The social life and sound patterns of Nanti ways of speaking
Beier, Christine Marie
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This dissertation explores the phenomenon of ways of speaking in the Nanti speech community of Montetoni, in southeastern Peruvian Amazonia, between 1999 and 2009. In the context of this study, a 'way of speaking' is a socially meaningful, conventionalized sound pattern, manifest at the level of the utterance, that expresses the speaker's orientation toward some aspect of the interaction. This study closely examines both the sound patterns and patterns of use of three Nanti ways of speaking — matter-of-fact talk, scolding talk, and hunting talk — and describes each one in relation to a broader set of linguistic, social, and cultural practices characteristic of the speech community at the time. The data for this study is naturally-occurring discourse recorded during multi-party, face-to-face interactions in Montetoni. Bringing together methods developed by linguists, linguistic anthropologists, conversation analysts, and interactional sociologists, this study explores the communicative relations among participants, interactions, situations of interaction, and the utterances that link them all, attending to both the individual-level cognitive (subjective) facets of interpersonal communication and the necessarily intersubjective environment in which communication takes place. In order to disaggregate the multiple levels of signification evidenced in specific utterances, tokens are examined at four levels of organization: the sound form, the sentence, the turn, and the move. The data are presented via audio files; acoustic analyses; sequentially-organized and temporally-anchored interlinearized transcripts; and composite visual representations, all of which are framed by detailed ethnographic description. Nantis' ways of speaking are shown to consistently and systematically convey social aspects of 'meaning' that are crucial to utterance interpretation and, therefore, to successful interpersonal communication. Based on the robust correspondences between sound form and communicative function identified in the Nanti communicative system, this study proposes that ways of speaking are a cross-linguistically viable level of organization in language use that awaits discovery and description in other speech communities. The research project itself is framed in terms of the practical issues that emerged through the author's own experiences in learning to communicate appropriately in monolingual Nanti society, and the ethical issues that motivate community-oriented documentation of endangered language practices.