Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Editorial note

The twelve extended abstracts that follow are work by junior scholars from the 2009 edition of the course Language and Societies. The authors are undergraduate, master’s, and Ph.D. students in anthropology and linguistics at Wayne State University.


April 17, 2009 Posted by | Editor | Leave a comment

Linking How Cities are Imagined and How They are Made: A Critical Approach to Discourse and Communicative Practice in the Suburbs of Metropolitan Detroit

Linking How Cities are Imagined and How They are Made: A Critical Approach to Discourse and Communicative Practice in the Suburbs of Metropolitan Detroit
Elizabeth Wright Engles

A critical analysis of space, how it is imagined, represented, produced and consumed by social actors, is necessary for an anthropological understanding of urban life. This proposed research seeks to explicate the relationship between the social construction of space and the nature of communicative practices.

Relying on Bourdieu’s work on communicative practice, and methods derived from critical social theory, specifically critical discourse analysis, a historical investigation into the social construction of space in the suburbs of Detroit will serve as a framework for understanding the linguistic capital of the suburbs. Ideas about the ways in which space and time are represented influence social actors’ patterns of behavior in space, and those social activities, in turn, reinforce the social ordering of space and time. These ideas about the ways in which space and time are represented are ‘made visible’ in the form of social discourse.

Discourses, verbally in the form of Homeowners’ Association meetings, and textually in the form of residential covenants/by laws and local newspaper stories, were analyzed in order to investigate the link between how cities are imagined and how they are constructed.

This research investigated two related questions:

What is the relationship between how cities are imagined and how they are constructed, and then what sorts of social relations are made possible by cities constructed in particular ways, with particular ideological beliefs embedded within their constructions?

How do specific types of communicative practices—discursive trends relating to the nature of urban life in the post World War II era—contribute to the contemporary state of affairs within the suburban areas?

A literature review of historical, social theory, and anthropological works revealed patterns relating the social imagining of the suburbs as a place distinctive from the city. Paying close attention to the history of restrictive residential covenants, this research can make some conclusions about the nature of contemporary communicative practices in the suburbs.

With regards to the Homeowners’ Association meeting case study, attendees displayed their linguistic capital by seeking authority from the subdivision bylaws. They used the bylaws to promote their ideas about community and the desired appearance of the subdivision. Similarly, a local newspaper relayed suburban residents’ discontents over their neighbor’s failure to pay their yearly dues—the type of social discourse seems to arise out of residents’ failure to behave in historically, socially imagined ways. In conclusion, the history of social discourse on the suburbs reciprocally reinforces the construction of the suburbs and social behavior in the suburbs.

April 17, 2009 Posted by | abstract | 3 Comments

Religious Text Manipulation in Saudi Arabia: Women Driving and Cinema

Religious Text Manipulation in Saudi Arabia: Women Driving and Cinema
Abdullah Alfaifi

Saudi Arabia is a theology-centric country. The true dynamic of people’s lives are the religious texts and their interpretations by the Ulama (religious scholars). This paper sheds light on some research that has proved that different interpretations of the Islamic religious texts are possible. It uses the prohibition of women driving and attending cinema, two current hot issues inside Saudi Arabia, as examples of the manipulation of the Islamic religious texts and their interpretations by fundamentalist Ulama.

April 17, 2009 Posted by | abstract | 3 Comments

How Language Shapes our Attitudes and Treatment of Non-Human Animals

How Language Shapes our Attitudes and Treatment of Non-Human Animals
Elizabeth Guglielmotti

The linguistic relativity hypothesis claims that the structure and content of language significantly affects the way speakers of that language think, classify, and experience the world. Governments, education systems, popular culture, and religions are major influences which affect how humans view and treat non-human animals. Within these sectors, language is a fundamental tool for conveying desired messages. How important is language in regards to the relationship between humans and non-human animals? Do personal values influence language use when speaking about non-human animals, or, is it that language influences personal values, or both? This paper investigates these questions using the linguistic relativity hypothesis proposed by Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf.

The reviewed literature on human-animal relations and the role of language presented in this paper has been taken from the journal of Society and Animals. Through this literature review, the consensus found is that language use is the most influential factor contributing to the social construction of non-human animals. This point is important because the way society views non-human animals directly affects how they are treated. Language used to speak about the animal world is significantly and directly influencing the way people place themselves into the environment and establishes their role and responsibilities in their surroundings. If language plays such a significant role in developing society’s attitudes about animals, then I would ask why animal advocacy organizations don’t move away from presenting themselves to society as self-righteous through dramatized spectacles, which only further segregates people into caring about animal issues. More focus and money should be targeted at the institutions which are presenting animals in a certain way through language.

