Department of Anthropology

James Slotta


Assistant ProfessorPh.D., University of Chicago

James Slotta

Contact

Interests


language and knowledge, political communication, epistemologies and politics, cultures of circulation, semantics-pragmatics interface; Melanesia, Papua New Guinea

Biography


Publications

Fleming, Luke and James Slotta. 2018. The pragmatics of kin address: A sociolinguistic universal and its semantic affordancesJournal of Sociolinguistics 22(4): 375-405. (https://doi.org/10.1111/josl.12304)

Cooperrider, Kensy, James Slotta, and Rafael Núñez. 2018. The preference for pointing with the hand is not universal. Cognitive Science.   DOI: 10.1111/cogs.12585

Slotta, James. 2017. Can the subaltern listen? Self-determination and the provisioning of expertise in Papua New Guinea. American Ethnologist 44(2): 328-340.

Cooperrider, Kensy, James Slotta, and Rafael Núñez. 2017. Uphill and downhill in a flat world: The conceptual topography of the Yupno house. Cognitive Science 41: 768-799.

Slotta, James. 2016. Slang and the semantic sense of identity. Texas Linguistics Forum 59: 119-128.

Slotta, James. 2015. The perlocutionary is political: Listening as self-determination in a Papua New Guinean polity. Language in Society 44(4): 525-552.

Fleming, Luke and James Slotta. 2015. Named relations: A universal in the pragmatics of reference within the kin group. Proceedings of CLS 51, 165-179. Chicago: Chicago Linguistics Society.

Slotta, James. 2015. Phatic rituals of the liberal democratic polity: Hearing voices in the hearings of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Comparative Studies in Society and History 57(1): 130-160.

Slotta, James. 2014. Revelations of the world: Transnationalism and the politics of perception in Papua New Guinea. American Anthropologist 116(3): 626–642.

Cooperrider, Kensy, Rafael Núñez, and James Slotta. 2014. The protean pointing gesture: Variation in a building block of human communication. In P. Bello, M. Guarini, M. McShane, & B. Scassellati (Eds.), Proceedings of the 36th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 355-360). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.

Slotta, James. 2012. Dialect, trope, and enregisterment in a Melanesian speech community. Language & Communication 32: 1-13.      doi:10.1016/j.langcom.2011.11.003

Courses


ANT 320L • Endangered Languages

31620 • Spring 2020
Meets MWF 2:00PM-3:00PM WCP 4.118
(also listed as LIN 373)

The 21st century, linguists say, could see the “death or doom” of 90 percent of the world’s languages. In response, non-governmental organizations, academics, and activists have responded with campaigns to preserve and revitalize “dying” languages. At the same time, lawyers, legislators, and political theorists have built the groundwork for the recognition of “language rights” as a tool for defending small-scale and minority language communities against the spread of national and global languages. In this course, we examine such efforts in order to ask: why does the idea of language death inspire all of this work and attention? What is “a language” – what properties are seen to inhere in language – that drives these activities? Here we will explore views of language that underpin the anxieties and efforts of the language rights and revitalization movements: from the place of language in the 19th and 20th century politics of national autonomy to the role of language as a repository of worldviews and an emblem of our shared humanity. In the process, we see how “language” and distinct “languages” are situated at the center of imaginations of community and moral anxieties over autonomy, with all of the political and ethical implications that result for people who are recognized as having their own language as well as those who recognize the “languagedness” of others.

ANT 392N • Intro To Grad Ling Anthropol

31840 • Spring 2020
Meets F 9:00AM-12:00PM WCP 4.114
(also listed as LIN 396)

An Anthropology Core Course, this course is an introduction to the theoretical and methodological foundations of the study of language from a sociocultural perspective. Topics discussed include linguistic, philosophical, psychological, sociological and anthropological contributions to the understanding of verbal and non-verbal communication as a social activity embedded in cultural contexts. No prior training in linguistics is presupposed. Readings include both ethnographic studies and theoretical work about language.

