Documenting Yupna Diversity: Linguistic, Sociolinguistic & Sociocultural Perspectives on Variation in a Papuan Language Family


Documenting Yupna Diversity: Linguistic, Sociolinguistic & Sociocultural Perspectives on Variation in a Papuan Language Family

Language: Bonkiman (ISO639-3:bop), Domung (ISO639-3:dev), Yuwong, Yopno (ISO639-3:yut)
Depositor: James Slotta
Location: Papua New Guinea
Deposit Id: 0344
ELDP Id: IPF0202
Level: Deposit


Summary of deposit
This project documents the dialects and languages spoken in a portion of the Yupna region, an area of extreme linguistic diversity within one of the most linguistically diverse countries on earth, Papua New Guinea. Although multilingualism has been an everyday fact of life in these communities, state schooling is drastically reducing local linguistic diversity. Through linguistic elicitation, interviews, and recording of interactional events, the project captures a cross-section of the variation found in a set of neighboring villages where four related languages are spoken: Bonkiman (150 speakers), Yuwong (100 speakers), Domung (2,000 speakers), and Yopno (8,000 speakers).

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Curated
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Depositor

James Slotta
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Deposit Statistics

Data from 2017 May 22 to 2017 May 22
Deposit hits:5
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Showing 1 - 10 of 148 Items


Voice is a major concern in contemporary liberal-democratic politics, one that stresses the political importance of speaking (“giving voice,” “speaking up”). But in the Yopno valley of Papua New Guinea, where NGO and government projects are expanding, people’s sense that they are losing control of their future has led them to worry about their capacity to listen, not their capacity to speak. In largely acephalous villages, people’s self-determination seems particularly threatened by their ignorance of the true nature of their own actions. From a perspective in which the antecedents and the consequences of action are deeply unclear—a perspective stressed in the provisioning of expertise prevalent in political discourse—self-determination hinges on listening and gaining the understanding needed to shape one’s future.

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This paper examines the enregisterment of dialect shibboleths among the Yopno of Papua New Guinea. The Yopno recognize dialect shibboleths as indexes of a speaker’s ‘‘home vil- lage,’’ yet people employ dialect shibboleths associated with others’ villages in systematic ways, offering little explicit metapragmatic commentary about such uses. Through the analysis of two interactional events, this paper demonstrates how the social meaning of using another’s dialect shibboleths is generated through figures of speech (i.e. tropes) that are manifest in the implicit metapragmatic structuring of discourse through parallelism. Though much work on enregisterment foregrounds the role of explicit metapragmatic dis- course in the process, this case highlights the important role played by tropes figured in the implicit metapragmatic structuring of discourse.

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Like many over the past century, people in the Yopno Valley of Papua New Guinea have experienced a burgeoning of connections with people across great geographical distances. Building on Benedict Anderson’s well-known discussion of the nation as a “community” imagined in part through the realist framing of newspaper reporting, novels, censuses, and so on, I argue that revelation is an interactional frame central to an emerging global imaginary in the Yopno Valley, one that lies at the heart of Yopno engagements with transnational projects ranging from Christian missionization to environmental conservation and development through Western-style education. In the course of sermons, community meetings, public announcements, and the like, people frequently reveal knowledge of transnational institutions to others, presenting themselves as the necessary mediators between an “out-of-touch” community and a knowledgeable, powerful, and yet obscure world of transnational actors. The world perceived through revelation is one in which persons are defined by their place in a global hierarchy organized by the trajectory of knowledge in circulation, with the Yopno, the last to know, at the bottom. This imaginary, in turn, is reshaping power relations in Yopno communities and influencing people’s understanding of and interest in various transnational projects.

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J. L. Austin’s influential dissection of speech acts into locutionary, illocution- ary, and perlocutionary acts has given rise to much scholarly attention to illocutionary acts and forces. While the perlocutionary facet of speech acts has gone largely undiscussed by philosophers and linguists, folk theories of language often attend closely to the relation between speech and its con- sequences. In this article, I discuss one conception of perlocutions prominent in Yopno speaking communities in Papua New Guinea that emphasizes the agentive role of listeners in mediating between speech and its outcome. This cultural conception of perlocutions, I argue, is tied to a political sensi- bility that stresses the self-determination and equality of adult men. The article shows how cultural conceptions of perlocutions provide insight into political values and practices, and how political concerns inform folk models of perlocutions.

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Speakers of many languages around the world rely on body-based contrasts (e.g., left/right) for spatial communication and cognition. Speakers of Yupno, a language of Papua New Guinea’s mountainous interior, rely instead on an environment-based uphill/downhill contrast. Body-based contrasts are as easy to use indoors as outdoors, but environment-based contrasts may not be. Do Yupno speakers still use uphill/downhill contrasts indoors and, if so, how? We report three studies on spatial communication within the Yupno house. Even in this flat world, uphill/downhill con- trasts are pervasive. However, the terms are not used according to the slopes beyond the house’s walls, as reported in other groups. Instead, the house is treated as a microworld, with a “concep- tual topography” that is strikingly reminiscent of the physical topography of the Yupno valley. The phenomenon illustrates some of the distinctive properties of environment-based reference systems, as well as the universal power and plasticity of spatial contrasts.

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Community leaders in Nian village express their gratitude to visitors who held a coffee-growing workshop in their village. This offer of thanks is accompanied by gifts of pig tusk necklaces, which transform the event metaphorically at least into a bridewealth payment. This is done to secure an ongoing relationship with the Papua New Guinean coffee industry and an American coffee distributor. The original Yopno speech is translated by participants into Tok Pisin and then English as the necklace is passed along to its final recipient.

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