Department of Anthropology

Guest Speaker: M. Eleanor Nevins

"Misunderstanding, Social Change and the Science of Americanist Text Collections"

Mon, January 28, 2019 | SAC 5.118

12:00 PM - 1:00 PM

Guest Speaker: M. Eleanor Nevins

Over the 120+ year history of North American ethnological language documentation, the form and use of documentary products have shifted, as have their circulation to scientific and community networks. Use of texts has shifted from salvage documentation to language maintenance and revitalization. Using Maidu and Western Apache examples, I highlight some of the unique affordances of text collections in the documentary record. Their uniqueness resides in two paradoxical features built into early twentieth century ethnolinguistic fieldwork. First, new scientific standards for identifying field sources and for recording and transcribing speech underwrote scientific authority and encouraged greater accuracy. Second, field research required real encounters and exchanges between indigenous speakers and researchers, a relation characterized by built-in differences of purpose. As examples of extended, transcribed speech, text collections provide internal evidence of contrast between speakers’ own contextualization strategies and those of the researcher. I forward the following post-critical argument: early twentieth century ethnolinguistics did something important for democracy and pluralism in the scientific nation states by establishing terms of national- and international- scale recognition for otherwise erased, disenfranchised indigenous actors. I fully acknowledge the critical argument that ethnolinguistic terms of recognition came at the cost of casting indigenous speech-- not as statements to an interlocutor, or statements addressed to future readership-- but as exemplifications of a super-ceded past. My post-critical argument is that today, in the early twenty-first century, these same documentary products, and the misunderstandings bundled into them, are meaningful to researchers and to members of indigenous communities as resources for language renewal and land claims. I show how speakers recorded and misrecognized in the early twentieth century, reach new addressees and contribute a history for indigenous-academic collaboration today. It is over the full span of its 120+ years that ethnolinguistic field science can be made to exceed the politics of colonial scientism.  I argue that this re-establishes rather than disestablishes the value of text collections as a scientific and humanistic enterprise.

Bookmark and Share