ANT 302 • Cultural Anthropology

30890-30915 • Fall 2019
Meets TTH 2:00PM-3:00PM GAR 0.102
GC SB

This course focuses on "classic" themes in anthropology such as ethnicity, language, adaptation, marriage, kinship, gender, religion, and social stratification.  We will consider anthropological theory from its 19th-century origins to the present.  The course also explores the nature of ethnographic field work, especially the relationship between the anthropologist and the field community.  
The lectures, readings, and films for this course have been selected with the objective of exploring the social meanings with which diverse groups invest their life.  By comparing and analyzing the similarities and differences between "us" and "others," both within the borders of the U.S. and abroad, the anthropological perspective can expose some of our own cultural assumptions and enable us to better understand diverse cultures.

ANT 393 • Lang Variation/Style/Register

31310 • Fall 2019
Meets TH 9:00AM-12:00PM WCP 4.114

Over twentieth century, the mainline of linguistics has increasingly excluded social, cultural, political, and economic considerations from the study of language. In response to this trend, both sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology have emerged as fields of inquiry offering alternatives to this asocial vision of language. And notably, both disciplines have done so in large measure through the investigation and theorization of language variation.

 

In this course, we begin by looking back over a number of influential modes of studying language variation to better understand the diverse ways in which social, cultural, political, and economic factors are integrated into the study of language at present. In particular, we review: 1) classic texts of variationist and interactional sociolinguistics to gain a sense of how language variation was constituted as a domain amenable to sociological and anthropological treatment; 2) later waves of sociolinguistics that have emphasized matters of style, identity, agency, and social meaning as factors that drive and structure language variability; 3) enregisterment as a way in which culture, ideology, and intertextuality have been integrated with the study of language variation; and 4) new directions of research that highlight political and economic considerations of value, power, and institutionalized structures of inequality shaping contemporary ecologies of language in the United States and around the world. In the final weeks we turn to a number of exemplary recent monographs that take up a wide range of topics related to language variation, including code switching, language change, standardization, language shift, multilingualism, language endangerment, and many others.

ANT 302 • Cultural Anthropology

31510-31535 • Fall 2018
Meets MW 3:00PM-4:00PM GAR 0.102
CD SB

This course provides an introduction to cultural anthropology, the inductive study of the human condition insofar as it is shaped by our social surround. To this end, anthropologists investigate humanity in all of its variety, developing methods of data collection and analysis, conceptual frameworks, and modes of presentation that are, ideally, adequate to capturing what it means to be human. In this course, we look at social formations both familiar (the nation, the nuclear family) and unfamiliar (the clan, the patrilocal residence group) alongside the cultural values and beliefs that motivate these social formations. We ask: where do values, beliefs, and identities “live”? What practices create, sustain, and transform these values and beliefs?

At the same time, we bring anthropological methods to bear on our own lives to examine how we are embedded in and influenced by social, political, historical and cultural environments in ways that we often do not realize. We challenge our own beliefs about the nature of humanity and society, about the moral and immoral, about the valuable and valueless through careful attention to the wide diversity of ways in which humans live. How do humans’ construct their socio-cultural environment? What becomes striking about our own social lives when set alongside the social life of others? What aspects of our socio-cultural surround are particularly potent in shaping the way we live?

The course aims 1) to develop students’ ability to approach social life as “ethnographers” – that is, to empathize with  people through careful attention to their social and cultural surround, and to recognize ourselves as part of particular social and cultural worlds; and 2) to develop the ability to read academic arguments—and anthropological arguments, in particular—that mobilize evidence and reasons in support of particular, “surprising” claims.

