International Linguistic Association Monthly Lecture Series
When: Saturday, October 11, 2014 at 11 AM – 12 PM
Where: Borough of Manhattan Community College, Room: Richard Harris Terrace (next to the bookstore), 199 Chambers Street, New York, NY 10007
FREE EVENT! No RSVP necessary!
The Last Ray of the Empire
Creolized Tongues and Lusophonic Ideologies of Purity in a Former Portuguese Colony
In Portugal, the discourse of “Lusophony” has been instrumental in repackaging the national colonial nostalgia as an apparently inclusive, progressive, and cosmopolitan form of postcolonial identity. In this vein, Pessoa’s famous line “My homeland is the Portuguese language” has been often deployed to reconcile a Romanticist nationalist language ideology (Bauman and Briggs 2000; Silverstein 2000) with the ideal of a ‘pluri-continental’ cultural community encompassing metropolitan Portugal and its former colonies. However, this metaphorical representation of “language” as “place” and the “ecumenical” (Pina-Cabral 2010) transformation of “Lusophony” into “Lusotopy”, enthusiastically embraced by many Portuguese intellectuals and politicians, leaves a fundamental question unanswered: “whose Portuguese?” This talk seeks to answer this question by examining the tension between standard and non-standard varieties of Portuguese in Portugal’s easternmost ex-colony (East Timor), where Portuguese was recently (2004) and somewhat unexpectedly proclaimed the official medium of instruction.
Drawing on interviews with Eastern Timorese and Portuguese language teachers and planners, I discuss how East Timor’s choice of “returning” to the language of a former colonial elite confronted local teachers with the dilemma of either teaching Portuguese as a “native language” to students who barley spoke it, or resorting to L2 pedagogical techniques that undermined the Lusophonic beliefs in the local existence of a native Portuguese speech community. At the same time, classroom interactions video-taped in East Timor in 2008 reveal strong attachments to a purist view of standard Portuguese. These data show how a diffuse concern for the potential creolization of the standard resulted in linguistic routines and exercises centered on rote memorization of verbal paradigms. These exercises aimed at countering the risk of the erosion of Portuguese’s verbal morphology while reaffirming a colonial linguistic regime based on the exoticization and elevation of Portuguese’s radical otherness and higher morphological “complexity” vis-à-vis the tenselessness of the local languages.
My multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork in Portugal and East Timor suggests that the cosmopolitan and liberal discourse of “Lusophony” is fraught with profound anxieties and contradictions. While recent scholarship highlighted how colonial regimes in Southeast Asia produced modes of governmentality geared to increasing racial distinction (Anderson 1995, 2006; Rafael 1993, 1995; Stoler 1989, 1991, 1995, 2001) through the management of everyday life, relatively little attention has so far been paid to linguistic practices and ideologies. This talk offers a contribution in this direction via a microscopic analysis of the practices currently deployed in East Timor to foster the role of Portuguese as the official language of teaching and learning. In so doing, it problematizes the equivalence between language, culture, and place underlying the Portuguese postcolonial fantasy of a transnational speech community and shows how, once relocated in a former colony, the inclusive multiracial and multicultural celebration of Portuguese as a world language may reveal its colonial matrix: i.e., an exclusionist ideology of linguistic and racial purism.
Contact: Maureen Matarese, firstname.lastname@example.org www.ilaword.org