Tuesday, November 22, 2011
I wonder if anyone archived anything from New York's CGBGs before it went the way of most popular culture.... A quick google search throws up a few things
Monday, November 21, 2011
I usually hear New York before I see it. On the plane coming into the city, coming up the steps from the subway, and particularly emerging from Columbia’s immediate area and crossing into the surrounding city, I often find myself suddenly aware of one, a few, many, a waterfall of New York sounds and voices that signal to me things about where I am before I make a visual distinction of place. Which is why I found the following video entertaining and thought-provoking (if the video embed doesn't work, click here):
This video is an elaborate impression of the signs people send about themselves and their places through their voices. It demonstrates the several levels of linguistic analysis that are involved in instantly interpreting different accents in New York City, supposedly as a "native" New Yorker would hear them. There are phonological differences, in terms of the pronunciation of unique sounds within words, such as the “masticated vowels” in the Brooklyn accent, and in terms of the placement of stress on specific parts of the word, as in the punctuated first consonants heard in the Bronx accent. There is also the speed of speech, particularly evident in the Manhattan “fast-talker”, and cadence, as in the Brooklyn “sing-song” and the drawn-out, “nasally” Queens speaker. However, for each of the cases, the most significant point is that lifestyles, borough-specific cultural traits, and social attitudes are depicted as the causative factors behind different speaking styles. Although clearly intended to play lightly on classic borough stereotypes, a quick glance through the comments shows how strongly and widely these indices resonate, positively and negatively, with viewers.
Language, speech, and its associated forms and manners have long been a recognized site for signaling all kinds of anterior social information. To put a theoretical context to this, I turn to the rather well-known thoughts on language, symbolism and power of Bourdieu, for whom every act of speaking is also an act of positioning oneself, consciously or subconsciously within one’s social field (which in fact dictates the way in which you can carry out that act of positioning). How one speaks, as much as what one says, is an act of identity assertion, a process of articulating belonging or difference, and simultaneously claiming the authority to do so. He writes:
“Thus we know that properties such as voice setting (nasal, pharyngeal) and pronunciation (“accent”) offer better indices than syntax for identifying a speaker’s social class: we learn that the efficacy of a discourse, its power to convince, depends on the authority of the person who utters it, or, what amounts to the same thing, on his “accent” functioning as an index of authority. Thus the whole social structure is present in the interaction (and therefore the discourse): the material conditions of existence determine discourse through the linguistic production relations which they make possible and which they structure” (Bourdieu 1977: 653).
Accents (sounds, styles, forms, mannerisms of speech) are instantly meaningful to us because we recognize them by degrees of difference and sameness to not only our own accents, but to those of others operating across our social field(s). As such, they are symbolic of broader generalizations that we make about relative positions in those fields. Without delving further into the implications of his structural determinism here, I instead pose the issue of power and class relationships embedded in our interpretations of accents.
Bourdieu would see the stereotypes offered in explanation of the different borough accents as a reflection of the power struggles going on between social classes, and I do not dispute that the associations we make with the accents in the video reflect power dynamics past and present, but I think that this video also describes a site for positive identity claims. Through tongue-in-cheek stereotyping, the narrator bonds New Yorkers together through their idiosyncrasies of language; a local inverse of the perhaps now-clichéd observation by George Bernard Shaw that “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.”
