Christine Beier, Linguistics Colloquium: Mindful of the whole elephant: What do we mean when we say "community" and what might others hear?

Colloquium | April 16 | 3:10-5 p.m. | 370 Dwinelle Hall

 Christine Beier, UC Berkeley

 Department of Linguistics

To actively engage with language as a focus of inquiry is to (at minimum) passingly or unconsciously engage with questions of, and presuppositions about, who speaks a language -- when, where, how, and so on. As a result, many thinkers and writers, and especially we linguists, invoke, and rely heavily upon, the concept of "community".

But to what and to whom does this concept actually correspond, either in broad general terms, or in the particular case of a focused research project? Given that much of the fine-grained work of linguistic inquiry focuses on phenomena for which the concept of "community" is largely peripheral (if indispensable), what might we see when we deliberately shift our focus onto this concept as a concept? What are the presuppositions we and others hold? What are the multiple "discourses" that it invokes, and that invoke it? Do we really, clearly know what we mean when we use this term? and what might others be hearing, thinking, understanding, inferring, or imagining that we mean when we use it?

In breaking down and building up a locally-relevant understanding of "community", this talk prioritizes intersubjectivity and interdisciplinarity. In exemplifying actual uses of the term, and then examining some of the contexts and consequences of such uses, I draw on data from my own language documentation, revitalization, and revalorization work, which has taken place primarily in Peruvian Amazonia over the last two decades (especially Beier 2001, 2002, 2010, and Beier & Michael 2006, 2018).

As a field linguist oriented toward endangered languages and linguistic practices, who was also trained in linguistic anthropology within a polemical post-modernist and activist-oriented anthropology program, I am acutely aware of how different the meanings of "community" can be. I am interested in bringing insights from multiple vantage points to bear on how our uses of the concept of community may advance, or impede, our own particular goals in working with languages, with their speakers, and beyond.

In this talk, helpful definitions will be offered; metaphorical elephants will be called upon; and there should be something of interest for all open linguistically-inclined minds.

 mikkelsen@berkeley.edu, 510-642-7620