Language and Society Talk – Mike Baynham


Professor Mike Baynham, University of Leeds: 

Indexicality is a linguistic construct that I have started to find slightly troubling. It is a core, indeed pervasive element in the architecture of what one might broadly call contextual approaches to language analysis with all the blooming diversity that this suggests: sociolinguistics, linguistic anthropology, linguistic ethnography. It plays a prominent part in the thinking of field leaders like Silverstein,  Blommaert and Rampton and many others. Its most sophisticated current elaboration is perhaps in the work of Silverstein. This paper is designed not to disavow indexicality as such, but rather perhaps to question the uses to which the construct is currently  put. One might say it has become something of a black box as Latour would have it, an unanalyzed prime.   In this paper I will try to prise open the black box a little, examining a) the history and development of indexicality from Bühler and Peirce onwards, b)  the assumptions about language and the world that inform indexicality including its connection to representationalist language ideologies,  as recently pointed out by Nakassis (2018)  and c) some recent developments in the way that language/world relations are being theorized. These developments make the language/world relations assumed by indexicality seem paradoxically, while all pervasive,  also somewhat limited in scope as a means of illuminating the role of language in the production of the social world. Instead I will propose that there are now some more dynamic ways of articulating the language/world relationship currently available in the theoretical lexicon, clustered round ideas of assemblages, spatial and semiotic repertoires, multimodality and semiotic orders, language/body relations, co-production and performativity. I will focus particularly on performativity and conclude by proposing a relation of complementarity between indexicality and performativity. The discussion, while largely theoretical, will be illustrated with data from the study of queer performativity.

Location: Zoom (contact Julia Snell for details)