April 17, 2009 Posted by | abstract | 4 Comments

Perspectives on Turn-Taking and Recent Features of Online Chat Communication

Perspectives on Turn-Taking and Recent Features of Online Chat Communication
Veronica Machak

In the face of changing technology, speakers employ strategies that integrate and exploit new features and media as they change. One example of such a change is the introduction of the “is typing” feature in the Gmail and Facebook chat interfaces, which indicates when a person is entering text that has not yet been sent. Building on the research on face-to-face communication, turn-taking and floor-holding (Sacks, Schlegloff, and Jefferson 1974, Schlegloff 2000), and chat communication (Garcia and Jacobs 1999, Schonfeldt and Golato 2003), this paper addresses the following research questions: Are chat users aware of the “is typing” feature on Facebook and Gmail? Do they have conscious knowledge of whether it affects their chat rhythms and strategies, and if so, what is the effect?

In order to gather perspectives on the “is typing” feature of chat communication, interviews were conducted via Gmail chat with respondents familiar with the interface. Respondents were asked about their general experiences with chat, their perspectives about the difference between the chat interface and other forms of communication, such as face-to-face and telephone conversations, and their awareness of the “is typing” feature and its effect, if any, on their chat strategies.

All of the respondents were aware of the “is typing” feature in the Gmail chat interface. The strategies respondents used in light of this feature varied, however. Some reported it had no effect on their chat style. Some considered the “is typing” feature an indication that their conversation partner was going to take the floor in the conversation and were more likely to stop other computer activities and withhold an utterance they were preparing until their conversation partner finished theirs. Other respondents noted the feature was a reminder that chat communication is not fully synchronous.

This research is intended as a pilot study to gauge the general opinions of chat users. A larger study focused on conversational analysis of chat conversations would provide more insight into the effects of the “is typing” feature and the differences, if any, between the participants’ perception of their strategies and actual strategies employed. Such a study would benefit from capturing keystrokes and video feeds from the monitors of interlocutors in order to measure abandoned and repaired utterances in the face of the “is typing” display on the screen.

April 17, 2009 Posted by | abstract | 4 Comments

Twitter Fights: The Internet as a Communication Medium for Dispute

Twitter Fights: The Internet as a Communication Medium for Dispute
Victoria Y. Hill

This paper examines the use of the Internet as a medium of exchange between individuals involved in a dispute. The microblogging website, Twitter, allows users to post short (140 characters or fewer) updates about themselves and what they are doing. The site also allows users to post direct responses to other users’ updates. Arguments that take place using these functions are the focus of this paper. The first example used is a dispute that took place between a news reporter and a public relations professional. The second example to be analyzed took place between two Hollywood celebrities: one, a young actor and the other, a well-known celebrity gossip blogger and television personality.

The “Twitter fights” which take place between these pairs of individuals were highly publicized (on the Internet) and are analyzed in this paper using previous linguistic research on written communication and the language of disputes. Contextual details are important to dispute analysis and can be difficult to establish for verbal disputes, but I argue that the use of the Internet as a medium of exchange and the nature of information storage makes it easier to determine the contextual details that surround a dispute. Affect displays have been studied in written language and email communication and are regarded as having developed a more emotional quality over time. I propose that affect displays are also significant components of communications made using microblogging websites such as Twitter, especially during disputes such as those examined here. These disputes are analyzed in terms of how much contextual information is available about each and emotional language indicators and content. This research will contribute to the growing body of literature that studies the development of language and communication using the Internet as a medium of exchange.

April 17, 2009 Posted by | abstract | 2 Comments

Gender and Swearing: A Free Listing Approach

Gender and Swearing: A Free Listing Approach
Beth A. Kersey

This paper explores the topic of gender and swearing in a modern context and outlines research by Jennifer Coates, Deborah Tannen, Karyn Stapleton, and others. This research uncovers gendered differences in the knowledge of swear words. Do men and women have similar quantities of swears in their mental inventory? Are there prevalent differences between women’s salient swearwords versus men’s? What are the most and least popular swear words known by men and women? Do women use swear words as much as men do?

