"When a Linguist Talks to a Dog" - Lecture: Robin Queen, University of Michigan

Event Date/Time: 
Tuesday, July 25, 2017 - 7:00pm
Event Details: 

In this talk, I present two approaches to thinking about what happens when a linguist talks to a dog. The first approach is what might be considered a canonical, scholarly approach to the topic. I discuss semiotics, referentiality, and metapragmatic communication based on data drawn from interactions between shepherds and their stockdogs—as well as between shepherds talking to other shepherds about interacting with stockdogs—in the context of cooperative sheep herding.

Drawing on over a decade of ethnographic participant observation on farms and at livestock herding competitions and demonstrations throughout North America, I discuss the metapragmatics involved in conceptualizing effective mechanisms of communication with a working dog. I further illustrate how the ideologies and semiotics involved in constituting the dog as a communicative interlocutor drive both the form of the interactions with the dog and the specifics of the acoustic output directed to the dog. These interactions pivot crucially around referentiality.

I illustrate the system of whistled and verbal utterances shepherds use to communicate referentially with their dogs and then show that the prosodic qualities in shepherds’ referential whistles vary stylistically as they do in speech, particularly along the dimensions of careful and casual (Laan 1997). The similarities between stylistic modifications made to speech and those made in communicating to a dog suggest that shepherds draw on their linguistic knowledge when working with their dogs.

The second approach for thinking about what happens when a linguist talks to a dog provides a more personal reflection on what it has meant for me to talk to dogs while also building and maintaining an academic career in linguistics, one that has included experience with different kinds of institutions, different roles within institutions and within the discipline, and different moments of clarity and of questioning,  including junctures at which I was advised not to pursue the questions I found most compelling. By engaging both of these approaches, I hope to illustrate how the life of the mind need not preclude or overshadow the life of the spirit.

Location : 
Jacob Science Building, Room 121