This discussion is of course easy to elaborate out of New York City itself and consider in the context of broader regional or interregional accent relationships. I find it particularly interesting, as a Midwesterner, that the Midwestern accent is often described as the lack of an accent, as I have always considered (as implied above) that accents within a shared language are all relative to each other and any prescribed norm is an illusion created by a dominant group and, these days, enforced by the power of the media. However, speech behavior and attitude towards accent is different; I find that I subconsciously assert my “accent,” such that it is, and other distinctive speech patterns, far more strongly when I find myself outside of the Midwest, and even more so when outside the country, in a place where my accent or language is not the dominant social norm. This behavior in its various forms as conscious and subconscious, individual and group, and within and between languages, has been well-noted by linguistic anthropologists, who see it as a reaction to the fear of one’s identity disappearing into homogeneity or conformity. For many indigenous groups throughout the world, for instance, it has become a form of activism against a history of oppression and exclusion that progressively eroded their languages; for this purpose, the Endangered Languages Alliance exists in New York City: http://endangeredlanguagealliance.org/main. To bring this back to the case of city accents, a quick Google search for “New York City accent” will bring up pages of articles whose headlines proclaim concern for the demise of the “traditional” or “working-class” accent of New York City in an era of globalized language and media, changing city demographics, and increasing gentrification. These urgently-worded concerns, as well as long debates about their relevance and accuracy according to individual experience of accents, have been going on for years: http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/02/25/is-the-new-york-accent-disappearing/ for instance, and http://gothamist.com/2008/02/25/new_york_city_a_1.php). In these instances, accent and language have become potent symbols of identity and resistance that are continuously reconstituted in their daily use, and in the processes of re-learning, recording, teaching, and even in some cases, rejecting them.
Although it is somewhat beyond the scope of this contribution to consider fully here, I would also like to include a link to this 2006 article, presents changing city accents in a particular group defined by class, gender, and age (middle and upper middle-class, female, young) with a series of meditations on causes and meanings of this change. I offer one excerpt: “Mr. Vaux, who conducted a survey of American dialects while teaching at Harvard, said that while the voice heard increasingly in New York was distinctive, it was not particular to the region. Trying to pinpoint what made it unique, Mr. Vaux crossed off nasality, which he says is what humans always mistakenly identify as different in foreign speech. He overlooked “like,” for which he said the speakers of Sanskrit also had a penchant” (http://www.observer.com/2006/03/city-girl-squawk-its-like-so-bad-it-really-sucks/). Dell Hymes, in his work on ethnographies of speaking, also looks to antiquity when describing the method of assigning social and cultural characteristics to particular speech patterns. He cites Plato’s description of Athenians, Spartans, and Cretan speech patterns: “The Athenian citizen is reputed among all the Hellenes to be a great talker, whereas Sparta is renowned for brevity, and the Cretans have more wit than words” (Plato Laws Book I, Preamble: 28; cited also in Hymes 1974: 35).
Clearly, speech patterns have a long history of carrying all kinds of symbolic baggage around with them, and our interpretation of this baggage may tell us more about where we identify ourselves relative to the speaker than about the speaker themself. In either case, the processes of change played out in the sounds of speaking continue to fascinate and compel us to interpret and evaluate them.
Bourdieu, Pierre, 1977. “The economics of linguistic exchanges.” Social Science Information 16: 645-668.
Hymes, Dell, 1974. Foundations in Sociolinguistics: An Ethnographic Approach. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Plato, “Laws” in The Dialogues of Plato. B. Jowett (Transl.). Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1873.
Monday, October 31, 2011
Roly Poly is designed to enable two individuals to “sense” the presence of each other even though they may be physically apart. The mirrored movements in a pair of Roly Polys is such that a soft tap to rock one will simultaneously rock its partner to the same degree, creating a corresponding reaction in the other instantly. While the Internet provides a vast array of text messaging and video calling interaction options, Roly Poly offers a unique, spontaneous and subtle mode of instant communication, exclusive between two individuals.
Friday, October 7, 2011
|IND Subway 14th St|
|IRT 191st St|
|CTA 'L' Map|
|MTA Subway Map|
|Future 2nd Ave Line|
Sunday, September 25, 2011
Saturday, September 10, 2011
(photo credit: walking-men.com)
(photo credit: reason.com)
1. Deetz, James. Invitation to Archaeology. New York: The Natural History Press, 1967.
Saturday, July 2, 2011
Great blog about Benjamin Feldman's efforts to track down the history behind an old leather coin purse that he found at a Chealsea flea market. The NY Times also gives an account. Not quite the biography of an artifact, but the purse has opened up a fascinating story of immigration, lower east side tenements, prohibition, well-known descendants, and the changing city. The purse on its own likely wouldn't have prompted this search, but neither would Sol Goldberg's name without the purse. The combination of name and object is a potent semiotic mixture that, unlike most flea market finds, provides enough context to start a search, and evoke a sensual history.
