Abstracts: Fall 2018

Nathaniel Gernez (IFRA Nairobi)
How can ethnography contribute to the study of daily life multilingual practices? Small talk and authority in a tree nursery of the Iringa region, Tanzania.

Tanzania is a country of great linguistic diversity that has built its national unity from promoting and ideologizing one specific language: Kiswahili. The success of this linguistic policy has often overshadowed the reality of Tanzanian’s concrete plurilingual practices. Hence the need to focus on speaker’s linguistic practices, not only in town but also in villages where the majority of Tanzanians still live.

The present communication will focus on an interaction filmed in a village called Lulanzi, on the Highlands of Iringa region. It takes place in a tree nursery owned by Chesco, a man in his mid-forties, working with his little brother, his eldest son and a worker. While the discussion about their work and the lunch break may seem to be only small talk, we will analyze how languages (the local language, Kihehe, and the national language, Kiswahili) are used to negotiate authority. In this particular situation of work, the use of Kiswahili indexes its socially dominant value to dissociate what has to be interpreted as a friendly discussion and what must be understood as boss-employee injunctions. This practical example will help us demonstrate how the ethnographic approach can serve the analysis of multilingual practices by allowing (through knowledge of speaker’s interrelations and shared representations) a deeper understanding of what is at stake in a common everyday life talk.

Leonie Cornips (Maastricht University)
Bidialectal children in Dutch Limburg growing up in a standardized world: a cognitive, sociolinguistic and acquisitional perspective

In my talk, I will focus on the phenomenon of bidialectism from different angles. I will first discuss outcomes of cognitive research revealing that dialect speaking children between 5 and 8 years do not differ in acquisition of Dutch vocabulary from their monolingual peers (Francot et al, 2017) and that they out-perform them in the Sky Search task (Blom et al, 2017).

Second, I will discuss the results from a sociolinguistic, observational study (Morilles Morales, 2017) of how and why children and their teachers choose between Dutch and dialect in kindergartens. In contrast to speaking the standard language, speaking a dialect in the Netherlands where a standard language is omnipresent is never a social neutral practice. Language ideology informs language choice in different language practices such as playing, singing, eating, and instruction.

Finally, I will discuss that the findings in the cognitive study and in studies about acquisition of grammatical gender in Dutch by bidialectal children are in contrast with the language ideology in education that acquisition of dialect will hinder a native knowledge and mastery of Dutch by young children (Cornips and Hulk 2008, Cornips 2014). I will follow Woolard’s (2016) cognitive frame in order to understand why speaking dialect in a standardized world gives rise to tensions both in society as well in linguistic research.

Cynthia Groff (Leiden University)
Language and Belonging: Policy, ideology, and minority youth in India, Québec and The Netherlands

The voices of minority youth are central in my exploration of language policies and language ideologies in diverse contexts. Young people strategically appropriate discourses and invoke scales in positioning themselves and making identity choices, influenced by the language policies and ideologies in each context. Drawing on my research in North India, Québec, Mexico, and now The Netherlands, I explore language policies and language ideologies from a micro perspective, showing how young people experience linguistic hierarchies in educational contexts and how they choose their words to express a sense of belonging or exclusion. Through extended, open-ended interviews, I have collected thoughtful narratives of young people regarding language, education, identity, and aims for the future. From Kumauni youth who feel a part of the greater Indian nation and yet are labeled a “backwards” people to Québec Anglophones who are made to feel different in their francophone environment and choose to position themselves as superior, the language choices of minority youth sometimes reflect and sometimes contest dominant discourses and language use patterns. In North India, I heard Kumauni young women identifying with the Kumauni, Hindi, and Sanskrit languages depending on the scale that they chose to invoke. In the Québec City context, the anglophone and other non-francophone youth who were interviewed chose to invoke national and international scales, presenting themselves as superior, rather than accept minoritization at the city and provincial levels. The youth both in North India and in Québec do not deny their minority identities but, by shifting scales in their discourses, embrace the opportunity to affiliate themselves with broader linguistic communities. As these two contexts are compared in light of emerging sociolinguistic concepts and using ecological metaphors, implications will be considered for issues of youth resistance and identity negotiation among linguistic minorities in the Netherlands, setting the stage and raising questions for my current Marie Curie research project in The Hague.

Nicholas Kontovas (Leiden University)
Turkish Queer slang: Language contact and the construction of non-ethnic identity

Queer communities have been known to develop their own in-group language, drawing upon the languages of other minorities with which they come in contact. A number of Queer slang varieties have been well-documented. Polari (Baker 2002) – once spoken in London – and Kaliarda (Petropoulos 1971) – currently spoken in Greece – both benefit from from extensive descriptions of their lexicons, as well as the social conditions surrounding their historical development based on fieldwork and archival research. By contrast, the slang known as Lubunca used mostly by gay men and transsexuals in Istanbul has received only scant mention in the scholarly literature on Queer language (Kyuchukov & Bakker 1999 ; Yüzgün 1986), and no systematic account of its lexicon or development has yet been produced. The purpose of this research project, which began as my Master’s thesis at Indiana University, Bloomington (completed 2012) is to construct a narrative explaining the historical development of slang among the Queer community in Istanbul. I will focus on the ways in which the sociolinguistic ecology of the district of the city has changed over time, and along with it the composition of in-group language among (in modern terms) gay male and trans women sex workers from the Ottoman Empire to the present day as recorded in contemporary travelogues and erotic literature. I will also explain how members of the more recent Queer community have transmitted and acquired knowledge of Lubunca, all the while responding to shifts in the linguistic market by incorporating words from the various ethnolinguistic minorities around them. It is my hope that, by examining the very special circumstances which led to the creation of Lubunca, we might be able to make useful statements regarding how certain peculiar factors – such as the consciousness of identity construction, desire for maximal incomprehensibility, idealization of the subaltern, and intense borrowing with minimal bilingualism – might inform our theoretical apparatus for examining more “traditional” language contact situations.

Rajeshwari V. Pandharipande (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
Language of Religion: What does it inform the field of Linguistics?

Language of religion has been studied from diverse perspectives of theology, philosophy, and sociology. While Philosophers’ and theologians’ primary focus has been on the logical analysis of religious belief, and its epistemological status (Ayer 1946), sociological perspective on religious language concentrates on functions(s) of religious language in the religious as well as secular domains (Fishman 2006, Pandharipande 2010). Contributions of language of religion are well recognized for the emergence of Sanskrit (Paniniyan linguistics (see Kiparsky 2001), Arabic (Suleiman 2001), Hebrew grammatical traditions (Tene 2001) among others. Similarly, the theories of production and cognition of language evolved from the study of religion and religious language (Kunjuni Raja1963). Religious language has also contributed to the development of prosody, literary genres. This paper will assume these contributions of religious language to linguistics but not focus on them but rather, concentrate on the questions about language of religion as a register of a natural language.

Current research in linguistics treats language of religion as a register of language used in the domain of religion and primarily aims at identifying those structures and functions of religious language (lexicon, syntax, phonology, morphology, prosody etc.), which differentiate it from its non-religious counterpart. Samarin (1976:5) succinctly summarizes linguists’ functional approach to religious language, “Sociolinguistic studies of religion seek to determine the way in which language is exploited for religious ends.”
While scholars recognize distinctiveness of religious language, they also articulate limitations of current research. Crystal (1981) claims that “theolinguistics” at present lacks the appropriate linguistic techniques (standardization of lexicon, for example) for analyzing religious language. Holt (2006: 13) argues for the need to explore variation in language of religion “in terms of its function, style, historical context, mode, its interrelation with other texts, mode and language variable.” Fishman (2006) claims the lack of theoretical rigor in the research on religious language.

The research does not adequately discuss the following questions:

  1. Can we define the differentia of religious language cross-linguistically and cross-culturally? Furthermore, can we define it exclusively in terms of its linguistic structures and functions? ,
  2. How do we define “competence” in religious language within speech communities,
  3. How do we account for the variation in features of religious language across space and time in multilingual speech communities, and finally,
  4. What is the rationale for the difference between religious and non- religious language?

In this presentation, I argue that we cannot determine the differentia of language of religion exclusively in terms of its structural or functional features since structurally mutually exclusive languages can qualify as languages of a religion within speech communities. The differentia of language of religion is its underlying system of thought (Barr1979:435) or framework/conceptualization of absolute/ non-contingent reality determined by the religious beliefs, which differs from its counterpart underlying the non-religious registers of a natural language. I further claim that the linguistic features of religious language derive their meaning/function with reference to the underlying conceptualization of reality defined within religion. For example, a statement, “It (the transcendent Divine) is far as well as it is near” (Isa Upanishad: 5) expresses all-pervasiveness of the Divine and is meaningful/does not present contradiction in the context of conceptualization of the Divine and in Hinduism. Thus, the religious language may share the linguistic structures with the non-religious registers but their meaning/semantics differs in religious and non-religious registers due to the difference in their underlying systems of beliefs.

I argue that the “competence in religious language” necessarily includes the understanding of the underlying framework of religion. Finally, I point out the need to recognize that the speech community’s repertoire can include more than one conceptualizations of reality (a counterpart of diglossia) which speakers can use alternatively in religious and non–religious contexts respectively. I call this a Di-system. I will show that above hypothesis is applicable to language of religion across religions, and it is useful to answer the above questions in a straightforward fashion.

I will discuss the theoretical and empirical significance of the proposal presented above. In this context, I will discuss the issue of inter-translatability of languages of religion. This discussion is particularly relevant in the 21st century diasporas of cultures and speech communities are adopting language of the new homeland for the expression and communication of their religion.


A.J. Ayer. 1946. Language, Truth, and Logic. London: Gollancz

Crystal, D. 1981. “Generating Theological Language”. In J.P. van Noppen (ed), Theolinguistics (Free University, Brussels), Studiereeks Tijdschrift VUB, Niuwe Serie 8, 265-81.

Fishman, J. 2006. “A Decalogue of basic theoretical perspectives for Sociology of language and Religion”. In: Omoniyi/Fishman (eds) 13-25.

Holt, R. 2006. “A Sociolinguistic Approach to Religious Language”. In Australian Journal of Theology 6.1-14.

Kiparsky, P. 2001. “Sanskrit (Paninian) Linguistics”. In Sawyer, J.A., Simpson, J.M. and Asher, R.E. (eds). Concise Encyclopedia of language of Religion. Elsevier. 384-390.

Kunjuni Raja. 1963. Indian Theories of Meaning. Madras, India: The Adyar Library and Research Center.

Pandharipande, R. 2010. “Ideology, Authority and Language Choice: Language of religion in South Asia”. In Ominiyi/Fishman (eds) Explorations in Sociology of language of Religion. 141-164.

Samarin, W.J. (ed) 1976 Language in Religious practice: Introduction. Rowley: Newbury House Publishers, Inc.

Suleiman, M.Y.I.H. 2001. “Arabic Linguistic Tradition”. In Sawyer, J.A., Simpson, J.M. and Asher, R.E. (eds). Concise Encyclopedia of language of Religion. Elsevier. 326-335.

Tene,D. “Hebrew Grammarians”. 2001. In Sawyer, J.A., Simpson, J.M. and Asher, R.E. (eds). Concise Encyclopedia of Language of Religion. Elsevier. 348-354.

Nurenzia Yannuar (Leiden University)
The Structure and Development of an Indonesian Youth Language

The speech of the people in Malang, East Java, Indonesia, is often misunderstood by other Javanese speakers, because of its distinctive accent and the presence of unfamiliar words in it. Some of them are neither Eastern Javanese nor Indonesian words; they are created through word reversal processes.

Bòsò Walikan Malangan (hereafter referred to as Walikan) is a term used by the people of Malang to refer to the practice of reversing words. The word bòsò means ‘language’, walikan means ‘reversed’, while malangan ‘Malang style’ denotes its origin. Walikan has been around for decades and is mostly used among the youth. It demonstrates the linguistic creativity of its speakers as they manipulate the structure and semantics of words originating from different codes including Javanese, Indonesian, and other non-related languages like English and Arabic.

This presentation aims at describing the typological and sociolinguistic aspects of Walikan. First, we will briefly look at the internal structure of Walikan words and compare it to that of Malangan Javanese and Malangan Indonesian words. It will be shown that the structure of Walikan can clarify certain aspects in the phonology of Malangan Javanese and Malangan Indonesian.

The presentation will focus on the history, the current use, and the direction in which Walikan may develop in the future. We will explore how Walikan metamorphosed from a male-dominated youth language into a language that is also accepted by females and older individuals. Walikan can now be found in spoken media (television, radio, songs, and YouTube) and written media (dictionaries, newspapers, and social media). In addition, Walikan also appears in public signage around the city’s linguistic landscape. We will examine how Walikan, a local linguistic practice that is not supervised by the nation’s Language Planning Bureau, is able to make it into the city’s linguistic landscape.