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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Department of Anthropology


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Events and Past Seminars

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(CULTURAL PLANET SERIES) "Challenges to Livelihood Resilience in the Anthropocene: Ecological Knowledge and Resource Management in a New Guinea Mining Area" (Jerry Jacka)

Some in the environmental sciences argue that we have entered a new geological epoch--the anthropocene--in which humans are impacting the planet at a global scale. Dr. Jerry Jacka explores this idea among the Porgera people of Papua New Guinea, indigineous forager-farmers who host one of the world's largest glod mines on their lands. Mining development has transformed Porgera society and environment; Jacka assesses these impacts by looking at changes in Porgeran ecological knowledge and resource management practices.

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Jacka Poster
Jacka Presentation

"Language and gender in an Amazonian society: male and female speech in Karajá (Macro-Jê, Brazil" (Eduardo Rivail Ribeiro)

Karajá, an indigenous language from Central Brazil, shows differences between female and male speech to a degree that is not found in other Brazilian languages.  These differences, first mentioned by Ehrenreich (1891, 1894) and studied more recently by Fortune & Fortune (1975) and Borges (1994, 1997), can generally be accounted for by regular phonological rules.  As in Koasati (Haas 1964), female speech can be considered as more conservative, male speech being characterized, in general, by the deletion of a velar stop occurring in the corresponding female speech form. This talk presents an up-to-date description of the differences between female and male speech in Karajá, taking into consideration for the first time data from all four dialects of the language and approaching facts that were not mentioned in previous studies.  Social correlates and possible scenarios for the diachronic origin of such distinctions will also be discussed.

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Ribeiro Poster
Ribeiro Handout

"Fragments of a Language Practice: Documenting the Chinantec Whistled Speech Register" (Mark Sicoli)

Speakers of SochiapamChinantec of Oaxaca, Mexico have historically used a whistled linguistic register for long-distance communication. Whistled speech was once such an important element of the language-culture of the community that boys who could not effectively communicate through whistles upon reaching adulthood would be fined bi-annually until developing competence. Whistled speech organized the police force, and served the general community for distance communication across the mountainous landscape—needs fulfilled today by walkie-talkies and public address systems.  In 2011, an interdisciplinary research team funded by a RAPID response NSF grant worked with five remaining community members who knew how to use whistled speech.  

See below for Whistles in the Mist: Whistled Speech in Oaxaca presented during the seminar.

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Sicoli Poster
Sicoli Presentation

"Jesuit Grammarians in the Chaco:
Their Analytical Strengths and Weaknesses"
(Willem de Reuse)

The Society of Jesus, more than any other order missionizing in the New World, put a special value upon learning the indigenous languages, and if Jesuits wrote grammars of them, they were often quite perceptive and rigorous. Furthermore, Jesuits with non-Spanish language backgrounds brought a variety of analytical skills with them. Although Zwartjes (2010) claims that the education of Jesuits was so international that their native language background would have mattered little, in this talk de Reuse argues that native language background and nationality mattered to some extent.

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de Reuse_20130213.pdf

"Encounter with the Harrington Collection: Building a New Generation of Access"
(Candace Greene and Stephanie Christensen)

The John P. Harrington Papers, one of the largest collections in the National Anthropological Archives, has been extensively used by researchers as diverse as linguists, ethnobotanists, environmental scientists, cultural anthropologists, and Native scholars from Oklahoma to Oregon. The NAA has launched a new effort to make this material more accessible, moving from microfilm and audio tape to online access. Members of the team will speak about some of the challenges, achievements, and rewards of work with this complex and challenging collection.

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"Love Letters and Goodbyes in Nepal: The Case for Linguistic Anthropology" (Laura M. Ahearn)
This talk analyzes some of the many social transformations that the village of Junigau, Nepal, has experienced over the past several decades and demonstrates the benefits of close attention to language for analyzing social change. Focusing on shifts in courtship and marriagepractices, Ahearn shows how the advent of female literacy led to an unanticipated switch from arranged and capture marriage to “love” marriage in the 1990s. She then turns her current work on the process of leave-taking in Nepal, examining farewell routines at the micro level and leave-taking at more macro levels in order to illustrate the benefits of linguistic anthropology for understanding cultural meanings and social relations.

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"Cloud traces: Texts from the codices of our memories" (Víctor Cata and Emiliano Cruz Santiago)
This presentation focuses on texts recovered from Zapotec knowledge bearers considered to be living codices who safeguard the memory of the Peoples of the Clouds. The texts are from Juchitán in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and from San Bartolomé Loxicha in the Souther Sierra, in Oaxaca, both Zapotec towns but with distinct Zapotec languages and cultural practices. The voices recovered through these two language and knowledge documentation efforts bear witness to distinct philosophies, cosmogonies and literary traditions. Further, they provide evidence of the changes taking place among the Peoples of the Clouds and in their cultures and languages which are under pressure given the dominance of Spanish in Mexico.

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Zapotec Handout.pdf

Zapotec1 Victor Cata presentation

Zapotec2 Emiliano Cruz presentation

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