Writing in The Margins: Materiality and The Linguistic Landscapes of Endangered Austronesian Languages in Vietnam

Author: Dave Paulson (Temple University, U.S.A.)
Speaker: Dave Paulson
Topic: Language, Community, Ethnicity
The GLOCAL CALA 2023 General Session


Recent studies of linguistic landscapes (LL) have demonstrated that LL can be examined across multiple generations in different cultural and historical settings (Pavlenko and Mullen 2015). While anthropological studies of linguistic landscapes have largely centered on urban settings of “superdiversity” in Europe (Blommaert 2013), more recent studies have begun to extend LL analyses to East and Southeast Asia (Coluzzi & Kitade 2015, Wang 2018). As Vietnam continues to advance post-reform economic developments, it presents new, and sometimes contradictory opportunities, for shaping the linguistic landscape of indigenous writing systems (Gorter et al. 2019).

Based on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork, this study investigates the materiality of the endangered Cham script in temple complexes, municipal signs, community events, and rites of passage. Audiovisual data from these everyday settings are analyzed to investigate how transformations to the material world help to reproduce and transform Cham orthography in ways that may inspire a younger generation to develop fluency in the communicative traditions of their parents.

This research builds upon theoretical innovations in materiality and language linking the sensorium with political economy (Cavanaugh and Shankar 2017) to demonstrate how ethnic minority languages are shaped by, and help to constitute, Vietnam’s rapid transformation into a “developed” nation. In doing so, this project illuminates how texts in globalized Southeast Asian contexts become semiotically productive in ways that may affect the vitality of endangered minority languages.

Keywords: Linguistic Landscapes, Endangerment, Materiality, Cultural Reproduction, Vietnam