reifu have been resurrected from their status as a marginal, semi-secret writing practice to become a widely known symbol of the supernatural and the magical in popular culture.
Gonzalo Fernández Parrilla
Gonzalo Fernández Parrilla has been an associate professor of Arabic language and literature at University Autónoma of Madrid since 2006, and director of the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies since 2016. He is the author of a history of modern Moroccan literature, La literatura marroquí contemporánea. He is also the director of Memorias del Mediterráneo, a series of Works of Arabic literature published in Spanish translation by Ediciones del Oriente y del Mediterráneo, and he has translated from Arabic into Spanish the works of Moroccan writers such as Abdallah Laroui and Rachid Nini. In 2012, he served as a judge for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction.
Abstract: From Indigenous to Catalan (Is it possible?): Shifting paradigms of identity in the Spanish postcolonial context
It is well known that Morocco generated an important postcolonial literature in French. Authors such as Tahar Ben Jelloun won prestigious literary awards, and their merits are recognized both in Morocco and France. Though less known, Morocco also produced a postcolonial literature in Spanish. However, Hispanophone Maghribi authors have not yet been able to make inroads into the Spanish literary scene and academia. The only author to overcome this situation of marginality has been Najat El Hachmi, a diasporic Moroccan-Amazigh author writing in Catalan. In 2008 she won the prestigious Ramon Llul literature award with L’ultim patriarca (The Last Patriarch), a true turning point to this situation. Since her first book, Jo també sóc catalana (I Am Catalan Too), El Hachmi has been asking important questions: When does a migrant stop being an immigrant? And, how long does it take to leave behind colonial indigeneity to become indigenous (meaning local)?
Laurie L. Patton
Laurie L. Patton is a professor of religion at Middlebury and its 17th president. She is the author or editor of nine books in South Asian religions, two books of poetry, and over fifty articles. She has also translated the Bhagavad Gita for the Penguin Classics Series. Her newest monograph, Who Owns Religion? Scholars and Their Publics in the Late 20th Century, is forthcoming from University of Chicago Press. Her third book of poems, HouseCycle, will be coming out from Station Hill Press in 2017. She is now working on a new monograph: Grandmother Language: Women, Sanskrit and Identity in Postcolonial India.
Abstract: “My Knowledge Is Only from Books”: Textuality, orality, and literacy of women Sanskritists in postcolonial India
With the massive entry of brahmin men from traditional Hindu families into the more lucrative fields of science, technology, and engineering, in postcolonial India the sacred Hindu language of Sanskrit has become the expertise of women as well as men. Working from 90 oral life histories of women Sanskritists, this paper addresses the ways in which these women negotiate orality, textuality, and literacy in their postcolonial environments. My findings reveal that women have taken on new roles as necessary caretakers of a classical language that has been prohibited to them for millennia. Yet they do so in a historical moment when the originally oral, religious language of Sanskrit has become a humanities subject of Indology, where written publications are the norm. Oral recitation and memorization remain traditional forms of prestigious brahminical knowledge, and these women participate in such public practices. In doing so, they compare themselves to the men who were their teachers, fathers, and brothers. However, they understand their work as humanist scholars who publish as a separate activity—less religious, less traditionally prestigious, and more global in its reach. Their written work is understood as the domestic, and therefore female, labor necessary to maintain a field.
Francisco Javier Perea Siller
F. Javier Perea Siller is a Hispanic philologist and a professor in the Department of Language Sciences at the University of Córdoba, Spain. His research interests focus on Spanish linguistics as well as the cultural aspects of linguistics during the Renaissance. Two representative books are La lengua primitiva de España en el Renacimiento. La hipótesis hebrea y caldea (Granada, Método, 2005) and Comunicar en la Universidad: Descripción y metodología de los géneros académicos (Córdoba, Universidad de Córdoba, 2013, editor). In 2015, he was curator of the exhibition “Sendas de la Torá. El legado del judaísmo en el Renacimiento cristiano” (Provincial Historical Archive, Córdoba).
Abstract: Hebrew Language and Inquisition Censorship: The crisis of post-Tridentine Spanish humanism
This talk aims to examine the role of the Hebrew language, as a language of the Bible, in shaping Catholic identity in Spain during the 16th century. This was a period of change in Spanish society; after Jews were expelled in 1492 there was an effort to assimilate converts. The Hebrew language and its exegetical texts were placed in the middle of a confrontation between two schools of thought: on the one side, some thinkers aimed to protect Christendom from Jewish influence; on the other side, some theologians (mostly converts) praised the Hebrew language and its traditions as the best means to understand the Old Testament and, therefore, as important parts of Christian identity. Thus, this talk hopes to contribute to the analysis of the ideological aspects involved in the controversy after the Council of Trent.
James Riggan is a PhD candidate in the history and ethnography of religions at Florida State University. His research focuses on material approaches to Islamic traditions. His current project examines Qur’anic healing in Morocco.
