• Hanni Woodbury on documenting an endangered language

    Guest post by Hanni Woodbury, author of A Reference Grammar of the Onondaga Language

    Onondaga is one of many extremely endangered Native American languages that survive now mainly because of the dedicated efforts by younger men and women who have memories of learning their ancestors' languages informally from their parents, grandparents, or elders in the community, and who, as English began to become the primary language spoken in their community, have dedicated themselves to keeping their language alive by developing extensive language programs for their communities.

    Why should we document an endangered language? There are many reasons, but here are the main ones:
    • because a language in many ways is a store of its speakers' knowledge;
    • because a language helps to express the cultural system of its speakers;
    • because speakers can use their language to express their identities;
    • and, finally, because teachers and students in language programs – in the absence, increasingly, of the older speakers – must depend on the secondhand record that thorough documentation provides to keep their language alive.

    The data used to document a language should, wherever possible, be a corpus of natural and spontaneous speech that is created by fluent speakers of the language. Because at this time, all speakers of Onondaga are also fluent speakers of English, it is especially important to use textual materials – stories, conversations, performances of speeches, etc. – for the purpose of documentation and to minimize the use of elicited data for fear that there might be interference from speakers' familiarity with English. The goal is to describe the language from data that represent the flow of language uninterrupted by suggestions from English.

    The Iroquoian family of languages divides into two branches, a northern and a
    southern one. The six surviving northern languages are Onondaga, Mohawk,
    Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora. The single language representing the
    southern branch is Cherokee. Today's two dialects of Onondaga exist in two
    locations: at Six Nations of the Grand River First Nations Reserve, near Brantford
    Ontario, Canada and at Onondaga Nation, which is located just south of Syracuse,
    NY, in the United States.

    I have been involved in the task of documenting the Onondaga language ever
    since the early 1970s. Writing the reference grammar has been the final step in this
    effort. Earlier work consists of a dictionary (also published by the University of
    Toronto Press), and numerous published and unpublished texts with their

    Linguists have various methods of creating a record that will help to describe a
    language fully. The classic method is the one I have used: it involves a great deal of
    fieldwork with as many speakers of the language as possible, recording and
    transcribing the field sessions, asking speakers to tell stories, speeches, and
    recording conversations among speakers, in addition to gathering detailed
    information that zeros in on those aspects that are especially distinctive of the
    language. Beyond fieldwork, it involves scouring libraries for all sorts of published
    and archived materials. Eventually these records are analyzed linguistically and
    organized in three major ways, as a group of texts with translations, as a dictionary
    and as a grammar.

    Numerous special features distinguish the Iroquoian languages from languages
    that are more familiar to speakers of English, and they impact the process of
    documentation. Perhaps the most noticeable feature is that the Iroquoian verb is
    astonishingly expandable with optional prefixes and suffixes that can be added
    singly or in combination to the verb root, affixes that are ordered in relation to one
    another. For example, the simple Onondaga verb héhsaks, given as 1 below,
    consists of three essential elements (morphemes) that are the minimal requirements
    of every well formed Onondaga verb: a pronominal prefix that references the agent
    (the performer of the action) and – if present – the patient (the under-goer of the
    action), an element that names the action itself (a verb root), and a final element
    that marks whether the activity is static or whether it changes through time (an
    inflectional element marking aspect). [Note that in the examples below morphemes
    are separated by hyphens]. As can be seen, this minimal verb form translates into
    an English sentence 'he is looking for it,' a sentence with a subject and an object:

    1. héhsaks
    he is looking for it

    The second and third examples illustrate two of a multitude of possible ways to expanded this verb by adding prefixes and/or suffixes. In example 2 a noun root -nahd- 'comb' is inserted. It specifies the nature of the object referenced in the pronominal prefix that the agent of the verb is searching for:

    2. hanahdíhsaks
    he's looking for a comb

    The verb with an inserted noun root shows a special feature of the Iroquoian languages, a robust process called noun incorporation.

    In example 3 a suffix -h-, a so-called dislocative, marks the fact that the actor is
    on his way to perform the action expressed by the verb:

    3. hehsákheʔ
    he's on his way to look for a comb

    Other prefixes and suffixes can be added to a verb root to mark directionality of
    the action (whether the action takes place towards the speaker or away from the
    speaker); the speaker's certainty as to the reliability of his assertion (it's what he
    heard someone say, it's what he saw with his own eyes, etc.); whether or not the
    statement should be understood in the negative; whether the action is to be
    repetitive or not; whether the statement should be taken as a command; whether
    the meaning of the word entails a change of state or involves two people or objects;
    whether the action coincides temporally with another action; whether the action is
    on the self (reflexive); whether one of the parties to the action is benefitted by the
    action; and many more. All of this and more can be signaled within the boundaries of a
    single word.