This research included a free listing survey approach. Twenty men and twenty women participated via online and face-to-face communication. Participants were asked to write a list of swear words that they knew, taking only a few moments. The participants were not given any guidelines as to what defines a swear word. The free list approach gives the participants an opportunity to interpret the definition of swear word. The results of these lists provided the means for an in-depth data analysis of gender and swearing.

The findings of the free list survey answered the original research questions, and also offered additional interesting information on the topic of gender and swearing. First, the male participants provided a combined total of 382 swear words and the females provided 284. Although it is clear that the men provided more swear words, they included many of the same swears as the female participants included in their lists. Secondly, the females more readily participated in the free list survey. Male participants, both in online and face-to-face communication, needed reassurance that the request for a list of swear words was not a joke. Furthermore, certain swear words like “bitch” and “ass” were included in almost every list, yet they seem to have become milder or acceptable swears. Finally, male participants predominantly listed racial slurs; only two of the twenty females included racial slurs while eleven of the twenty males included racial slurs. In addition, no participants, male or female, listed a racial slur in the first five swears listed, but included these swears near or at the bottom of their lists.

Future research on gender and swearing will include an in-depth hypothesis regarding the specific use of racial slurs. In addition, it would be interesting to perform conversational analysis of women and men using swear words in everyday situations.

April 17, 2009 Posted by | abstract | 15 Comments

Humanities Programs in Community Colleges

Humanities Programs in Community Colleges
Etta Marie Kallis

Currently across the United States, there are increasing rates of students enrolling in Community Colleges everywhere. Everyone from adults with career changes to high school students starting out are found within the confines of Macomb Community College, Michigan. Humanities courses are still a common course subject, either as a pre-requisite, or by choice, that almost all students take. As costs of college rise, along with the need for more specialized students, do the Humanities courses taught at Macomb Community College have justification?

During the winter semester in 2009, a pilot study was conducted using students enrolled in 1210 Introduction to the Humanities. They were asked a question, “As students, do you feel there is a need for the Humanities program at Macomb Community College, or do you feel otherwise?” The students responded in one to one and half page summaries of their thoughts about this topic. The papers were then coded for certain text phrases, categorized, and placed in an appendix for review. Not just these papers were considered when reviewing this question. The use of cultural transmission (Spindler and Spindler), transmitting the values of diverse cultures through education was also considered.

In conclusion, it appears that the majority of students at Macomb Community College, during the winter 2009 semester, overall have an appreciation for the Humanities, indicating a justification for a Humanities program. Although a pilot study, towards linguistic and possibly educational anthropology, this study may help provide one linguistic method that an anthropologist might use in future field work. Obviously more ethnographic data and field work is needed; however, this technique could be replicated into a bigger framework.

April 17, 2009 Posted by | abstract | 1 Comment

People and Place Names in Pre-Inka Northern Ecuador

People and Place Names in Pre-Inka Northern Ecuador
Dan Davis

There is an extended ethnohistorical record in South America in general, and Ecuador specifically, which traces the languages spoken before the Inka invasion. In northern Ecuador, the ethnohistorical record is mainly comprised of the writings of authors such as Jacinto Jijón y Caamaño, Horacio Larrain Barros, Chantal Caillavet, Galo Ramón Valarezo, and Frank Salomon. This tradition is contributed to and critiqued in this essay. Between these authors, a sometimes clear, sometimes evasive image emerges of such languages as Pasto, Panzaleo, and Karanki. Ethnohistorical data concerning Karanki, a language of Pre-Inka northern Ecuador which ceased to be spoken around 250 years ago, is cited from the above record and incorporated with findings from other disciplines.

This essay is an effort to clarify the understanding Andean scholars have of the pre-Inka speakers of Karanki, including such groups as the Karanki and Kayambi, by using data from a variety of sources, such as the archaeological and linguistic records, and ethnographic data. The broader ethnohistorical, linguistic, and archaeological picture which has emerged for pre-Inka northern Ecuador is clarified and examined in the light of ethnographic data collected from the town of La Chimba, in northern Pichincha province near the Pichincha-Imbabura border. Anthroponymy and toponymy are employed to analyze some of the surnames and place names from the area. Using interviews and local printed materials, a sample of 42 place names and 131 surnames was collected from La Chimba. These names are then linked to some of the locations and language groups in the area, taking in to account known and potential migration patterns.