Saturday, April 30, 2011
Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) Scholars Against Desecration: The Case of Naue
As the final speaker in the Ontologies of Exhumation lecture series, Native Hawaiian activist and scholar Dr. J. Kehualani Kauani, associate professor of American Studies and Anthropology at Wesleyan University, came to Columbia on April 21, 2011 for a session on Native Hawaiian indigenous politics surrounding the adverse effects of Hawaiian burial ground desecration in the form of architectural construction.
We examined the case of Naue, a beachfront along the northern shore of Kaua'i where real estate developer Joseph Brescia disturbed the grave of at least 30 known iwi kupuna (Hawaiian ancestral remains) - churned the ground with backhoes, crushing and mixing ancestral bones with sand and concrete - to build the foundation of a multimillion dollar home. The controversy lies within the suspicious nature in which Joseph Brescia obtained a permit to move forward with construction from the State Historic Preservation Division (SHPD) without the required consultation with the Kaua'i-Ni'ihau Island Burial Council.
Despite years of protests which began in 2007, Native Hawaiian protesters and activists were denied of their requests for a halt or temporary injunction to stop construction until a Burial Treatment Plan was approved (which wasn't until the 16th draft in March of 2010). Part of the issue was a lack of genealogical experts within the SHPD to trace familial lineages which were required by NAGRPA law in order to halt construction.
Our discussion with Dr. Kauanui brought to light several different kinds of issues which tie together many of the themes we covered throughout the semester - legal narratives, exhumation and ethics, agency of the dead, emotion, humanitarian narratives, counting the dead and representing the dead.
The case of Naue is a prime example of laws and "humanitarian" preservation organizations that fail to serve, protect and preserve the rights of indigenous groups on account of political corruption and legal ambiguity. NAGPRA, as originally drafted, pertained to "legally recognized" (a controversial issue in and of itself) Native Americans in mainland U.S.A., and tangentially, but inadequately, attempts to serve the needs of Native Hawaiians. As Dr. Kauanui discussed, there is an important difference between common descent and island identity. If mortuary practices are culturally bound, why do these laws operate as a function of biology/DNA/genetics? And what is to be done with corrupt archaeologists like Mike Dega, who Brescia hired and wrote the initial Burial Treatment Plan; or with SHPD officials like, Nancy McMahon, who approved Dega's BTP without consulting the Burial Council? Who's interests do they really serve? Who will the Kanaka Maoli and Iwi Kupuna turn to if the very organizations and stewards of cultural heritage do the exact opposite of what they were established to do?
The desecration of the Naue graves also invites us to think about the agency of the dead and how it is constantly undermined by secular hegemony that dictates who counts as human and whether or not the dead have rights. For Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) and general Kanaka (no direct lineage), human bones are very much alive and are believed to protect living descendants who in turn have a kuleana (responsibility) to respect and care for their ancestors and ancestral places of rest. Dr. Kauanui expressed the complexity of issues surrounding grave desecration which include arrests, negligence, a lack of interest from younger generations, and even an incident of suicide triggered by legal bouts. Carrying out their kuleana (responsibility to care for the dead) is also particularly difficult when jobs are on the line and when law enforcement use intimidation tactics against emotionally distraught locals.
Dr. Kauanui also recognizes the fact that these issues resonate not only with Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) but to the wider community, to the individual that simultaneously deals with being Hawaiian, a Christian, an archaeologist, and perhaps a construction worker or a law enforcer. As these issues are not black and white, we should all be prompted to think and act accordingly.
To hear more about indigenous politics, tune into Dr. Kauanui's public affairs radio program, "Indigenous Politics: From Native New England and Beyond" which airs on the 1st, 3rd, and 5th Tuesday of each month from 4-5pm EST on WESU, Middletown, CT. Past episodes are also archived at www.indigenouspolitics.com. Of particular interest might be "Desecration at Kawai'hao Church" from March 11, 2011.
Friday, April 29, 2011
There are many, many wonderful looking sessions over the course of the weekend - the difficulty will be choosing which ones to go to - Hope to see you there!
Thursday, April 28, 2011
Photo by Jonathan Moller, 2000, Nebaj, Quiche, Guatemala, "Praying at the gravesite of a man killed and buried by guerillas in 1983."*
On April 7, 2011, following the "New Pathways to Justice Conference: An International Conference to Stop Violence Against Women in Central America" at Lehman College, was the opening of a traveling photo exhibit at the Leonard Lief Library titled, "Refugees Even After Death: A Quest for Truth, Justice and Reconciliation." The photographs were taken by Jonathan Moller, between May 2000 and July 2001, as a staff photographer for the Forensic Anthropology team of the Office of Peace and Reconciliation of the Quiche Catholic Diocese in Guatemala. The images are connected to the ongoing forensic exhumations of clandestine burials, representing a small fraction of the 40,000 disappeared, that resulted from over 36 years of civil war between local rebels and the Guatemalan government.
Unlike other cases of archaeological exhumations of human remains, the indigenous people of Quiche, Guatemala - survivors of the Guatemalan Army acts of genocide - were in support of forensic archaeological work and sought to recover the remains of their loved ones for three primary reasons: for proper reburial, for collective proof of the horrendous acts adamantly denied by the Guatemalan government/army officials, and to charge those responsible for the injustice. But as mere words cannot adequately justify the impact of the horror surrounding genocide, Moller's traveling photographs resituate the intensity of emotion, the suffering of the victims, and the survivors' senses of loss, unity, desperation for justice, and even their sense of hope behind the fatigue of 15 years of hiding.
Moller's twenty or so photographs on display strongly demonstrate the power of images and their ability to evoke both conflicting and concordant emotions from viewers, which in a way reflects the very nature of the photographs' subject matter. How is it that I was drawn to the rich colors, beautiful landscape, and the captured feelings emanating from the people in the photographs and yet fearful of looking too closely at each portrayal of sadness, loss and despair?
The universal contortion of the face and downward turn of the mouth expressing grief on the survivor's faces found me fighting back tears and failing twice. I couldn't help but replace the faces and bones of the Quiche victims with those of whom I have lost or fear losing in today's heightened belligerent state. What do you do when the army shoots down your family and denies that it even happened? How do you cope with hiding until the Peace Accord was signed some 15 years later while knowing your likely deceased loved one may be lying in a ditch like road kill or eaten by wild animals?
How do you react when you realize that the skeleton unearthed before you is wearing your father's favorite trousers?
As the exhibit panels indicate, the families and forensic archaeologists involved continue to risk their lives as they, Guatemalan human rights organizations, other international human rights organizations, foreign governments and the Catholic Church wish to push forward with these exhumations, even in the face of resistance from some military sectors and the 90% of crimes that go unpunished.
So, what can we think about here? As a student of archaeology, exhumations like the ones in Quiche, Guatemala feel right when they are favorable in the eyes of the victims and survivors of wartime tragedies and when local indigenous groups are closely involved. Their involvement represences a level of reverence of which we may be too ignorant to realize and therefore unable to carry out. These bones live, tell stories, seek justice, bear our grief and are, for some, harbingers of hope.
* All photographs are taken from the "Refugees Even After Death: A Quest for Truth, Justice and Reconciliation" Exhibit at the Leonard Lief Library of Lehman College, 250 Bedford Park West, Bronx, New York.
Sunday, April 24, 2011
Saturday, March 26, 2011
Fernando Moscoso on Forensic Archaeology in Guatemala: Looking Back, Writing Recent History, & Advocating for the Use of Forensic Evidence in Court
Photo from http://www.fafg.org/Ingles/paginas/FAFG.html