Department of English

Dr. Robert Gunn Lecture

Thu, October 11, 2012 | Parlin 312

3:00 PM

Dr. Robert Gunn from the University of Texas at El Paso is giving a lecture, "Tecumseh, Sign Language, and the Linguistic Politics of Pan-Indianism: Recovering the Gestural Horizon of 19th-century Native Speech," on October 11, 2012 at 3:00 p.m. in Parlin 312.

This talk will explore 19th-Century written documentation of Plains Indian Sign Language (PISL), a widely-practiced Native American linguistic system noted pervasively across early literatures of encounter.  Misrecognized routinely as a form of sub-linguistic pantomime prior to the 1960s, and largely neglected in 19th-Century Americanist cultural scholarship to date, PISL nevertheless represents a central mode of expressive discourse across the Great Plains that carries important implications for questions of language, embodiment, race, and politics across a range of physical and textual geographies. Gunn will address the possibilities and limitations of recovering manual linguistic practice in the historical archive, and ask how and why 21st-Century scholars might go about excavating the gestural horizon of Native speech practices. Gunn will also explore evidence that Tecumseh, enduring Shawnee emblem of Pan-Indian resistance, knew American Indian Sign Language and incorporated elements of it into his transnational diplomatic oratory—a previously-unexplored possibility that has significant implications for the linguistic and cultural politics of Pan-Indianism, even as it highlights the existence of a largely-unacknowledged linguistic system that enabled Indian political organization in a range of historical settings from Canada to Mexico.

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