An analysis of the place names in the area shows that the majority of toponyms have their origin in the Spanish, Kichwa, and Karanki languages. An analysis of surnames in La Chimba is generally consistent with residents’ claims that they are ethnic Kayambis (exemplified by the presence of the name ending –ango, often cited as belonging to the Karanki language). The analysis also shows evidence of the influx of mitmaes (colonizers moved into areas by the Inka) from the area of Quinche and Pambamarca, north of Quito, an influx which has been documented by ethnohistorians such as Larrain Barros (1980). The analysis also points to another possible migration which may have occurred from the Pasto region, though this is not substantiated by the ethnohistorical record. Potential areas for further inquiry include expanding the research to include the Pasto and Quinche/Pambamarca areas, which may have been the origins of many of the surnames present in La Chimba today, as well in Ankara, where many Karanki and Kayambi warriors were moved as mitmaes after their defeat by the Inka.

April 17, 2009 Posted by | abstract | 5 Comments

English Used in Japanese Advertisements

English Used in Japanese Advertisements
Caitlin Richardson

The use of English in Japanese advertisements is pervasive. English is used on shop signs, packaging, clothing, print billboards and television commercials. This paper examines how English is used in print advertisements, brand names and shop signs. This paper fits into the study of the linguistic landscape in Japan by researchers like Peter Backhaus and Laura MacGregor. This paper is a literature review with an analysis of Japanese advertisements. Japanized English, a term used by Miranda Kendrick, is the use of English by Japanese people and is also pejoratively called Engrish and Japlish. Japanized English is not what a native English speaker would consider grammatical or pragmatically appropriate in a similar setting in an English-speaking country. Borrowing English words and syntax on advertisements is a common practice in Japan. English brings attention and adds a level of creativity to advertisements.

Advertising involves overt and covert communication: Wordplay found in Japanese advertisements is a form of covert communication. The English used in advertisements is primarily for Japanese speakers, not for outsiders, which contrasts with the English used in official public informational signs like maps and street signs. These different kinds of signs show differences in the intended audiences for official vs. non-official signs. Japanized English in ads and non-official signs is a special-effects-giver. The English words do not necessarily need to mean anything. By virtue of using English words in non-official signs, they draw attention to the sign and mark the store or product as high quality. Japanized English is associated with positive attributes like ‘new’ and ‘cool’ for Japanese speakers. The English is used as covert communication to say the advertiser’s product is cool without explicitly saying this in Japanese.

April 17, 2009 Posted by | abstract | 1 Comment

Serbian…Serblish…English: Mother Tongue Maintenance or Loss by Serbian Americans

Serbian…Serblish…English: Mother Tongue Maintenance or Loss by Serbian Americans
Cindy Pavlovich-Golusin

The process of language assimilation into American society threatens mother tongue language maintenance in second and third generation Serbian-Americans in Detroit, Michigan. Mother tongue refers to the language spoken from birth and in the country of origin by immigrant members of an ethnic group. Previous scholars, such as Milivojevic, Portes, and Schrauf, have isolated several factors that influence language maintenance or shift, in particular, the family setting, e.g. exogamous versus endogamous marriages.

Factors measured in this study included: the effect of exogamous versus endogamous marriages on language shift in second generation Serbian-Americans, its effect on subsequent generations, and other factors contributing to language shift e.g. practice of religion, residential concentration, education, and others. At a micro level, three generations of Serbian Americans were selected from St. Lazarus Serbian Orthodox Church in Detroit, Michigan. An initial survey was conducted at the church to identify endogamous and exogamous marriages in this population. Eight families of three generations were selected for interviews. In each family, the wife/mother was extensively interviewed, exploring causative factors that may contribute to language shift in each generation.

Of the factors measured, religion is a significant contributor to language maintenance in the endogamous marriage group. The exogamous marriages demonstrated a significantly higher language shift to English. A slight increase in language maintenance was found in both endogamous and exogamous marriage groups when the wife/mother was Serbian, compared to non-Serbian. In the majority of the generations, the wife/mother did not work out of the home prior to the children attending school. Despite endogamous marriages, the father did not play an active role in language maintenance. Contributing factors to language loss were:

(1) Education played a significant role in language loss in the second generation, attributed to English dominance in school settings.
(2) Labor: Half of the first generation and all of the second generation expressed the necessity to speak English to obtain employment.

