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14th IPrA Conference Presentation

PhD Student Alex Shaitan presents at the IPrA Conference.

PhD Student Alex Shaitan

I had a great opportunity to attend the 14th International Pragmatics Conference held at the University of Antwerp in Antwerp city, Belgium, 26-31 July 2015. The special theme of the 14th International Pragmatics Conferences was Language and Adaptability. In particular, the conference aimed to address pragmatic studies of language as a variable and dynamic resource for human communicative behavior. The notion of adaptability is meant to capture this perspective. As a special theme for this conference, adaptability was used to highlight two dimensions of language use and pragmatic research:  the dynamic interplay between structural choices and context in the everyday practice of interactional language use, conversational or otherwise, private or public, informal or institutional. The questions addressed included the following pertinent issues: are context and structure separable? What does a language user’s ‘orientation’ to aspects of context mean? What do such questions and their answers imply for an understanding of implicitness vs. explicitness? How do or should the answers guide empirical pragmatic research?

The second core question related to the conference theme looked into the societal functioning of everyday language use in the wider context of linguistic diversity and change. Important questions included in the discussions germane to the following issues: how do not only cities, but also countryside, and continents, adapt to pervasive multilingualism, both in terms of everyday usage and in terms of policies? How do policies and usage relate to each other? How do individual speakers’ repertoires interact with changing social, spatial, and temporal circumstances? How does language manifest itself as an adaptable phenomenon in a context of changing communication technologies? How does political rhetoric adapt itself to changing historical circumstances?

Related to the issue of language use, I presented a paper jointly written with Dr. McEntee-Atalianis on identity crisis: half, hybrid or culturally homeless related to the mixed-race individuals (the haafus) in the context of Japan. Our research paper included the following abstract: “ For many years, a fascinating socio-cultural variant has manifested itself in Japanese society: the ‘haafu’, i.e. people of, ‘half-Japanese’ or, mixed ethnicity. Discourse in relation to this ‘community’ is eroding the image of Japan as homogeneous and/or monoethnic race/society. Born, raised and educated in Japan, people of mixed-ethnic parentage often find themselves as ethnically and culturally marginalized. Despite their native linguistic and cultural repertoire, they are treated as gaijin (a foreigner) in Japan since they are phenotypically different to the majority. These so-called haafu report experiencing an ethnic and cultural identity crisis resulting from social marginalization not only in Japan but also in the country of their non-Japanese parent. While studies have examined bilinguality and hybrid identity in many contexts (e.g. Luke and Luke, 1999; Noro, 2009; Schilling-Estes, 2004; Sechrest-Ehrhardt, 2012), including studies of adolescents in Japan (e.g. Greer, 2003, 2005; 2012; Kamada, 2008, 2009; Kanno, 2006; Murphy-Shigematsu, 1997) this study is the first to focus on identity of haafu adults in Japan. Drawing on Bamberg (1997) and Bamberg and Georgakopoulou’s (2008) model of positioning this study explores the constructive nature of small stories at the local conversational and interactional level (the micro level) and in relation to the sociocultural and ideological frame (the macro level). In particular, we focused on what small stories revealed about ‘haafu’ identity: the narrative positionings/strategies and how they construct their situations and relate these to ‘master’ narratives about ‘haafu’ in Japanese society; how they achieve this linguistically and discursively”.

It was an invaluable experience presenting our research paper at the 14th International Pragmatics conference as well as receiving constructive feedback from experts in the field of Applied and Sociolinguistics.  In addition, I was able to interact with novice academics and establish some contacts with American researchers who invited me to collaborate on a project scheduled to take place in June 2016, in Japan.