Black Lives Matter and Police Violence

Contributors to the LINGANTH email list share readings and other resources for use in linguistic anthropology classes on topics of police violence, the Black Lives Matter movement, and structural racism in the United States and elsewhere.

Elise Berman of UNC Charlotte asked:

I need to talk about police violence. I was wondering if anyone had planned specific lessons on police violence and black lives matter in linguistic anthropology classes and would be willing to share what they did? There are obviously a lot of different connections.

Colleagues Hillary Dick, Inmaculada García Sánchez, Meghanne Barker, Bonnie McElhinny, Jacqueline Messing, Michael Prentice, Donna Auston, Tyanna Slobe, Adam Hodges, Michele Koven, Shannon Bischoff, Rebecca Campbell, Krystal Smalls, and Steven Black responded with the following recommendations.

The Anthropoliteia #BlackLivesMatterSyllabus Project collects anthropological work addressing the confluence of race, policing and justice. Another project drawing from  a variety of fields is the “Black Lives Matter Fall 2016” syllabus from Frank Leon Roberts at New York University.

Readings in linguistic anthropology include:

[Updated 9/26. Additional readings added.]

Posted in Readings, Syllabus | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Arika Okrent language-related videos

Author Arika Okrent, artist Sean O’Neill, and the magazine Mental Floss have created a series of videos on English vocabulary, language origins, and other language and society related topics. Titles include “How Did Language Begin?“, “The Double Vocabulary of English“, and “Word Origins Hiding in Plain Sight“.

See the whole list here.

YouTube Preview Image


Posted in Videos | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Irish accent and Irish language

Linguist/ethnographer Madeleine Adkins recommends the following items to fellow linguists.

Saoirse Ronan tries to teach Stephen Colbert to speak with an Irish accent in this clip from The Late Show. According to Adkins, “This clip is jam-packed with language ideologies. It might be useful to analyze in class or as an assignment.”

YouTube Preview Image

This piece from the PRI radio program The World gives an overview of the history of the Irish language, including recent work on revitalization. It features an interview with linguist Jim McCloskey.

Posted in Audio, Videos | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Seth Meyers “Boston Accent Trailer”

This segment from Late Night with Seth Meyers, “Boston Accent Trailer”, parodies Hollywood films set in Boston and their treatment of language. It comments humorously on stereotypical lexical items (bro, wicked), the variety of accents portrayed (“the upscale Kennedy-type”, “the townie”, etc.) and the accuracy of those portrayals (“a British actor who’s trying his best but doesn’t quite have it”).

YouTube Preview Image

Thanks to Jake Heller (@HellerJake) and Monica Heller (@MonicaHeller4), who pointed us to the video via Twitter.

Posted in Humor, Videos | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ethnographies of language socialization

Building on the successful quest for ethnographies of language and gender on the LINGANTH email list, Elise Berman asked colleagues for additional recommendations. This time list participants suggested work on language socialization.

Would people be willing to share their favorite ethnographies dealing explicitly with language socialization? Again, I am thinking about books written within the last five years, as opposed to some of the older classics.

And again people recommended a number of recent books.

What recommendations would you add?

Posted in Readings | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Ethnographies of Language and Gender

Recently Elise Berman of the UNC Charlotte Department of Anthropology asked colleagues via the LINGANTH email list to recommend recent ethnographies treating language and gender.

I am looking for good ethnographies of language and gender to teach to undergraduates, particularly recent ones (last five years). I was wondering if people would be willing to share their favorites?

Several people responded.

Norma Mendoza-Denton’s Homegirls: Language and Cultural Practice Among Latina Youth Gangs was also recommended by at least three people – Paul Lai, Jennifer Sclafani, and Angela Reyes.

What recent ethnographies of language and gender would you recommend for undergraduate students in linguistic anthropology?

UPDATE 11/6/2015

More suggestions via LINGANTH:

Posted in Readings | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Video clips for teaching language ideologies

Several colleagues have suggested film and video clips that may be useful in teaching about language ideologies, including the value of standard and non-standard varieties, social stereotypes, and style shifting.

Thanks to Elise Kramer, Robin Queen, Lauren Squires, and other participants in the discussion for these useful suggestions.

The YouTube video “Your Grammar Sucks #29” by user jacksfilms is illustrative of ideas about  grammar, usage, and intelligence or social positioning.

YouTube Preview Image

The reality TV program “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” features child beauty pageant contestant Honey Boo Boo Thompson and her family in McIntyre, Georgia. Of sociolinguistic interest in the fact that much of the family’s dialog features subtitles. The program comes from TLC; this clip was posted to YouTube by hannah9184.

YouTube Preview Image

The 2006 film Akeelah and the Bee, about Scripps National Spelling Bee contestant Akeelah Anderson, discusses issues of African American identity, language, and education. In this clip, Akeelah (Keke Palmer) and her tutor (Laurence Fishburn) argue over Akeela’s “ghetto” speech.

