Center for the Study of Language and Society (CSLS)

Lectures and Workshops
Center for the Study of Language and Society

Historicizing, Decolonizing, Posthumanizing ‘Language’

Wednesday, 2021/03/31, 16:15


Prof. Dr. Rose Marie Beck is professor of African Studies (Language and Literatures) and dean of the Faculty of History, Art and Area Studies at the University of Leipzig (D). Her research interests include interaction and conversation analysis, ethnomethodology, praxeology and postdisciplinary approaches. She focuses on Eastern Africa and Swahili, Herero (Namibia), but has also interests in Central and Southern Africa.

Event organizer: Center for the Study of Language and Society
Speaker: Prof. Dr. Rose Marie Beck (University of Leipzig)
Date: 2021/03/31
Time: 16:15 - 17:45
Locality: Online
Zoom-Link will be published via email
and can be demanded from
christoph.neuenschwander@csls.unibe.ch
Characteristics: open to the public
free of charge

When Ariel Heryanto (2007:47) wrote „Not all societies possess language in the sense we define it today” he claimed that the notion of language is not universal but rather historically contingent. This thought is not altogether new, not least because the empirical findings with regard to language practices as they occur in many African societies, not only resist but challenge traditional linguistic explanations.

I historicize such challenges to ‘language’ as we know it with the example of “eine Sprache – ein Volk – eine Nation”, a still highly functional ideology that played out in Africa as a nexus of language-culture-territory (Beck 2018). Dynamics around Swahili and Afrikaans demonstrate the historicity of these notions. Moving on to possibilities for decolonizing ‘language’ I look at (everyday) language practices in a South African township (Krause 2021). By taking seriously the heterogeneity of such practices and how it stands in tension with the constitutive role of homogeneous languages in the nation state, I show how deeply implicated linguistic theory is with the scientific-political project of enlightenment’s modernity.

From the perspective of African Studies we have to postulate a protracted complicity with (post/colonial) structures of power and inequality. Coupled with concerns about the state of the world in the Anthropocene we might even have to consider what it would mean to posthumanize ‘language’, or even to renounce the notion of ‘language’ altogether. To this end, in the last part of my presentation, I sort “wire spaghetti”, i.e. cables of all kinds that people the walls of houses in Stone Town Zanzibar. I thus present a few first ideas towards an alternative theorization of human relation making that draws on posthumanist and non-representational theories and allows for a re-entanglement of words with the world.