Now ‘web enhanced’: SLA goes social

2 12 2009

The Society for Linguistic Anthropology has made the jump from Web1.0 to Web2.0. The Society’s website, is now more social, interactive and dynamic. Powered by WordPress, the new SLA website now features a Twitter and RSS feed, a Facebook page and a blog. Kerim Friedman:

we hope to make the blog a central place for online discussion of issues relating to linguistic anthropology. It is hoped that the blog will draw more people to the site, building a vibrant community in the process.

Ensuring the blog keeps rolling, SLA has established the position of  ‘digital content editor’, which Leila Monaghan will fill. And interestingly, the journal page now features ‘web enhanced’ (i.e. multimodal) articles. Forward-thinking bunch, those SLA cats.

Michael McIntyre on indexical order

12 10 2009

I have written about this before, but Michael Silverstein’s concept of indexical order is so good it makes me smile. Indexical order refers to the normativity of meaning relations: it is the ‘principle’ that bestows discourse with a particular meaning in a particular context.

Registers are a case in point. For instance, Jane Hill (2005: 114) has illustrated that mock Spanish has at least two indexicalities: a first-order indexicality that is usually associated with qualities of speakers of Spanish. However, when used by English speakers, words like ‘mañana’ can take on a pejorative second-order indexicality of laziness and ‘taking it easy’.

This sort of stereotyping also works in posh English, as illustrated by British comedian Michael McIntyre.

Hill, Jane (2005). Intertextuality as source and evidence for indirect indexical meanings. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 15: 113–24.
Silverstein, Michael (2003). Indexical order and the dialectics of sociolinguistic life. Language & Communication 23 (3-4): 193-229.

DiO Workshop day III: final plenaries

18 09 2009

Four, yes four, plenary presentations were scheduled on the Friday afternoon. Two corpus linguistic studies kicked off the written corporate communication theme. Birgitta Meex & Heidi Verplaetse (Lessius/KULeuven) compared German and English corporate mission statements. Berna Hendriks & Margot Van Mulken (University of Nijmegen) then presented an analysis of CEO communication.

The final two presentations were on…journalism. Ha! Martina Temmerman & Els Belsack (Erasmus University College Brussels) talked about positioning and self-representation during televised political interviews. Finally, Ellen Van Praet (Ghent University) and yours truly went the reflective/methodological route. We opted not to present micro data and instead focus on the pros and cons of secondary analysis.

Thank you: Geert, Katja, Craig, Chris, Sylvain, Priscilla and all the delegates for coming out. Hope to see you again at a DiO event.

Having a language is like having access

26 08 2009

to a very large canvas and to hundreds or even thousands of colors. But the canvas and the colors come from the past. They are hand-me-downs. As we learn to use them, we find out that those around us have strong ideas about what can be drawn, in which proportions, in what combinations, and for what purposes. As any artist knows, there is an ethics of drawing and coloring as well as a market that will react sometimes capriciously, but many times quite predictably to any individual attempts to place a mark in the history or representation or simply readjust the proportions of certain spaces at the margins … Just like art-works, our linguistic products are constantly evaluated, recycled or discarded.

Alessandro Duranti (1997) Linguistic Anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 334.

“used crayons” by chromatofobe @

A sound sociolinguistics of globalization

11 07 2009

I am still jetlagged and so I read everything from movie reviews to working papers on language diversity:

I would suggest that a sound sociolinguistics of globalization should not  just look at the world and its languages, but also to the world and its registers, genres, repertoires and styles, if it wants to have any empirical grounding. It is in small-scale, niched phenomena such as the ones considered here [i.e. the language ideologies of American accent websites, TVH] that we see real language: language that is invested by real-world interests and language that matters to real people.

Jan Blommaert (WPLD 8, p17). And no, this quote does not induce sleep. But let’s try anyway – otherwise I won’t get to see anything of Melbourne during daylight.

1.2 Theoretical orientation

13 05 2009

***This is an outdated version. Please do not cite or reproduce in any way.***

This study of journalists’ discursive practices as they discover, source, negotiate and write economic news aligns theoretically with Linguistic Ethnography (LE), an umbrella term denoting a developing, primarily UK based brand of social science. This emerging intellectual space is theoretically eclectic, building on more established research traditions such as interactional sociolinguistics (Roberts, Davies & Jupp 1992; Sarangi & Roberts 1999) and American linguistic anthropology (Briggs & Bauman 1992; Duranti 1997; Spitulnik 2002; Bucholtz & Hall 2004) but positioning itself squarely in the post-structuralist paradigm associated with Zygmunt Bauman, Pierre Bourdieu, Michel Foucault and Mikhail Bakhtin. Read the rest of this entry »

No shake, all bake transcription tools

26 02 2009

In discourse analysis, transcribing audio or video data is a necessary evil. In this process of entextualization and recontextualization, recordings become transcripts – the textual simulacra discourse analysts rely on to analyze what and how people ‘do things’ with language.

