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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Welshness politicized, Welshness submerged: The politics of 'politics' and the pragmatics of language community in north-west Wales
by Maas, Steven M., Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2012, 470; 3633385
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation investigates the normative construction of a politics of language and community in north-west Wales (United Kingdom). It is based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted primarily between January 2007 and April 2008, with central participant-observation settings in primary-level state schools and in the teaching-spaces and hallways of a university. Its primary finding is an account of the gap between the national visibility and the cultural (in)visibility communities of speakers of the indigenous language of Wales (Cymraeg, or “Welsh”). With one exception, no public discourse has yet emerged in Wales that provides an explicit framework or vocabulary for describing the cultural community that is anchored in Cymraeg. One has to live those meanings even to know about them. The range of social categories for living those meanings tends to be constructed in ordinary conversations as some form of nationalism, whether political, cultural, or language nationalism. Further, the negatively valenced category of nationalism current in English-speaking Britain is in tension with the positively valenced category of nationalism current among many who move within Cymraeg-speaking communities. Thus, the very politics of identity are themselves political since the line between what is political and what is not, is itself subject to controversy. The result is what I call the “submergence” of Cymraeg-oriented cultural communities: People who would say Cymraeg is an essential part of their personality and communities mark out cultural space for their sense of continuity (to the past, to others) in ways that do not require or enable them to make any substantive cultural claims.

Within these settings of a modalized Welsh culture—always only partially expressed— indigeneity and ethnic difference are symbolized by the emblematic and lived importance of Cymraeg, while the significance of Cymraeg tends to be implicitly conveyed by means of overt references to “Welshness”.

This cultural submergence of the resources for Cymraeg-centered identity seems motivated and sustained by the fact that it produces a haven from holiday-goers and English patriots who do not value Welsh cultural features as highly as do those who take pride in the Cymraeg-centered cultural community. In light of these features of local life, I suggest several terms of art—including “language demesne” and “language corridor”—because they are more fitting of local politics than is the idea of a (global) language community.

This dissertation also contributes a theoretical basis for examining the pragmatics of language communities, which requires differentiating phenomenal-level semiotic analyses from investigations of the dynamics of cultural discourse. The “obvious” empirical situation in Wales—as analyzed using a Peircean-phenomenological semiotics—runs contrary to the relatively opaque and counter-empirical cultural dynamics in Wales. As a result, this account of the tensions between semiotic descriptions and cultural dynamics signals a wrinkle in received theories of metapragmatics. Conventionally, metapragmatics makes sense of the text–discourse relation, but not the relations between discourse and consciousness because theories of metapragmatics apply only to the former. Unless the relationship of text-and-discourse to consciousness is explicated at the epistemological level of analysis, ethnographic descriptions of locales within language communities—particularly those rife with language politics—can take on the appearance of an ontology of human kinds. Given this condition, any broad account of the cultural dynamics of language and community must take an analytic position regarding the relationship between the surface-level of semiotics and the historical and cultural processes of community constitution.

My approach engages directly with the neglected conflict between the strategy of primordialist essentialism and that of constructivism. The analytic strategy and theoretical perspective of this dissertation avoids the scholarly tendency to treat certain local conceptions as misconstruals of sociocultural life. Instead, they are treated as locally valid and proper constitutings of divisible community. Academics would be no less inclined to reject analogous conceptual entailments in their cultural worlds despite their commitment to the view that sociocultural realities are constructed. The position adopted here underwrites an account that denaturalizes without denaturing the essentializing claims (e.g., of language activists) in north-west Wales.

In engaging with current analytic strategies in linguistic anthropology, my “inferentialist” and pragmatistic strategy frames the politicizing of language and community in north-west Wales using an alternative to linguistic indexes or icons, which are grounded in an empirical sense of necessity. The framework adopted here envisions an empirical field organized not only by necessary principles of Welsh belonging that are practiced or not, but by tensions among many different “modal” types of constraints—normative principles that are inferable from community-specific ways of enacting belonging to a particular sociocultural imaginary that owes its coherence to language affinity. Consequently, this dissertation treats languages themselves as inhabitable and provides a theoretical justification for doing so.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Keller, Janet D.
Commitee: Feinberg, Walter, Koven, Michele, Lugo, Alejandro, Orta, Andrew
School: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Department: Anthropology
School Location: United States -- Illinois
Source: DAI-A 75/11(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Cultural anthropology, Multicultural Education, Sociolinguistics
Keywords: Cymraeg, Ethnicity, Language community, Politics of identity, Wales, Welsh
Publication Number: 3633385
ISBN: 978-1-321-13185-7
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