ANT 302 • Cultural Anthropology

30580-30615 • Spring 2018
Meets MW 11:00AM-12:00PM BEL 328
CD SB

This course provides an introduction to cultural anthropology, the inductive study of the human condition insofar as it is shaped by our social surround. To this end, anthropologists investigate humanity in all of its variety, developing methods of data collection and analysis, conceptual frameworks, and modes of presentation that are, ideally, adequate to capturing what it means to be human. In this course, we look at social formations both familiar (the nation, the nuclear family) and unfamiliar (the clan, the patrilocal residence group) alongside the cultural values and beliefs that motivate these social formations. We ask: where do values, beliefs, and identities “live”? What practices create, sustain, and transform these values and beliefs?

At the same time, we bring anthropological methods to bear on our own lives to examine how we are embedded in and influenced by social, political, historical and cultural environments in ways that we often do not realize. We challenge our own beliefs about the nature of humanity and society, about the moral and immoral, about the valuable and valueless through careful attention to the wide diversity of ways in which humans live. How do humans’ construct their socio-cultural environment? What becomes striking about our own social lives when set alongside the social life of others? What aspects of our socio-cultural surround are particularly potent in shaping the way we live?

The course aims 1) to develop students’ ability to approach social life as “ethnographers” – that is, to empathize with  people through careful attention to their social and cultural surround, and to recognize ourselves as part of particular social and cultural worlds; and 2) to develop the ability to read academic arguments—and anthropological arguments, in particular—that mobilize evidence and reasons in support of particular, “surprising” claims.

ANT 307 • Culture And Communication-Hon

30725 • Spring 2018
Meets MW 1:00PM-2:30PM SAC 4.118
CD SB

Language is not only one of the quintessential attributes of “the human,” it plays a role in virtually everything we do. Yet we typically do not pay much attention to what it is that language does and how it does what it does. And when we do, language and its use in communication often appear lacking: it is disparaged as little more than an (imperfect) reflection of reality, as a medium incapable of adequately conveying thoughts, emotions, and experiences, or as a hollow activity devoid of significance (“all talk and no action”).

In this course, we look at language not as an inadequate version of some more fundamental reality, but as a medium that constitutes and mediates reality for us as cultural beings living and acting in a social environment. Here we concentrate on two broad areas of concern: 1) language as a medium of social action, through which humans create & transform themselves and the world around them and 2) language as a medium of conceptualization, which provides a privileged lens on (or even constitutes a part of) mind. Attempts to understand language as a reflection of cognition divorced from sociocultural life and attempts to understand social life as composed of non-conceptual, biological drives are equally limited from this perspective. The perspective on language developed here locates language squarely in culture and society and at the same time locates sociocultural life “in” language and communication.

ANT 302 • Cultural Anthropology

31190-31215 • Fall 2017
Meets MW 12:00PM-1:00PM CLA 0.126
CD SB

This course provides an introduction to cultural anthropology, the inductive study of the human condition insofar as it is shaped by our social surround. To this end, anthropologists investigate humanity in all of its variety, developing methods of data collection and analysis, conceptual frameworks, and modes of presentation that are, ideally, adequate to capturing what it means to be human. In this course, we look at social formations both familiar (the nation, the nuclear family) and unfamiliar (the clan, the patrilocal residence group) alongside the cultural values and beliefs that motivate these social formations. We ask: where do values, beliefs, and identities “live”? What practices create, sustain, and transform these values and beliefs?

At the same time, we bring anthropological methods to bear on our own lives to examine how we are embedded in and influenced by social, political, historical and cultural environments in ways that we often do not realize. We challenge our own beliefs about the nature of humanity and society, about the moral and immoral, about the valuable and valueless through careful attention to the wide diversity of ways in which humans live. How do humans’ construct their socio-cultural environment? What becomes striking about our own social lives when set alongside the social life of others? What aspects of our socio-cultural surround are particularly potent in shaping the way we live?

The course aims 1) to develop students’ ability to approach social life as “ethnographers” – that is, to empathize with  people through careful attention to their social and cultural surround, and to recognize ourselves as part of particular social and cultural worlds; and 2) to develop the ability to read academic arguments—and anthropological arguments, in particular—that mobilize evidence and reasons in support of particular, “surprising” claims.