    Another feature of the Iroquoian languages is their free word order. Unlike the
    affixes that expand verbs and nouns which must occur in rigid order in relation to
    one another, the words in an Onondaga sentence can be moved around fairly freely,
    depending on what it is the speaker wishes to emphasize. As a comparison, think
    English: the dog bites the man vs. the man bites the dog – English being a language in
    which word order changes the meaning of sentences. In Onondaga, who bites
    whom is made clear by the pronominal prefix within the verb, and the differences
    in the two cited sentences signal that the first option is a sentence about a dog, and
    the second is a sentence about a man; but in each it is the dog that bites the man.
    These features have a direct impact on how information is organized between
    dictionary and grammar.

    Another distinctively Iroquoian feature is the system of pronominal prefixes that
    form a part of every verb – recall that they keep straight who is the agent carrying
    out the action of the verb and who the patient in every sentence. English has
    sixteen pronouns, Onondaga has fifty-eight! The details of the system are two
    complex to describe here, but the pronominal include three series, one to
    reference agents, one to reference patients, and one to reference agent and patient
    pairs (for verbs with two animate participants, e.g., he's thinking about her). The
    distribution is in part the result of verbal semantics and in part grammatical. In
    each of the series pronominal prefixes distinguish person (1st, 2nd, and 3rd as well
    as inclusion, i.e., whether or not the addressee is included in the reference), number
    (singular, dual, plural), and gender of animate entities (one masculine gender and
    two (!) feminine genders).

    An English dictionary and grammar divide up fairly neatly into two functions.
    The dictionary lists the store of words and is heavy with meanings, and the
    grammar describes the rules that combine sounds into words and words into
    phrases and sentences. An Iroquoian dictionary as can be seen from the
    descriptions above, is heavy on grammar, i.e., information that deals with the
    construction of words – recall those multiply expandable verbs – in addition to
    word meanings.

    The many years of studying the Onondaga language in depth have been rich with
    the pleasure of gaining insights and making discoveries. My hope is that this book
    will convey to the reader the excitement, surprises, and joys that lie ahead with the
    study of a language as full of intricacies and puzzles as is Onondaga.

  • Can Japan lead the green growth movement? Author Carin Holroyd explores Japan's efforts to match its climate change commitments

    Guest post by Carin Holroyd

    Governments around the world are obsessed with the challenge of combining two essential public policy objectives: addressing global climate change and building wealth and national prosperity. The industrial growth of the past half century has caused widespread, perhaps irreparable, damage to the global ecology, ushering in an era of uncertainty and climate paranoia. But no societies have yet indicated that they are prepared to accept a sharp reduction in their standard of living in order to slow, if not reverse, the pace of environmental degradation.

    In this situation, it is not surprising that the pursuit of green growth—economic expansion focused on the production and distribution of climate-saving technologies, products and services—has become an international priority. In the ideal formulation, new industries and businesses, employing thousands of people, would emerge in the environmental technology and new energy sectors with the products contributing far more to the amelioration of climate change than they would consume in energy and other resources. This is obviously attractive to national and regional governments, which seek highly skilled, highly paid work in viable, internationally engaged businesses while also providing leadership on addressing the challenges of global climate change.

    In Green Japan. I explore Japan's efforts to match its climate change commitments, which were transformed by the triple disasters in March 2011 and the near collapse of the Fukushima Nuclear Plant, with its desire for continued economic prosperity and employment opportunities for its citizens. Like most countries, Japan does not have an official "green growth" strategy; rather the country has made formidable investments in a variety of current and future technologies while using an array of public policy instruments to promote environmentally-sound energy and resource use within the country.

