Bruce Mannheim, professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan, is the guest speaker at the LI Journal of Anthropological Research distinguished Lecture at The University of New Mexico. The event is co-sponsored by the UNM Latin American & Iberian Institute and will be held Thursday, Feb. 24, at 7:30 p.m. in the UNM Hibben Center Room 105.

Mannheim will present, Mother Tongue, Father Tongue, Place Tongue: 21st Century Language Transmission and Language Survival in the Andes and Amazonia

While specialists in linguistic anthropology and cognitive development have long since discarded the idea that language is merely inherited from parent to child, drawing evidence from virtually all parts of the world, the imagery and ideology of parent-child transmission as the foremost or dominant mechanism persists among educators, international aid workers, agencies such as UNESCO, and even geneticists. The favored expression among educators and international aid workers, “mother tongue,” has been challenged by researchers in the Andes and western Amazonia, who have observed that in marriages among speakers of two indigenous languages, the children adopt the language of their fathers, so “father tongue,” explained Lawrence Straus, Emeritus Leslie Spier Distinguished Professor at UNM, who coordinated the event.

But that does not capture the generalization either, he continued. In the central Andes, though people speak to each other and to the places in which they live and work, in a place tongue, and under the right circumstances, the places speak back. So, to understand language transmission and persistence, we need to understand the ways in which people are connected to their communities and places through the languages of each place. 

There are some practical consequences. The languages in question are threatened with extinction; the response of educators and international agencies has concentrated on maintaining the languages through western institutions and among individuals, in the best of circumstances engaging communities in ensuring the survival of their languages. But the lesson of our transmission story for their communities in South America – and for their counterparts in the US Southwest – is that language survival is so intimately bound up with everyday social practices and places that it is bound to the survival of these practices thus to cultural and social sovereignty. 

A specialized seminar will be held Friday, Feb. 25, at noon in Anthropology Rm. 248. Mannheim will present Anthropology as a Consilient Science: Quechua and Ancestral Inka Cases.

North American anthropology, since the early 20th century and as we currently practice it, is a compound discipline, defined by a partially overlapping set of problems that have reconfigured the relationships among its subfields continuously, Mannheim explained. 

Research that crossed subfields most often followed a model of “inter-disciplinarity” in which researchers worked on separately conceived problems and compared results. Mannheim advocates a different approach – consilience – in which a singularly conceived research question brings together evidence that nominally comes from different disciplines/sub-disciplines to study a single social phenomenon. The disciplines themselves exist primarily to organize research methodologies and scholarly communities, but do not define distinct objects of study. He will discuss two examples: understanding human face-to-face social interaction in general, and understanding the process of world-making among southern Quechuas, including their Inka ancestors. Both examples are centered in anthropology, but spill over into other disciplines: linguistics, cognitive science, and colonial Latin American history. Mannheim said he will conclude with (admittedly utopian) implications for the future of anthropology.

The presentations are subject to COVID 19 public health and UNM orders. Masks and UNM ID or proof of vaccination is required. 

The presentations are free, open to the public, and wheelchair-accessible.  Metered parking space is available. 

The Journal of Anthropological Research has been published quarterly by UNM since 1945. Subscribe here

Image by quinet - Quechua Mother and Child, CC BY 2.0