Overall, in both the endogamous and exogamous groups, a significant language shift to English occurred by the second generation. English dominance prevailed in the third generation Serbian-Americans.

April 17, 2009 Posted by | abstract | 2 Comments

Hispanic Educational Goals and Attainment

Hispanic Educational Goals and Attainment
Tina Patterson

Hispanics comprise the largest minority group in the United States. However, they are also the racial/ethnic group with the lowest educational attainment rate in the U.S. The goal of this research is to find out if the low educational attainment rate is related to or attributed to the English language proficiency of native Spanish speaking Americans. Through the research, I wanted to answer three related sub-questions:

1.) How does English language proficiency affect the high school completion percentage/dropout rate of native Spanish speakers?
2.) How does English language proficiency affect the college enrollment/completion rate of native Spanish speakers?
3.) What effect, if any, does the English First/English Only movement have on the educational goals of native Spanish speaking Americans?

To find the answers to these questions, I compared the educational goals versus educational attainment of native English speaking Americans to native Spanish speaking Americans. I conducted interviews with ten participants from various socioeconomic backgrounds. Five of the participants were native speakers of English, and the other five were native speakers of Spanish. All participants resided in the metro Detroit area, and all are United States citizens by birth.
The results showed that although native Spanish speaking Americans showed lower signs of educational attainment, it was not solely due to their English language proficiency. Nearly all of the Spanish speaking participants had educational goals, but few actually achieved them for a variety of reasons, including money, family, lack of support, and work. Native English speaking Americans had a much higher level of education, and some similar educational attainment influences like family and money. However, native English speakers had more flexibility in deciding if they would achieve their goals, including proper timing, preparation, desired location, and changing career interests.

The effect of English language proficiency on the high school completion/dropout rate could not be determined because all participants had a least a high school diploma. As far as the college enrollment/completion rate, English language proficiency does have an effect on college enrollment/completion rates because only one of the native Spanish speakers had completed a college degree. Finally, for the English first/English only question, the movement only played a small role in educational goals and attainment of native Spanish speakers. Four out of five native Spanish speakers did, however, respond that they felt at a disadvantage by being non-native English speakers in the United States school systems.

In conclusion, I found that educational goals are developed by both native English speakers and native Spanish speakers in the United States, but different factors influence whether or not the education will actually be attained. For native English speakers, these factors include proper timing, preparation, desired location, and changing career interests. For native Spanish speakers, these factors include money, family, support, work, and their English language proficiency. Although English language proficiency is one factor, it is not the only factor, and perhaps more importantly, not the most significant factor.

April 17, 2009 Posted by | abstract | 3 Comments

African American Parents’ Perspectives toward Bilingualism for Children in Elementary School

African American Parents’ Perspectives toward Bilingualism for Children in Elementary School
D. Batts

The body of scholarly research related to parents’ attitudes towards bilingualism have focused on English speaking and non-English-speaking parents’ perspectives about their children’s participation in bilingual programs aimed at teaching English to language minority students. This paper intends to explore the attitudes of African American parents relating to their children learning a second language in elementary school.

Two methodologies were employed to gather the perspectives of African American parents. First, three in-depth interviews were conducted with parents of children attending a foreign language immersion school. Secondly, a survey was distributed to a broader audience of approximately fifty African American parents with children enrolled in elementary school.

Research results from the interviews suggest that African American parents with children attending language immersion program have positive attitudes about second language learning in elementary schools. The parents cited two primary benefits for learning a second language. The first benefit is the creation of linguistic capital. The ability to speak a second language is perceived to provide future access to personal and professional opportunities that may not otherwise have been available. The second benefit from learning a second language is cultural sensitivity. The parents indicated that the ability to interact with other cultures was becoming increasingly important in a global environment. These parents viewed learning a second language as a core academic requirement.

The results from the survey also suggested that, in general, African American parents have positive attitudes towards second language learning in elementary schools. These parents also equated second language proficiency with access to future opportunities and development of cultural sensitivity. While these parents viewed learning a second language as important, over half of their children were not studying a second language. This could suggest that learning a second language is a desirable but not mandatory option.

The study can serve as a foundation for future research about the potential role of bilingual education as well as the effect of bilingualism within African Americans’ social structures.

April 17, 2009 Posted by | abstract | 3 Comments