WAIL 2018 Information

UCSB Linguistics' 21st annual Workshop on American Indigenous Languages (WAIL) will be held April 20-21, 2018, from 8am to 5pm each day, in the McCune Conference Room (HSSB 6020).

This year's keynote speaker will be Anthony K. Webster (University of Texas-Austin), giving a talk entitled “The Understanding of a Simple Poem:” Seductive Ideophony, Misunderstanding and the Sounds of Navajo Poetry (abstract below).

Presenters, participants, and those interested in attending can register at the following link: https://tinyurl.com/WAIL21Registration

A schedule of talks and more information will follow shortly. We hope to see you there!


“The Understanding of a Simple Poem:” Seductive Ideophony, Misunderstanding and the Sounds of Navajo Poetry

Anthony K. Webster

Inspired by Edward Sapir’s suggestion that “the understanding of a simple poem” might be a key site for thinking through questions of linguistic relativity, I reflect on the social and linguistic processes of understanding and misunderstanding a “simple” poem. I begin by presenting a poem written in Navajo by Rex Lee Jim and four translations of the poem. Three will be from Navajo consultants and one of those translations will be, from a certain perspective, rather surprising. Namely, why does one consultant translate this poem as if it is composed of ideophones? The fourth translation is mine. I follow this by working through the morphology of the poem in Navajo and saying something more about the translators and the process of translation. I then provide a transcript of a conversation I had with Blackhorse Mitchell about this poem. I use this to take up questions of phonological iconicity (punning) and the seductive quality of ideophony. I also place this poem within a context of the stick dice game in Navajo philosophy. This leads, in the conclusion, to reflections about linguistic relativity, misunderstandings, sound, poetics and the role of a humanities of speaking in anthropology and linguistics.