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Research Student Susan Samata Presents at the Crossling Symposium

Susan Samata shares her experience of presenting at the first Crossling Symposium at the University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu

Susan Samata, Research Student for the Department of ALC, tells us about her presentation at the Crossling Symposium

28 February to 1 March 2013

Crossling Symposium: Language Contacts at the Crossroads of Disciplines

University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu

I presented a section paper at the first Crossling Symposium at the University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu. Crossling, a cross-disciplinary research network, was founded in spring 2011. The network combines different areas of research which deal with language contact: contact linguistics, second language acquisition research, and translation studies. This symposium attracted contributors from across Europe, Russia and beyond. There is great energy and enthusiasm in this organisation, combined with openness to new ideas. My abstract:

The ornaments of forgetting: a welcome heritage?

‘The ornaments of forgetting’, this phrase, characterising memories, is taken from a Walter Benjamin essay, On the Image of Proust, in which Proust’s method is described as ‘a Penelope work of forgetting’ (ibid). I chose this quotation as an illustration of one of the benefits an interdisciplinary approach can offer: a freedom of imagination -a sort of permission to let the mind wander. This paper will consider the types of language ability retained by people who cannot actively use their parents’, or grandparents’, first languages.

Current research for my PhD, conducted using semi-scheduled ethnographic-type interviews the main object of which is to discover how people are affected by an inability to speak their parents’ first languages, has also highlighted some areas in which my informants feel that they can genuinely participate in their parents’ L1, despite their very limited grasp of the language. These tend to be areas of more phatic communication such as greetings, or songs and prayers. Informants report exclusively pleasant associations with such language use that positively reinforce the ‘other’ aspect of a hybrid identity: the ornaments of forgetting.

This type of language use typically carries a low communicative weight while requiring a certain level of bodily participation; the bow, kiss or wave that accompany greetings are examples of this. Language plus gesture is the subject of an extensive study by Nick Enfield, who argues for the fundamental character of, ‘the communicative move…defined as a single, complete pushing forward of an interactional sequence by means of making some relevant social action recognizable…a richly multimodal flux of impressions…(Enfield 2009, 11) as underlying all spoken language. This paper explores the idea that the physical component of the communicative move may act to preserve cultural memory via language as ‘memory sedimented in the body’ described by the social anthropologist Paul Connerton (Connerton 1989, 2009) and the philosopher Edward Casey. (Casey 2000) Anecdotal evidence suggests that such memory is more resistant to attrition than other aspects of language. Methodological problems in approaching systematic study of these rather attenuated phenomena will also be considered, with reference to transdisciplinarity among Applied Linguistics, Social Psychology, and Cultural Memory.

Benjamin, W. (2005 (1934)). On the image of Proust. In M. W. Jennings, H. Eiland, & G. Smith (Eds.), Selected Writings (H. Zohn, Trans., Vol. 2 part 1, pp. 237-247). Cambridge MA: Belnap, Harvard University Press.

Casey, E. S. (2000). Remembering: A Phenomenological Study. Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press.

Connerton, P. (1989). How Societies Remember. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Enfield, N. J. (2009). The Anatomy of Meaning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.