Abstract: There’s an App for That: The democratization of texts and Qur’anic healing in Morocco
This presentation will offer a materialist approach to Qur’anic healing that is grounded in ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Fez, Morocco. The primary focus is the ways in which text technologies influence the practices of ruqya shar’iyya, a widely practiced method of Qur’anic healing and exorcism that emphasizes an oral recitation of textual sources. Smartphones, as a widely accessible and multisensory medium, are shaping the ways in which Qur’anic healing is practiced in Morocco. Through downloadable applications, messaging services, and access to social networking websites, smartphones shape the contours of how many practitioners learn about, discuss, and participate in the practice of ruqya shar’iyya. Subsequently, smartphones allow participants to use a distinguishing feature of the hegemonic modernity in order to present an alternative modernity centered on scriptural healing practices.
Doug Slaymaker is a professor of Japanese at the University of Kentucky. His research focuses on literature and art of the twentieth century, with particular interest in the literature of post-3.11 Japan, and on animals and the environment. Other research projects examine Japanese writers and artists traveling to France. This research was funded by the Fulbright Program, the Social Science Research Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Library of Congress Kluge Center, and other agencies. He is most recently the translator of Furukawa Hideo’s Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure (Columbia University Press).
Abstract: Animal Writing in Tawada Yōko’s The Snow Apprentice
When Knut takes up a pen to write, there is little to remark upon until we realize that the 手/te/hand holding the pen is a手/te/paw, because Knut is a panda bear in Germany. Tawada Yōko’s Yuki no renshūsei (The Snow Apprentice; Susan Bernofsky’s translation from the German is entitled Memoirs of a Polar Bear) is about a way to imagine and narrate animal voices. The Snow Apprentice grapples with complex issues, such as how to represent the subjectivity of a non-human being. Much of the novel is narrated by a polar bear; this provides a forum to talk about other issues such as animal rights, environmental issues, and the ramifications of animals being raised by humans. It is also a novel about the process of writing. Tawada has long written of the complexities of travel in a globalized world and the power dynamics of identity tethered to language. The Snow Apprentice moves the focus to the borders of the human and non-human, and to the means and medium of writing. I will explore the ramifications this has for identity formation.
Anthony K. Webster
Anthony K. Webster is a linguistic anthropologist and author of the books Explorations in Navajo Poetry and Poetics (UNM, 2009) and Intimate Grammars: An Ethnography of Navajo Poetry (Arizona, 2015). His research focuses on the interplay between language, culture, the individual, and the imagination. He has published articles on Navajo ethnopoetics and Navajo language and culture in, among others, the Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, International Journal of American Linguistics, Anthropological Linguistics, Language in Society, Anthropology and Humanism, Journal of Anthropological Research, Semiotica, and the Journal of American Folklore. He is currently working on a book about translating contemporary Navajo poetry.
Abstract: Poetry as Equipment for Living: Imagining Navajo on the page and on the Internet
This talk will consider the imagined future publics of Navajos who write poetry in a variety of languages, especially in Navajo, and how considerations of those publics may disincline Navajos to write in Navajo, but create emergent vitalities elsewhere. As more than one Navajo poet noted, there are “always Navajos who will say to you, ‘oh you spelled it wrong.’” I will discuss how such potential critical audiences of written Navajo poetry seem to have led to the emergence of poetry composed and performed in Navajo on YouTube. Here there is no written poetry in Navajo, but rather poetry as an aural/oral phenomenon. It also re-imagines a future public not of just Navajos understanding Navajo, but rather of Navajo as a language worth coming to know. It posits a broader kind of ethical listener and attempts to create an expansive poetic communion predicated on poetry as equipment for living.
Malgorzata Zadka is an assistant professor of linguistics at the Institute of Classical Studies, University of Wroclaw, Poland. Her doctoral research (completed in 2010) focused on Cretan script Linear A and its place among other Bronze Age Aegean writing systems. In her current research, she concentrates on how scripts reflect language and cognition. She especially deals with writing systems combining logographic and phonographic elements, as well as different forms of proto-writing and early graphic codes.
Abstract: Creating Identity through Writing: A case of ancient Greek vase inscriptions
The aim of this talk is to offer a new explanation for the function of Greek vase inscriptions: a tool for creating social identity. A large group of vases from the Archaic and Classical periods displays inscriptions accompanied by representations of people and gods—the inscriptions’ function largely remains unclear. In previous attempts to understand them, attention has been paid to inscriptions’ arrangement in a vase’s graphic composition, to the meaning of words, and to relationships with the literary tradition. By linking the inscriptions with their cultural background, this paper will aim to show that in classical Athens, understanding short words on vases could bring their readers satisfaction through knowing and using this new, intriguing medium. By recognizing words written on vases, even without reading them properly, one could feel connection with both Greek cultural tradition and an elite group of literate people.