There are number of commercial transcription tools available but if you’re looking for a basic (Windows only) speech transcription utility, I recommend VoiceWalker (if it’s bells and whistles you want, try Transana). VoiceWalker was designed by University of California linguists John W. Du Bois and Mary Bucholtz and can be downloaded freely.

In addition, a somewhat more ambitious tool is SoundWriter. This (beta) software is designed to link a transcription to the audio source file, “to help the researcher hear and visualize relationships between utterances in conversational interaction”. Download for free here.

Indexical orders of commoditized identity

24 02 2009

Today I  learned that you are what you say about what you eat. Michael Silverstein drove this point home in his paper on indexical orders. Without going into much detail, indexicality is the meaning relation which links language use to a particular context.

Consider the catchphrase  ‘Fire in the hole!’, a warning which most people would associate with particular kinds of speakers (soldiers) or contexts of speaking (detonating an explosive device). It is this association between discourse and context which we call indexical, i.e. pointing to a meaning (an imminent explosion).

Indexical meanings are ordered – they are not unstructured – and such ‘indexical orders’ can become emblematic of particular social categories. Case in point is the register I have an on/off relationship with: wine talk. Silverstein argues that wine talk is indexically iconic of (i.e. bears resemblance to) yuppoisie (a 1990s term, we would now speak of ‘millenials’). There is indeed an undeniable link between describing a wine as having ‘a balanced ménage à trois of aroma, depth and finish’ and an elitist/snobbish/posh consumerist social identity. Talking wine indexes socially valued traits in the speaker. So, in Silverstein’s words (2003: 226):

As we consume the wine and properly (ritually) denote that consumption, we become, in performative realtime, the well-bred, characterologically interesting (subtle, balanced, intriguing, winning, etc.) person iconically corresponding to the metaphorical “fashion of speaking” of the perceived register’s figurations of the aesthetic object of connoisseurship, wine.

Note that Silverstein refers to wine as a “perduringly constant prestige comestible”. Scrabble, anyone?

Silverstein, Michael (2003). Indexical order and the dialectics of sociolinguistic life. Language & Communication 23 (3-4): 193-229.

Lessons in induction by Sherlock & Jan

13 01 2009

Discourse analysis is an inductive business. So is ethnography. Data are always incomplete, so the adage is to work with what you have. Theory follows from case studies, i.e. micro-level analyses of social action. As Jan Blommaert reminds us in his beginner’s guide to ethnographic fieldwork, case study methodology draws on a

‘evidential or conjectural paradigm’: evidential because it uses (inductive) empirical facts as its point of departure, ‘conjectural’ because these facts are seen as probably meaning this-or-that. The facts generate hypotheses that can then be verified. This paradigm is epitomised by Sherlock Holmes, who was able to deduce more insights from a cigarette butt left in an ashtray than his rival police inspector could by deploying his elaborate (deductive) criminal investigation tactics.

Here is Sherlock Holmes, as played by Jeremy Brett, showing off his inductive prowess. Watch him go to work in this classic scene.

By the way, can anyone tell me what language these subtitles are in? From the diacritic markers I can infer that the subtitler was a local area woman, in her mid thirties, who has a penchant for woolen socks but on this day chose to wear black ankle socks to the office. She enjoys long walks in the park and wild lovemaking in the reverse cowgirl position. Her use of punctuation suggests that she had recently purchased a second-hand copy of Marina Lewycka’s A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian.

Jan Blommaert’s course on ethnographic fieldwork is accessible at the University of Jyväskylä’s Multilingualism/FiDiPro website. It’s an invaluable resource, complete with power presentations, seminar videos and a how-to guide. Highly recommended.

2008 Anthropology blog awards

8 01 2009,  a collaborative blog dedicated to anthropology, philosophy, social theory and the brain sciences, has published a round up of the best blog posts about anthropology in 7 categories: (1) Public Relevance; (2) Anthropological Vision; (3) Being Human; (4) Controversy, Commentary and Critique; (5) Empiricism and Scholarship, (6) Language; and (7) Blogging. Together these posts demonstrate the relevance of anthropology and make a wonderful excuse for procrastination.

I sneaked a peek at the language submissions and loved Greg Laden’s post on language ideologies, laughed at Ali G’s interview with Noam Chomsky, enjoyed Alexandre’s post on language ownership and marvelled at Mark Dingemanse’s post on ideophonic vocabulary. Buku buku is easily my new favorite word. The blogosphere, where quality happens (pace NBA).

Language by Shawn Eneco (

"Language" by Shawn Eneco (