ANT 320L • Polit/Polity/Power Of Words

31415 • Fall 2017
Meets MW 10:00AM-11:30AM SAC 4.118

Politicians are often decried as being “all talk and no action,” a criticism that draws on a familiar view of language that contrasts “real” actions—the proper concern of politics—with “mere” words. And yet, “real” political actions, from the founding of nation-states (“We the People…”) to the transformation of polities (“I have a dream…”), rest on the power of “mere” words. In this course, we look at the place of language in a variety of different political settings—from oblique oratory in small-scale egalitarian communities to ritual “poetry” in cosmic polities to procedural prose in mass bureaucratic states—to come to a better understanding of the power of words. Working with a broad understanding of politics, we look at the varied ways language sustains and transforms power relations in different political contexts, and thereby takes on a power of its own. In the process, we explore a variety of political situations, different modes of political communication, as well as different theories of the “performative” power of words.

ANT 302 • Cultural Anthropology-Honors

31115 • Spring 2017
Meets TTH 2:00PM-3:30PM SAC 4.118
CD SB

This course provides an introduction to cultural anthropology, the inductive study of the human condition insofar as it is shaped by our social surround. To this end, anthropologists investigate humanity in all of its variety, developing methods of data collection and analysis, conceptual frameworks, and modes of presentation that are, ideally, adequate to capturing what it means to be human. In this course, we look at social formations both familiar (the nation, the nuclear family) and unfamiliar (the clan, the patrilocal residence group) alongside the cultural values and beliefs that motivate these social formations. We ask: where do values, beliefs, and identities “live”? What practices create, sustain, and transform these values and beliefs?

At the same time, we bring anthropological methods to bear on our own lives to examine how we are embedded in and influenced by social, political, historical and cultural environments in ways that we often do not realize. We challenge our own beliefs about the nature of humanity and society, about the moral and immoral, about the valuable and valueless through careful attention to the wide diversity of ways in which humans live. How do humans’ construct their socio-cultural environment? What becomes striking about our own social lives when set alongside the social life of others? What aspects of our socio-cultural surround are particularly potent in shaping the way we live?

The course aims 1) to develop students’ ability to approach social life as “ethnographers” – that is, to empathize with  people through careful attention to their social and cultural surround, and to recognize ourselves as part of particular social and cultural worlds; and 2) to develop the ability to read academic arguments—and anthropological arguments, in particular—that mobilize evidence and reasons in support of particular, “surprising” claims.

ANT 320L • Lang Endangerment/Rights

31225 • Spring 2017
Meets TTH 11:00AM-12:30PM SAC 4.174
(also listed as LIN 373)

The 21st century, linguists say, will see the “death or doom” of 90 percent of the world’s languages. In response, non-governmental organizations, academics, and activists have responded with campaigns to preserve and revitalize “dying” languages. At the same time, lawyers, legislators, and political theorists have built the groundwork for the
recognition of “language rights” as a tool for defending small-scale and minority language communities against the spread of national and global languages. In this course, we examine such efforts in order to ask: why does the idea of language death inspire all of this work and attention? What is “a language” – what properties are seen to inhere in language – that drives these activities? Here we will explore views of language that underpin the anxieties and efforts of the language rights and revitalization movements: from the place of language in the 19th and 20th century politics of national autonomy to the role of language as a repository of worldviews and an emblem of our shared humanity. In the process, we see how “language” and distinct “languages” are situated at the center of Western imaginations of community and moral anxieties over autonomy, with all of the political and ethical implications that result for people who are recognized as having their own language as well as those who recognize the “languagedness” of others.

ANT 302 • Cultural Anthropology

30990-31025 • Fall 2016
Meets MW 2:00PM-3:00PM ART 1.102
CD SB

This course provides an introduction to cultural anthropology, the inductive study of the human condition insofar as it is shaped by our social surround. To this end, anthropologists investigate humanity in all of its variety, developing methods of data collection and analysis, conceptual frameworks, and modes of presentation that are, ideally, adequate to capturing what it means to be human. In this course, we look at social formations both familiar (the nation, the nuclear family) and unfamiliar (the clan, the patrilocal residence group) alongside the cultural values and beliefs that motivate these social formations. We ask: where do values, beliefs, and identities “live”? What practices create, sustain, and transform these values and beliefs?