    That Japan would be at the cutting edge of environmental technologies is hardly a surprise. The country adapted well to the ecological excesses of the 1950s and 1960s, bringing in dramatic improvements in air and water quality, some of the world's most aggressive recycling and environmental signaling policies, and investing heavily in futurist energy systems from nuclear fusion to a proposed "lunar ring" that would transmit power from stations on the moon to receiving units on earth. Japan has one of the world's best commuter transit systems, with large percentages of the population using subways, buses and trains on a regular basis. Japan’s interest in energy efficient appliances and forms of transportation began after the oil shocks in the 1970s. The country’s lack of its own sources of energy and its resultant dependence on Middle Eastern oil made Japan painfully aware that it needed to diversify its sources of energy, limit energy use and develop new environmental technologies as much as possible. So, Japan has been pursuing strands of a green growth strategy for decades. It is the public policy lessons from this long term pursuit of green growth that I explore in Green Japan.

    Manufacturing standards and consumer awareness campaigns have encouraged and required companies to arrange for full product recycling and major improvements in energy consumption, with the country becoming a world-leader in net positive house construction (homes that produce excess power for the grid) and urban environmental design. Even municipal authorities are active on the green growth file, developing local smart energy grids and encouraging innovations in urban design that they are then marketing internationally through eco-city initiatives.

    In many ways, green growth symbolizes Japan’s attempt to reconcile two often competing elements of its national culture. The country’s penchant for industrial and manufacturing innovation is well-known as is its deep cultural affinity for nature, serenity and living in harmony with the natural world, value systems that were on international display during the 2005 Aichi World Fair. The government of Japan has called for active citizen engagement, through such initiatives as the old Team Minus 6% movement which encouraged/required offices to reduce heating and air conditioning usage, and other public displays of commitment to energy conservations. Japan’s development of its new energy and environmental technology sectors has employed a range of public policy initiatives and investments. There are lessons from these public policies that are useful for other governments, like Canada’s, that are interested in pursuing green growth.

    But the path forward is difficult. Japan is serious about responding to climate change and has made a concerted effort to cut CO2 emissions. But the nation’s plans took a real hit in 3/11 when it was forced to close, temporarily, its entire nuclear power system. While the Japanese public hopes that the plants will remain shut, the government feels it may have no choice but to reopen many of the nuclear facilities to keep up with consumer and industrial demand. Japan’s forward-looking investments are wildly speculative and, at times, breath-taking, but few countries in the world are looking as seriously and systematically at long-term power supplies that could wean the industrial economy away from fossil fuels.

    Japan is one of the world’s leading countries in the field of green growth. They lost an early lead in solar power production to Germany and, more recently, China, but continue to produce new products like energy-saving LED lights, hybrid, electric and hydrogen-fueled cars and trucks, creative large building designs (including the world’s largest wooden skyscraper which they hope will be the foundation for an “urban forest” inside Japan’s cities), and other market-based innovations that will keep Japan’s businesses strong, create international markets for their products and generate sustained national prosperity.

    The world has a great deal at stake in the comparative success of the green growth movement in Japan and other countries. If effective and viable models of industrial and employment growth emerge, producing personal and collective prosperity while improving environmental outcomes and preventing further climate change, the global impact could be significant. Failure to combine environmental sustainability and economic growth would lead to an acceleration of climate change with all of the negative and unpredictable consequences of ecological transformation.

    However, all countries cannot implement full green growth strategies without sparking a competitive industrial flurry that will increase consumption and the international environmental footprint. Japan, however, being one of the first and best in the field could reap sizeable economic and employment benefits, allowing it to dominate the field of environmental technologies as it has done in such sectors as automobiles and consumer electronics. If anything, Japan’s pursuit of green growth reveals the fundamental conundrum in environmental industrial policy, in which the desire for economic prosperity and opportunity continues to clash against the reality of a planet that is approaching its ecological limits.

    Carin Holroyd is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Saskatchewan.

  • Adventures in Blogging: Bringing Anthropology to the World

    For World Anthropology Day, we asked Paul Stoller to share his thoughts on the urgent need for a more public anthropology, as well as his ideas about blogging as one particular way to reach that public. Paul’s forthcoming book, Adventures in Blogging: Public Anthropology and Popular Media, will be available in April. Read an advance excerpt here

    We live in troubled times. In North America there is a wholesale assault on science, which, following longstanding practices, produces “inconvenient truths.” These truths stand in stark contrast to “alternative facts,” a patchwork of “big lies” that create a tapestry of untruth on media and social media. Taken together, these untruths have created an alternative universe of meaning. In this alternative universe, up is down, fiction becomes fact, and the truth, the ultimate objective of science, no longer matters. We are fast entering a seemingly limitless Orwellian space in which conspiracy theories are used in the blunt exercise of power that trumps the quest for truth and wisdom—the foundation of scholarship in the world.

