Linguistics Department

Nikki Seifert's Dissertation Defense, " The Cross-Cultural Classroom in the Context of Radical Language Shift: Humor, Teasing, and the Ethnolinguistic Repertoire."

Mon, April 1, 2013 | CLA 4.716

12:00 PM - 3:00 PM

In this dissertation, I analyze classroom interactions between a White high school English teacher and American Indian students on the Blackfeet Nation in Montana. I focus on the participants’ strategic use of humor and distinctive linguistic features in these interactions, particularly teasing as a cultural activity among the students, the teacher’s immersion and adaptation to that culture, and the affective and sociocultural importance of the ethnolinguistic repertoire to the students. I argue that the main functions of the humor and teasing are threefold: (a) to build rapport, (b) to accomplish interactional goals in the classroom, and (c) to negotiate teacher–student power struggles in a socioculturally acceptable way. I show that the students’ humor and discourse is constitutive of local culture and often counterhegemonic, implicitly and at times explicitly critiquing mainstream educational practices and the marginalized status of the students. My analysis considers the data from a discourse level as well as examines the indexical and patterned use of microlevel linguistic resources from the student’s ethnolinguistic repertoire—specifically, distinctive interjections and scooped-accent intonation.  The primary data is naturally occurring classroom discussions, complemented by individual and group interviews and ethnographic observations.

This study points to the importance of sociocultural factors in language variation and change in communities undergoing or having undergone radical language shift. It thus adds to the literature that considers how cultural practices are disrupted and may be restructured as the linguistic code changes. This research also contributes to the research that details the difficulties nonmainstream students face in public schools when their home culture and language practices are at odds with those of the school, and it examines humor and teasing as student strategies to navigate these differences. This study aims to help paint a more complete picture of the contemporary social and linguistic contexts in which American Indian speakers live, with a mind toward how this understanding can be applied to the real-world circumstances of these youth.

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