At the same time, we bring anthropological methods to bear on our own lives to examine how we are embedded in and influenced by social, political, historical and cultural environments in ways that we often do not realize. We challenge our own beliefs about the nature of humanity and society, about the moral and immoral, about the valuable and valueless through careful attention to the wide diversity of ways in which humans live. How do humans’ construct their socio-cultural environment? What becomes striking about our own social lives when set alongside the social life of others? What aspects of our socio-cultural surround are particularly potent in shaping the way we live?

The course aims 1) to develop students’ ability to approach social life as “ethnographers” – that is, to empathize with  people through careful attention to their social and cultural surround, and to recognize ourselves as part of particular social and cultural worlds; and 2) to develop the ability to read academic arguments—and anthropological arguments, in particular—that mobilize evidence and reasons in support of particular, “surprising” claims.

ANT 307 • Culture And Communication

31120 • Fall 2016
Meets TTH 3:30PM-5:00PM CLA 0.112
CD SB

The ability to learn and use language is a quintessentially human characteristic—one that distinguishes homo sapiens from other animal species. Language is simultaneously generated through and generative of social life; the former is a primary resource that we humans use in both the structuring and accomplishment of the latter. These dynamics form the subject of study of linguistic anthropology.

This course is an introduction to linguistic anthropology. It is impossible in a single semester to provide a complete overview of all topics that linguistic anthropologists address, so this course covers selected topics, the selection of which is aimed to illustrate how linguistic anthropologists go about doing their work: the range of topics they examine, the kinds of questions they ask, the types of approaches and methods they utilize, and the sorts of conclusions they reach.

Publications


Fleming, Luke and James Slotta. 2018. The pragmatics of kin address: A sociolinguistic universal and its semantic affordancesJournal of Sociolinguistics 22(4): 375-405. (https://doi.org/10.1111/josl.12304)

Cooperrider, Kensy, James Slotta, and Rafael Núñez. 2018. The preference for pointing with the hand is not universal. Cognitive Science.   DOI: 10.1111/cogs.12585

Slotta, James. 2017. Can the subaltern listen? Self-determination and the provisioning of expertise in Papua New Guinea. American Ethnologist 44(2): 328-340.

Cooperrider, Kensy, James Slotta, and Rafael Núñez. 2017. Uphill and downhill in a flat world: The conceptual topography of the Yupno house. Cognitive Science 41: 768-799.

Slotta, James. 2016. Slang and the semantic sense of identity. Texas Linguistics Forum 59: 119-128.

Slotta, James. 2015. The perlocutionary is political: Listening as self-determination in a Papua New Guinean polity. Language in Society 44(4): 525-552.

Fleming, Luke and James Slotta. 2015. Named relations: A universal in the pragmatics of reference within the kin group. Proceedings of CLS 51, 165-179. Chicago: Chicago Linguistics Society.

Slotta, James. 2015. Phatic rituals of the liberal democratic polity: Hearing voices in the hearings of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Comparative Studies in Society and History 57(1): 130-160.

Slotta, James. 2014. Revelations of the world: Transnationalism and the politics of perception in Papua New Guinea. American Anthropologist 116(3): 626–642.

Cooperrider, Kensy, Rafael Núñez, and James Slotta. 2014. The protean pointing gesture: Variation in a building block of human communication. In P. Bello, M. Guarini, M. McShane, & B. Scassellati (Eds.), Proceedings of the 36th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 355-360). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.

Slotta, James. 2012. Dialect, trope, and enregisterment in a Melanesian speech community. Language & Communication 32: 1-13.      doi:10.1016/j.langcom.2011.11.003

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