    You can’t fight big lies with small truths.

    In this distressed environment, it is time for scholars, guardians of inconvenient truths, to meet their fundamental obligation: to produce knowledge that makes life a little bit better for us all. Although the pursuit of wisdom has long been the central obligation of scholars, we now live in a different climate than in years past. Most anthropological insights, for example, have been conveyed by way of scholarly essays and/or monographs. These texts have usually adhered to a strict set of rules. In science you are expected to present your findings and analysis in the bloodless prose of plain style. In so doing, we have let the power of our findings and our analyses—the facts, if you will—speak for themselves in an abstract and inaccessible language. For some time now, the persistent presence of deadly academic prose has meant that the public has little, if any, knowledge of our rigorously derived insights—insights that are important in the contemporary battle for truth.

    How many people, for example, know about important anthropological insights regarding climate change, racism, the re-emergence of Social Darwinism, the nature of religion and belief systems, the linguistics and cognitive science of propaganda, or the courage and resilience of peoples from what the American President has referred to as “shithole” countries?

    Not many!

    It’s true that anthropologists are waking up to the political and epistemological realities of a socially mediated world. An ever-increasing number of anthropologists now convey their slowly developed insights in documentary film, in drama, in poetry, in museums, and in media installations—all accessible ways to spread anthropological insights about a wide range of issues of social, economic, and political importance.

    I am one of many anthropologists who have felt the need to go public. In 2010, I realized that very few people had read what I had laboriously written in a narrative style designed for a broad audience. Despite my best efforts I understood that fewer and fewer people had the inclination to read anthropological works, including, of course, my own books and articles. I didn’t think it wise to abandon my professional writing, but felt compelled to blog anthropology by transforming complex ideas into simply stated and crisply written posts of 750 to 850 words.

    Could I do it?

    At first it was difficult to simplify tried and true academic prose, but after some false starts I found my blog rhythm and moved forward.

    I pitched an idea to HuffPost.

    They signed me up.

    I’ve been blogging anthropology ever since. In eight years of HuffPost blogging, some of my posts have spread far and wide in the blogosphere where readers liked, favorited, shared, and re-tweeted them. In some cases, 50,000 to 75,000 people would read my posts, meaning that the blogs had informed them of anthropological insights about US politics, the practice of social science, trends toward corporatization in higher education, critiques of shallow media representations, and narratives about the texture of human wellbeing.

    These days there are increasing numbers of scholars who are blogging anthropology. Most of them write skillfully about more or less anthropological subjects—especially emerging topics in archaeology and biological anthropology. In my blogs, by contrast, I have tried to bring anthropological insights to newsworthy events—the Presidential campaigns of 2012 and 2016, the dysfunction of the US Congress, the anti-intellectual war on science and social science, climate change, superstorms, and social dislocation. In the blogs, I make sure to highlight examples of apt anthropological concepts and demonstrate the wisdom non-western knowledge.

    I wrote Adventures in Blogging to show—rather than tell—anthropologists how they can use the medium as a powerful tool for mass education, a platform that connects disparate audiences. In this way, the book underscores how blogging anthropology increases cross-cultural understanding in a globally inter-connected world.

    Blogging anthropology is a different way of sharing anthropological knowledge.

    In today’s world, it’s a difference that makes a difference.

    Paul Stoller is Professor of Anthropology at West Chester University. He has published 14 books, including ethnographies, biographies, memoirs, and novels, and is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Robert B. Textor Award for Excellence in Anthropology. In 2013, King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden presented him the Anders Retzius Gold Medal in Anthropology. In 2015, the American Anthropological Association awarded him the Anthropology in Media Award. He lectures and conducts writing workshops in the United States and Europe.

    This piece is cross-posted on our Teaching Culture blog.

  • January Round-Up

    Here's what we were up to in January.


    • Acquisitions editor Mark Thompson and Suzanne Rancourt attended the annual Modern Language Association convention in New York from January 4-7, 2018.
    • Len Husband and Natalie Fingerhut was at the annual meeting of American Historical Association in Washington from January 4-7, 2018.
    • We were a part of the Ontario Book Publisher pavilion at the Ontario Library Association's super conference from January 31-February 2, 2018.

    Media Highlights:

    New Releases:

  • December Round-Up

    Here's a recap of what happened at the press in December.




    • Len Husband was at the annual conference of Association for Jewish Studies in Washington from December 17-19, 2017.


    Media Highlights:


    New Releases:

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