YouTube Preview Image

On Inside the Actors Studio, Dave Chappelle tells James Lipton, “Every black American is bilingual.” He describes how he speaks “street vernacular” or “job interview” in appropriate circumstances. (The question that prompts the discussion starts at 7:07. The earlier content, about how Chappelle writes his socially incisive jokes about race and socioeconomic class, is also worth watching.)

YouTube Preview Image

This clip called “The Buzz: Vocal Fry trend” by therhodeshow features discussion of vocal fry or laryngealized speech, which the discussants attribute to “teenage girls” who “all sound alike”. As Elise Kramer suggests, criticism of young people – the very students we are teaching – can be useful because it may prompt critical argument from them in response.

YouTube Preview Image
Posted in Videos | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Syllabus: Language and Colonialism

Janina Fenigsen of Northern Arizona University sends the following syllabus for her course, “Language and Colonialism”.

Department of Anthropology   Winter 2010

University of Michigan

Language and Colonialism
Instructor: Janina Fenigsen

Language has always been the companion of empire…
Nebrija, the 16th century Spanish grammarian

The course concerns the linguistic aspects and impact of colonialism. A corrosive and penetrating intrusion of Western interests, practices, and understandings, colonialism has transformed various aspects of life of the colonized populations, including language and communication. Drawing on a range of case studies, the course explores the ways colonial encounters have led to the emergence of new languages, refashioned the existent local languages (i.e. through lexicography and grammar-writing), and transformed communicative patterns and language relations. We will closely examine studies from diverse settings including New World, Pacific, and Africa so as to consider the specific influence of various colonial scenarios and contexts on linguistic change, politics of discourse, and the literary artistic expression. By interrogating diverse colonial scenarios, we will seek to underscore the complexity of colonial transformations whose outcomes, it is argued, have been shaped by the locally specific influences of social, political, ideological and linguistic factors.

The course is conceived as a graduate/undergraduate seminar for an interdisciplinary audience. Please read the syllabus closely as the requirements and assignments for graduate and for undergraduate students differ in volume and focus. Although some class units involve elements of formal linguistic analysis, no background in linguistics or linguistic anthropology is requisite.

The topics include a discussion of colonialism; formal system of language, linguistic change and the development of new
language varieties; language in the colonial equations of power, language choice in colonial administration – its motivation and consequences; communicative transformations, shifting genres, socio-functional shifts of the vernaculars; post-colonial writer’s dilemma.

Course requirements:

Take-home midterm essay (undergraduate students: case synthesis, approx. 7 pages; graduate students: theoretical focus, approx. 10-12 pages), @ 25% , due March 8, in class

Take-home final essay (undergraduate students: comparative case analysis, approx. 10 pages; graduate students: a research paper of approx. 15 pages) @35%, due April 28 in my mailbox, Department of Anthropology, Main Office, West Hall.

Class participation and weekly journal entries @ 45%

Please note: you can rewrite the midterm essay and improve your grade, if desired

Written assignments:

essays and exam: Essay topics and exam questions will be handed out 2 weeks before the work is due. Late papers will be graded half a grade less for each day late.

Class journal: You will be asked to keep a journal in which you will enter at least two substantive questions and reading response related to each week’s readings (to be completed by and brought to the first class of the week in which the material will be discussed). You may also use the journal to collect materials from the media.

Reading response:

undergraduate students write a response to readings chosen from the syllabus for that week; no more than 1 standard page

graduate students comment on theoretical and methodological aspects of readings from the syllabus

Note:  graduate students consider all recommended readings as required

The journal is due at the end of the semester, but you may drop it off for informal feedback at any time during the semester.

Course outline

Jan. 6. Introduction to the course and its topic. Colonialism: the nature of the beast(s)


– D’Souza, D. 2002. “Two cheers for colonialism.” The Chronicle of Higher Education May 10 (CTools)

– Pennycook, A. 1998. English and The Discourses of Colonialism, Pp: 1-26. London and New York: Routledge (CTools).

Jan. 11-13. Language and colonial governance: The West Indian experience


– Fenigsen, J. 2007 “From Apartheid to Incorporation: The Emergence and Transformations of Modern Language Community in Barbados, West Indies,” Pragmatics 17(2):231-261 (CTools).

Jan. 18. MLK Day, no classes

Jan. 20-25. Language and governance: The African experience


– Mazrui, Ali A. and Alamin M. Mazrui, 1998  The Power of Babel: Language and Governance in the African Experience. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. For 01/20 read first packet only, chapters 3-5; for 01/25 read the second packet, chapters 8, 9, 11.

Jan. 27: Language, missions, and colonialism


– Fabian, J. 1983. “Missions and the colonization of African languages: Developments in the former Belgian
Congo.”  Canadian Journal of African Studies. Vol. 17(2): 165-187 (CTools)

– Pennycook, A. Pp. 40-44 (CTools)

Feb. 1.  Language, missions, and colonialism: gained in translation


– Rafael, V. L. 1987. “Confession, conversion, and reciprocity in early Tagalog colonial society,” Comparative Studies in Society and History. Vol. 29(2):320-339 (CTools).

Feb. 3-8. Categorical filters and blinds: (pre)texts of interpretation


– Bohannan, L. 1966. “Shakespeare in the bush,” Natural History Magazine, August-September (CTools).

– Mignolo, W. D. 1995. The Darker Side of the Renaissance: Literacy, Territoriality and Colonization. Ann  Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Ch.1, 2. Pp. 29-125 CTools).

– Greenblatt, S. J. 1990. Learning to Curse: Essays in Early Modern Culture. New York, London: Routledge. Ch. 2,  “Learning to curse: Aspects of linguistic colonialism in the sixteenth century.” Pp. 16-39 (CTools).

Feb. 10. Discourse, language, and colonial administration


– Hanks, W. F. 1987. “Discourse genres in a theory of practice,” American Ethnologist. Vol. 14(4): 668-692 (CTools).

Feb. 15. Language under plantation slavery


– Mintz. S. 1971. “The socio-historical background to pidginization and creolization.” In Hymes, D. Pidginization and Creolization of Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press. Pp. 481-498 (CTools).

Feb. 17. What happened to the language of the Inca?


– Mannheim, B. 1991. The Language of the Inca since the European Invasion. Austin: University of Texas Press. Pp. 1-9; 16-21; 27-28; 31-35; 36-40; 48-53 (CTools).

Feb. 22. Study day: no class meeting

Feb. 24. What happened to the language of the Inca (continued)?


Mannheim, B. 1991. The Language of the Inca since the European Invasion. Austin: University of Texas Press. Ch. 3 (CTools).

March 8, 10, 15. Transformations of ritual discourse


Kuipers, J. C. 1998. Language, Identity, and Marginality in Indonesia: The Changing Nature of Ritual Speech on the Island of Sumba. Studies in the Social and Cultural Foundations of Language. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. Ch. 2, 3, 6 (CTools).

March 17, 22. Language policies: administration and education


– Pennycook, A. Ch. 3, 4, 5 (CTools).

March 4, 9, 31, April 5. Colonial linguistics


– Errington, J. 2007. Linguistics in a Colonial World: A Story of Language, Meaning, and Power. Malden, MA: Blackwell. Ch. 2, 5, 6.

– Irvine, J. T. 2008. “Subjected words: African linguistics and the colonial encounter,” Language and Communication. Vol. 28: 323-343 (CTools).


– – Irvine, J. T. 1993 “The family romance of colonial linguistics: gender in 19th -century representation of African languages,”  Pragmatics. Vol. 5(2): 139-153 (CTools).

April 7, 12. From languages to identities


– Harries, P. 1988. “The roots of ethnicity: Discourse and the politics of language construction in South-East Africa,” African Affairs. Vol. 879346): 25-52 (CTools).

– Newell, S. 2009. “Enregistering modernity, bluffing criminality: How Nouchi speech reinvented (and fractured) the nation,” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology. Vol. 19(2): 157-184 (CTools).

– Steedly, M. M. 1996. “ The importance of proper names: language and ‘national’ identity in colonial Karoland,” American Ethnologist 23(3): 447-475 (CTools).

April 14, 19. (Post)colonial writers’ dilemma


– Price, R. and S. Price. 1997. “Shadowboxing in the mangrove,” Cultural Anthropology 12(1): 3-36.

– Schieffelin, B. and R. Charlier Doucet. 1994. “The real Haitian creole: Ideology, metalinguistics, and orthographic choice,” American Ethnologist 21(1): 176-200 (CTools).

Fenigsen, J. 1999. “’A Broke-up mirror’: Representing Bajan in print,” Cultural Anthropology 14(1): 61-87 (CTools).

Posted in Syllabus | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Field language competence article

On communicative competence…in the field‘ is a short ‘confessional’ article I wrote about the research challenges posed by limited field language competence and the development of field language competence while engaged in research. I’ve found it useful it in doctoral seminars on Ethnography of Communication and Language Socialization.

Posted in Readings | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Mock Spanish in Skippyjon Jones

The widely read Skippyjon Jones series of children’s picture books (Schachner 2003) presents Mock Spanish to the preschool set. Lots of material available on the website:

cover image of Skippyjon Jones

Skippyjon Jones © 2003 by Judith Byron Schachner

My name is Skippito Friskito.
I fear not a single bandito.
My manners are mellow,
I’m sweet like the Jell-O,
I get the job done, yes indeed-o.

Skippyjon Jones is no ordinary kitten. Oh, no…He’s actually El Skippito, a great sword-fighter ready to battle banditos the world over! With a little imagination and a whole lot of fun, this frisky cat dons a mask and cape and takes on a bad bumble-beeto to save the day. And along the way, he’ll be sure to steal young readers’ hearts, yes indeed-o!

Posted in Humor, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment