Through this project I seek to understand, from a performance-centered perspective, “language-culture talk.” Understood in broad terms, language-culture talk is a metalinguistic, metacultural register of speech. The subject of language-culture talk is, as one would expect, language and culture.
My project concerns a type of language-culture talk that has become ubiquitous worldwide among Indigenous communities where accelerated cultural change and language endangerment has occurred since contact with non-Indigenous peoples. In such communities, there is much talk about threats to traditional culture and language, and ensuring cultural and linguistic survival through maintenance, reclamation, and revitalization. Also, this type of language-culture talk is sometimes delivered using a way of speaking associated with the indigenous culture and language about which such talk is concerned. That is, in addition to being an instance of talk about language and culture, language-culture talk may be spoken in ways that are considered part of the traditional communicative repertoire of the people whose language and culture are threatened. The term “language-culture talk” (LCT), thus, indexes both the referential meaning of what is said and the way in which it is said or, in many instances, performed.
Currently I am writing an article that introduces, from a performance-centered perspective, some formal features of language-culture talk. The performances of LCT are drawn from among the Lakota. The performances show the use of a traditional Lakota oratorical genre, and display a number of stylistic features, including: formulaic invocations; use of extended metaphors; repetition and grammatical parallelism; prosodic segmentation into measured lines; use of illustrative narratives; and reflexive references—all keyed to the Lakota genre wayáksape ‘to give wise advice’ and delivered almost entirely in English.
I am also collaborating with Gabi Hitel and Caroline Bixby, who are undergraduate students at Bucknell, on a language-culture talk study. We are investigating how demographic and temporal scales related to language endangerment and revitalization are constituted by and constitutive of LCT. Our work involves examining the use of LCT in Lakota media, and finding out how Lakota people are using technologies of communication (i.e., radio, newspapers, circulars) to both construct and overcome problems of scale that are related to language and culture endangerment and revitalization within the Lakota community.
I recently published with Richard Bauman an article (Henne-Ochoa and Bauman 2015) in which we examined language-culture talk among the Lakota and showed how generations (children, youth, parents, elders) are discursively constructed, not a priori social categories. In addition, we demonstrated how these generations are aligned through language-culture talk to sociolinguistic and moral features.