Dr. Ben Frey, Assistant Professor of American Studies at the University of North Carolina, will give a talk titled ""Negotiating with Giants: Agency and Interaction in Language Shift" as part of the “Linguistic Identity in the Americas” Faculty Research Seminar taking place at UGA during 2016-17. These events are co-organized with the Germanic and Slavic Studies Department.
Thursday, September 8th, at 3:30pm
250 Miller Learning Center
When communities transition from using one language to another, we often look toward individual agency as the deciding factor in the transition. Common discourse assumes that people choose to give up one language for another - but how real are these choices, given the sociological, economic, religious, and political circumstances that constrain these individuals?. This talk combines Wallerstein’s (2004) description of the capitalist world system with the notion of verticalization-driven language shift and orients shift within colonialism and the construction of race. I argue that language serves as an indicator of the larger global context in which communities find themselves, and the degree to which they have been able to retain their languages despite seemingly inexorable forces. Drawing on data from Wisconsin German, North Carolina Cherokee, and Pennsylvania Dutch, I show that while individual agency is constrained by global forces, many communities have leveraged factors such as religion and political sovereignty to negotiate with giants.