Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Live by the drum: exploring linguistic expressions of pan-Indian ethnic identity in contemporary indigenous music

Live by the drum: exploring linguistic expressions of pan-Indian ethnic identity in contemporary indigenous music

Sofía Syntaxx

Many issues and elements—including ethnic nomenclature, racial attitudes, and the legal and political status of American Indian nations and the First Nations tribes of Canada —influence the identity of these indigenous peoples in contemporary society. Identity and culture are two of the basic building blocks of ethnicity. Through the construction of identity and culture, individuals and groups attempt to address the problems surrounding ethnic boundaries and meaning. My research examines the use of a unique linguistic phenomenon I describe as code-calling, in parallel with the idea of code-switching, used to describe the alternating use of two or more languages by bilingual speakers. I use the term code-calling to describe when contemporary Native American/First Nations artists (who perform predominantly in English) use specific words or phrases spoken in their ancestral indigenous languages as a source of identity, particularly pan-Indian identity. In examining contemporary Native American/First Nations music, I have integrated Western scholarship with Native understanding to illustrate the fault-lines between reservation / rural and urban tribal musical knowledge.

I propose that indigenous artists “code-call” to their listeners through the inclusion of ancestral Native American/First Nations languages in what would otherwise be an English or French only performance piece. The assumption is that the listener will in all likelihood not speak or understand the indigenous language, but the act of using the ancestral language in place of one of Eurocentric origin is a powerful form of resistance against assimilation of indigenous peoples into the mainstream culture. Code-calling also acts as an affirmation of Pan-Indian identity. As modern indigenous communities are attempting to revitalize their ancestral languages, it is important to look at these revitalization efforts in context. I propose that code-calling derives its meaning from phonological, pragmatic and syntactical structure, as well as the relationships between speaker and listener. Knowledge of an ancestral language and cultural traditions are being increasingly combined as a force in indigenous ethnic identity struggles, as well as how this reality informs the challenges of building solidarity within broader indigenous socio-political movements. This paper explores these complex relationships, as well as the construction of Pan-Indian identity through the use of code-calling in contemporary indigenous music.

Keywords: music, code-switching, code-calling, Native American, First Nations

April 16, 2011 - Posted by | abstract

1 Comment »

  1. There is clearly a very complex dynamic between indigenous language users, revitalization promoters, indigenous language educators, and scholars. My own research documents not only cooperation but interpenetration between these roles. Can we envision a point at which the balance between “resistance to assimilation” and “affirmation of identity” can be reformulated?

    Comment by Dan Harrison | April 21, 2011 | Reply

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