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Kathryn Graber "'Real Buryat,' Offline and On: Voicing Authority in Southeastern Siberia"

Wed, Oct 30, 4:00 pm
Glenn A. Black Lab 101

“Real Buryat,” Offline and On:
Voicing Authority in Southeastern Siberia
A talk by Kathryn Graber (Anthropology and Central Eurasian Studies)


From generation to generation, residents of southeastern Siberia have been shifting from the once-dominant local language, Buryat, to Russian.  As knowledge of Buryat seems to erode before them, people for whom this language has been a powerful identity marker mourn its loss and seek new means of revitalization, particularly in mass media. But what version of the language counts as the “real Buryat” to be reclaimed, and where—if anywhere—can this language be found? This talk examines the variety of forms that speakers profess to be real, authentic, genuine, or pure expressions of Buryat and shows how linguistic details from everyday life illuminate the remaking of the contemporary Buryat public. Drawing on long-term ethnographic and linguistic field research, I will focus on how speakers ascribe certain types of speech to certain domains of social action (sometimes to the exclusion of actual practices) and evoke these sites in order to negotiate authenticity, authority, and expertise. In particular, they routinely contrast a degraded colloquial or “kitchen” Buryat with the language of media institutions, according to a powerful language ideology that venerates a literary standard. New online media offer the possibility of democratizing this situation by expanding the language community, interconnecting the growing Buryat diaspora, and opening the floor to non-expert commentators. Yet at the same time, digital connectivity allows new ways of policing those commentators and delimiting what should count as ways of speaking—and being—“real Buryat.”

Kathryn Graber is currently a Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow in the Departments of Anthropology and Central Eurasian Studies. She holds an A.B. from the University of Chicago and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Michigan. Dr. Graber joined IU in Fall 2012 from a postdoctoral fellowship at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC.