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The Whens and Wheres —

As Well As Hows — of
Ethnolinguistic Recognition
Michael Silverstein

H ow can they be real Americans if they don’t/won’t/can’t speak English?”
We’ve all heard such questions, and we’ve read similar sentiments in angry
letters to newspapers. At least, the feeling must be, that people within a certain
political boundary—there’s a “where”—and in public ear- or eye-shot—there’s a
“when”—ought to signal their recognition of now being included within the social
whole by using the dominant language—there’s a “how”—(and by not using oth-
ers). Here is language use conceptualized as unavoidably wearing an emblem of
identity (or at least of self-identification). And it can go even further in its rationale
for the insistence. Evidencing a language-shapes-thought Whorfianism, certain
people also reason that those using languages other than ours could not possibly
think about the world the way we speakers of English do. (Here, one can substitute
any two languages.) With this rationale, editorialists and writers of letters to the
editor feel ever more justified in linking the emblematic value of language use to
some deep intuition about why ethnolinguistic difference should not be tolerated

An earlier version, entitled “Ethnolinguistic Identity 24/7: The Political Economy of Recognition
in the Age of Global Communication,” was prepared for the Yale University Ford seminar, “Trans-
lating the World,” held in New Haven, Connecticut, 28 February–1 March 2002, under the auspices of
the Yale Center for International and Area Studies and the Department of Comparative Literature. I
am grateful to Janet Morford, Michael Holquist, Vilashini Cooppan, J. Bernard Bate, and James
Tweedie for the invitation and for gracious engagement on the occasion. Jan Blommaert, Susan Gal,
and Elizabeth Povinelli have reacted with stimulating and useful responses to that earlier form.

Public Culture 15(3): 531–557

Copyright © 2003 by Duke University Press

Public Culture “here” and “now.” Plurilingualism in civil society—taken thus as an index of dif-
ference of thought—offends the sense that there can be a social whole transpar-
ently instantiating a longed-for common public opinion. Implicit anxieties of sub-
jectivity underlie explicit anxieties of ethnolinguistic identity.
Anxieties of identity. Identity on people’s minds. We hear constantly of crises
of identity, of the workings of identity politics, of identity work that needs to be
done, and so forth. So let us start at the beginning. By identity we can understand
a subjective intuition that one belongs to a particular social category of people,
with certain potentials and consequences of this belonging. Frequently the intu-
ition suggests participation in ritual occasions and socializing in certain ways in
variously institutionalized forms to make our identity clear to ourselves and to
others on a continuing basis. This already suggests a kind of temporality to the
way identity is, as it were, practiced.
Like all social psychological facts, people’s subjective intuitions of identity can
be strong or weak, focused or diffuse, persistent or intermittent over various inter-
vals. I am only indirectly concerned here with these intensely individual experi-
ences of identity intuitions, important as they are for literary expression and for
each individual biography.1 I am rather concerned with the social conditions in
which they come into being as normative orientations among whole populations
of individuals, are sustained or discouraged among them, or disappear (in the
psychosocial phenomenon called the “loss” of identity in “assimilation”).
And in particular, I am concerned with what we term ethnolinguistic identity,
that is, people’s intuitions of social categoriality emerging from certain cultural
assumptions about language. These construe language as constituting a basis for
the divisions among types or kinds of people, especially as people conceive lan-
guages to be the central and enabling vehicle or channel of thought and culture.
So ethnolinguistic identity is not a mechanical institutional fact; it is a fact of
a psychosocial sort that has emerged where people ascribe a certain primordiality
to language and a certain consequentiality to language difference. They consider
it for one or another cultural reason to be a guide to socially meaningful differ-
ences among people and to people’s socially effective membership in groups.
Ethnolinguistic identity intuits that there are differential claims to social par-
ticipation based on differences of membership in what we can term a language

1. Note, for example, how such matters constitute one horizon of consciousness in the deeply Sym-
bolist and psychoanalytically informed Bildungsroman Call It Sleep of Henry Roth (1934), or in the
autobiography Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez (1982).

Thus we can understand its importance in the contemporary era of heightened Ethnolinguistic
ethnic and especially ethnonational identity: the modern era, it seems. Various Recognition
interested ethnic and ethnonationalist projects use the institutional paraphernalia
of ethnolinguistic identity as an instrument of mobilizing sentiment. Such proj-
ects constitute a strong force motivating people to linguistic consciousness and
concern — at the same time giving experiential concreteness to nationalist senti-
ment. But even a purported analyst of the cultural phenomenology of nationalism,
Benedict Anderson (1983, 1991), seems willy-nilly to conflate the two planes, so
that each genuine nationalism, for him, has its naturally associable emblematic
language in which to inscribe its own trajectory of destiny, its own transcendent
diachrony, the writers and readers of the texts of which participating in a primor-
dial mystical union. Given the way modern state regimes have actually strained
and labored, over long periods, to shape languages each as an institutional force
of group homogenization, to forge a sense of a nation-state, it is not hard to see
why Anderson would make this conflation, writing, as he does, from deep within
the cultural and political order of always already standardized language commu-
I want to call to attention some of what I see as the prime institutional forces
that are right now shaping the way people’s ethnolinguistic identities are being
asserted and contested in the politics and economics of recognition in state and
wider orders.
A good way to think about these matters is to imagine both local and global
social space-time — a metaphor of Newtonian or Einsteinian space-time — and
how what is at issue are points and intervals in social space-time, the complex,
multidimensional framework in which mutual locating can be accomplished.
What is the shape of such social space-time, being, as a matter of course, a kind of
pulsating, changing intersection of many competing principles of structuring?
Groups of people arrogate to themselves such points and intervals as “inside”
identity, from which and in terms of which they wish radially to project an “out-
side.” Others may imagine a distinct social space-time in which points and inter-
vals are claimed only when allocated to groups of people for licensed sites and
subspaces of ethnonational and ethnolinguistic self-fashioning and self-imagining.
A politics of recognition in effect works through these kinds of emergently struc-
tured, changing flows of power that summon people to such sites and spaces
where, in social time, they are licensed, yielded the power to inhabit identities and
to recruit others to share them. They might, for example, be “recognized” through
the workings of a court, in effect licensed to have a certain identity there and in
the broader space-time of the court’s jurisdiction. (In the United States, the class

Public Culture action lawsuit epitomizes such recognition under the Fourteenth Amendment to
the Constitution.) They might be recognized by the workings of advanced com-
modity capitalism, an identity coming to be linked, positively or negatively, par-
tially or completely, to the emergent organization of production, circulation,
consumption, and use. Such identity issues are central to what is termed culture
especially in contemporary nonanthropological terms.
Given the complexity of any social space-time that identity now inhabits, I am
interested in asking questions about its conditions. For example, how are ethno-
linguistic identities being transformed for people increasingly experiencing not
only socioeconomic globalization but globalization of consciousness? What space-
time structuring principles are coming into play? What, more generally, are the
characteristic topographies of licensing of ethnolinguistic identity? How are these
topographies being instantiated and/or contested in various places?
Are ethnolinguistic identities primordial, as suggested by what seems to many
to be the autonomous existence of languages — or at least of language — outside
of human actors and agents? Or do ethnolinguistic identities in some sense come
and go, providing a transient or punctuated sense of categorizable selfhood in the
contemporary world? Are they possibly multiple and superimposed? And with
what consequences for the translational suturing together of language communi-
ties and the cultures that support them, across which not only people must move
but also the texts that these people produce?
The logic of ethnolinguistic identity necessitates that it must be, like a subjec-
tive sense of one’s own culture, or of having one’s own tradition, a product of con-
tact. (Even the Hellenes came to a consciousness of themselves as a “we” in rela-
tion to the barbaroi, those babbling “others.”) That is to say, there is a structured
and frequently stratified system of differences in which subjective identities
emerge only diacritically, in mutually reinforcing acts that create and sustain an
“us” different from either “you” or “them”—topologically, a we-centered disk of
difference, out to the limits of known humanity and beyond. Hence, only our own
imaginative fantasies would assign to so-called primitive or truly local peoples’
subjectivity a blissfully unself-conscious pre-identarian ethnolinguistic existence.
Such a fantasy is a form of our own retroprojective escapism. (Observe how lit-
erary works give a geographical locatability to the fantasy, ranging from a valley
in James Hilton’s Shangri-La in Lost Horizon [1933]; to an island, Bali Hai of
Roger and Hammerstein’s South Pacific; to a now-lost continent, Atlantis: The
Antediluvian World of Ignatius Donnelly’s 1882 imagination; and even planets
and other galactic places of alterity. Observe, too, that the latter-day space adven-

ture films, like alien- and monster-themed films of the 1950s, ascribe relational— Ethnolinguistic
and hostile—identities directly to the others with whom humans must do battle.) Recognition
At the very other extreme, there is the enveloping social space-time logic of
metropolitan ethnolinguistic hegemony. Its terms are ambitious: a definition of
oneself negatively and relationally with respect to every possible other, not-A and
not-B and so on. This can be imagined as an n-dimensional conically shaped
social space-time, with a top-and-center and various dimensions of moving down
and out. Here, we can first locate those at the top-and-center, the spatial and tem-
poral metropole of some permanently stratified and spatially conceptualized cul-
tural and linguistic imperium—think for example of the slogan “the West and the
Rest”; think of the view of the “U.S. English” adherents with respect to ethno-
linguistic minorities in the American nation-state. Top-and-center folks can look
downward-and-outward, as it were, toward peripheries at various degrees of neg-
atively valued deviation from their imagined full-time, default, or unmarked
identity. People who are ethnolinguistically at the top-and-center can thus have
knowledge of such differences as may constitute others’ ethnolinguistic identities,
but they are all perceived to be elsewhere in relation to the apex, which alone sees
itself as licensed for unproblematic — hence, hegemonic —24/7-and-everywhere
expressibility. Those at the top-and-center never have to stop having their own
identity, imagined, in a sense, to be invariant for all their stratified contact with
others. And this is so even where politicoeconomic problems emerge relating to
the recognition of others’ ethnolinguistic identities. For example, in realms of
production, circulation, and consumption of the texts of culture, for those at the
top-and-center, the existence of other ethnolinguistic identities within their strat-
ified order presents the occasional question of translating from one language to
another, always with the implied pragmatic trope of up-toward-the-apex versus
down-toward-the-periphery. This is a point I will return to in later discussion.
My own ethnographic experience with these matters emerges both from indig-
enous Native American and Australian Aboriginal fieldwork, as well as from
researching the past couple of centuries’ European history and discourses about
language. I conclude on this basis that contemporary students of languages in flux
must see that the processes, like recognition, that affect languages in their current
state are situated in the intertwined fields of politics and economics, where the
political economy of cultural forms like ethnic, ethnonational, and ethnolinguistic
identities operates.
First off, “globalization,” by degrees, has pervaded communication and con-
sciousness, though the local effects in different parts of the world are lumpy (as

Public Culture Jonathan Friedman [2001] has reminded us). This can be appreciated in terms of
our space-time view of people’s functioning in the world. Globalization pervades
this space-time more and less intensely as we locate regions in it, and there are
networks of influence that define regional subspaces for various aspects of glob-
alization, capital itself being only one aspect of the whole. Hence, any commu-
nity’s sense of autonomy of culture-language-identity exists in relation to this
We must note that as far back as historical linguistics can go, one can find evi-
dence of linguistic diffusion—borrowing—indicating that languages have never
been isolated as such in either historical or prehistorical time. But today, the con-
scious experience of culture-language-identity has definitively become an issue of
how peoples all over the world must actively construct, not merely construe, their
“locality,” as Arjun Appadurai (1996) has termed it, the property of lived or inhab-
itable groupness (as opposed to demographic category-status) with some rela-
tively autonomous center of cultural normativity.
In American experience, to be sure, the key folk term in American English for
a project of making locality relevant to identity is community. Individuals are
summoned to want to point to — thereby to express — their own participation in
a community’s groupness; observe today’s abundance of American flags dis-
played in locations identifiable with the domestic self (house, automobile) to rat-
ify and to perform (as in: “I do swear or affirm . . .” on governmental documents)
one’s group-orientation to a whole nation-state (and nationality). Such forces
operate fractally at yet more local levels of groupness (community), as well as
operating so as to create cross-cutting senses of groupness. Indicators of identity
frequently recapitulate each other in a dialectic of social differentiation, in effect
carrying different potential messages of deep primordiality or at least importance.
For example, one can invoke a “GLBT community,” encouraging display of rain-
bow signs on automobiles or house-flags just like the way, to indicate American-
ness, one displays United States flags. There is a “community of sufferers” of a
disease of self or loved one, joining a viva voce or electronic support group, the
emblems of which become logoized for transport, too. And there is even a “com-
munity of researchers,” participating in various group-affirming activities that, if
sustained through organizational means, are strongly compelled to have a logo
ready to hand or at least on a Web site and a T-shirt. (Even scholarly events such
as meetings create acronyms and logos like the Olympic logos of recent televised
ubiquity, presumably in the hope that this will be a spatiotemporally cyclic,
potentially ritually participatory punctuation of social space with this affiliative

Such sociocultural locality must be negotiated in larger, relational frames by Ethnolinguistic
any people making a claim to it, meaning that locality has become the grounded Recognition
assertibility of we-group difference within such larger social formations. Politico-
economically exposed identity groups have to assert such difference with respect to
regional polities, nation-states, transnational political and economic spheres
of influence, even empires. (A good parallel here is the legal concept of the divide
between citizens’ so-called public and private domains of sociality. This is a bound-
ary policed, both positively and negatively, from both sides in sometimes legal as
well as politicoeconomic discourses of “obligations [to or toward],” “rights [to or
in],” and “protections [from].”) Groupness or locality achieves recognition, by
degree, of a kind of collective privacy-in-public; in the United States, its key per-
formative sites have been the class action lawsuit, the organized grassroots polit-
ical or economic action, and the insertion into public space-time of rituals of
memory and memorial affiliation.
A contemporary student of language must therefore be sensitive even to what
an ethnolinguistic label, a glottonym, points to as underlying processes in social
space-time. There are many linguists, sociologists, and others of an older, more
Romantic or Herderian persuasion who, in dealing with language groupness, are
disinclined to reexamine their analytic discourses invoking such glottonyms, as
though they referred to some fixed and essential entities. The groupness of self-
conscious users of a language, always a fragile precipitate of sociocultural process,
disappears in favor of the objectualized stuff of traditional collecting and taxon-
omizing sciences. Otherwise well-intentioned people use taxonomic, classifying
terms like language and culture in what have thus become essentially folk mean-
ings in the political economy of ethnolinguistic identity (for people everywhere
have learned the objectifying lessons of taxonomic science that they, too, “have”
a language and a culture—“theirs,” that their group has always distinctively had).
Even some linguistic professionals still think in terms of a directly plottable dis-
tinctive geography of discrete languages and cultures, yielding, for example,
maps of languages-in-continuous-yet-well-bounded-territory. Of course, as we
now can discern, plurilingualism, pluridialectism, and so forth have been the
basic verbal competence of peoples in much of the so-called traditional world. So
we can retrospectively understand that, whatever the actualities of the matter,
these concepts that read through language to ethnic group to land were the stock-
in-trade of ideologically useful “Standard Average European” cultural policy sci-
ences of the ages of empire and modernist postcolonialism. Languages and cul-
tures in this sense came along with the real estate and were collectible with
provenance notes for museums and archives.

Public Culture Such Romantic usage is, to be sure, fully discursively compatible with words
like community, freedom, and resistance in the contemporary struggles for local-
ization we observe as one of the realities stimulated by identity politics. There is
no doubt about the contemporary compatibility of Romantic linguistics with such
a situation—that it has, interestingly enough, contributed to bringing about. But
Romantic linguistic study does not usefully contribute to analytic understanding
of what is going on in most situations. For example, consider how many Fourth
World peoples, struggling for political recognition, are summoned to claim local-
ity in jural terms by having to mobilize precisely such Romantic expert knowl-
edge. Those wanting recognition are thus summoned to demonstrate locality as
the very condition of becoming recognized to have it — that is, to have had it all
along! Think for example of the demands made on indigenous people pursuing
United States federal recognition of their heritage through legal process (the
image of the Mashpee trial discussed by James Clifford [1988] coming to mind
here; cf. also Merlan 1998: 231 – 40; Povinelli 2002). I shall return later to such
dilemmas of language-and-culture workers, seemingly politically correct, or well
intentioned, but perhaps ethnographically naive.
Negotiating ethnolinguistic locality, thus coming to ethnolinguistic groupness—
whether to preserve a sense of it, to reenergize it, or to reconstruct it after a hia-
tus—necessitates using a semiotic vocabulary—a set of indicating resources — to
articulate or perform first-person groupness (we-ness) in ways the relevant fram-
ing institutions understand. Such a vocabulary must be visible and recognizable
not only group-internally, but especially also in the larger institutional contexts
that license its use. (Hence, we speak of a politics of recognition, of course, in
both the diplomatic and conceptual senses.) As ethnographers, we can study the
processes of a group’s visibility and recognizability by attending to what I like to
see as the sociocultural scheduling of emblematic identity displays.
Occasions of display manifest cultural texts, especially verbally centered ones.
It is important to realize that the key identity-relevant attributes of such cultural
texts are not necessarily anything like represented “content” as such, but rather
all the verbal and nonverbal signs that, displayed by and around the self, in effect
wrap social personae, social spaces, moments in social-organizational time, even
institutional forms, with “in-group” (versus “out-group,” of course) status. Such
occasions of display are performative; in and by wearing, singing, saying, eating
such-and-such, an identifying quality of person, place, event, etc. comes into
being—here and now—in a framework of categorization that is now made rele-
vant to whatever is going on or can go on. All such situation-transformative dis-
plays are in effect anchored to an origin point where the display takes place, and

they project a kind of radial geometry around the origin point, where the group’s Ethnolinguistic
we-ness — instantiated in the first-person display — lives. (The radial spatializa- Recognition
tion is just like that of so-called deictic categories of language such as English
now : then; here : there; this : that.)
Sometimes, a speaker uses special linguistic expressions of a particular lan-
guage as identity markers, as opposed, for example, to the language of a matrix
text, performing thus a little embedded ritual act of emblematic identity marking,
and, for the addressees in the in-group, summoning all the pregnant cultural
meanings called up by use of the special term. Even while speaking local English,
Wasco and Wishram heritage people on the Warm Springs or Yakama Reserva-
tions in Oregon and Washington states, respectively, will say of some young man
that he is “Sk’uly-ing” around,2 getting into mischief, especially connoting sexual
adventures and other adventures of crafty appetite, using the Kiksht (Wasco-
Wishram) word, Sk’úlia, for the myth actor Coyote, the trickster-transformer of
the age before people. (Sahaptin-language heritage folks will use the correspond-
ing denominative verb “Spilyay-ing.”) The local anchoring of such ritual acts of
ethnolinguistic identity in these reservation communities is clear even when
young people, for whom Kiksht or Sahaptin are distant heritage languages, use
the local English phrase coyote-ing around to describe this kind of social behav-
ior. This alludes to the myth-age character and to the Sahaptin verb derived from
Coyote’s name —[i]spilyáywiša (to engage in crafty antics [recalling Coyote])—
from which also the creatively hybrid local English forms must derive. So their
use performs, respectively, Wasco and Sahaptin identity. Ethnolinguistic minority
speakers always report that, compared to a threatening majority language, their
minority language has so much more “flavor”—in Yiddish, tam—and is so much
more evocatively fulsome and juicy—zaftig—to the affective processes.
Because use of such terms invokes special, shared cultural knowledge on each
occasion of use, the terms present those in the communicative act with the oppor-
tunity or anxiety of acknowledgment by a response that recognizes this fact. So
such acts of usage can be groupness-affirming acts of rich, comfortable, and pri-
vate meanings of belonging, of being in the performed center of a group, or they
can constitute threats to “passing” for those wanting to remain in the ethno-
linguistic closet. (“Oy, gevalt!” the would-be WASP society matron shouted out
when she tripped; and, recovering her balance, so she thought, she immediately
added, “— whatever that means!” Recall also Woody Allen’s brilliant joke in
Sleeper [1973], where, making an error, one of the physiognomically Aryan [blond

2. Note the pregnant interlingual pun on the somewhat off-color, vernacular “screw-ing around.”

Public Culture and blue-eyed] actors in a recuperative therapeutic simulation of the hero’s
Brooklyn Jewish childhood says to him, “Shutup and eat your shiksa!”— as in
“Shiksa complex” and Philip Rothian sexual fantasy. From the film audience’s
perspective, look at how many layers of in versus out ethnolinguistic—and ethnic—
group membership are being played with.)
There is a perduringly consistent social field of performable identity-orientations
in the contemporary state of languages in the First World. This has contributed in
no small measure to what is now termed modernity. Those at the apex of regimes
of superordinate versus subordinate languages do, in fact, assign rationality, tech-
nical precision, and communicative efficiency to the superordinate language or
style of usage, even including approved high art for the local imagination of the
abstract sublime. By contrast, they assign irrationality or emotionality, feeling,
and folk inefficiency to the subordinate language or style, even as they may—at
arm’s distance — celebrate the earthy genuineness of ethnolinguistic insider folk
art in the original.
Now the conventions for expected or even normative manifestation of such
identity-displays across all such occasions inscribe a structure of interdiscursivity
across identity-events, we might say, so that each recognizable (and recognized!)
type of groupness has a particular kind of existence in the social organization of
a more global social formation. There appear to be structures of interdiscursive
display that carve out an institutional form in which paradigms of ethnolinguistic
difference are countenanced, and even matter. There is, in short, a who, a when,
and a where to ethnolinguistic identity conceived of as a large-scale fact, the con-
ditions of which differ widely for different labeled glottonyms.
Thus, emerging from a set of experiences of identity-displays, the group itself
appears—reflexively as well as to others—to perdure, to exist. The group’s locally
understood difference depends on the particular modalities of sociological exis-
tence within social space-time. Both to insiders and to outsiders, its qualities of dif-
ference are frequently understandable in ideologically essentialized, even natural-
ized terms such as geohistorical provenance, kinship, descent, or race. (“Oh yes!”
a very senior public figure among the Warm Springs Wascoes said to me in passing
in 1971. “We’re a Penutian people.” He was using the anthropological term for one
of Edward Sapir’s [1929: 138–41] large historical linguistic groupings of the
indigenous languages of North America. “Lo-o-ong ago,” my interlocutor revealed,
“we [note!—MS] came down the eastern side of the Cordilleras—the Rockies—
and here onto [the] Oregon side of the [Columbia] River.” He went on to enumer-
ate some of the other “Penutian” peoples in the Northwest. He had been a key wit-
ness in a 1953 treaty adjudication in both federal court and Congress; he knew

whereof he spoke in the groupness-ratifying technical names of the superordinate Ethnolinguistic
society’s anthropological and legal experts.) Compare here Benedict Anderson’s Recognition
(1983, 1991) account of the essentializing and naturalizing bases for a cultural phe-
nomenology of nationalism and ethnonational identity under it. Being a member of
a nation is likened to family membership, to racial continuity, to autochthonous
panchronicity, etc., and occasions of display of national identity are assimilated to,
and assimilate, these other kinds of sociological status.
So language usage can be studied as an indicative praxis, a performance of
ethnolinguistic self-identification reflexively on display. But contrariwise, con-
sider the effects of this on language considered in the more usual way. Language
is, of course, deployable as what is termed a denotational code, that is, as a code
for “saying something.” People use it for representing “real” and “imagined”
worlds, for narrating events that take place in those real and imagined worlds,
and for explicating how and why things work the way they seem to. Most of the
labels for what are considered languages—glottonyms like English, Malayalam,
or Berber — intend to pick out this kind of code. If using a particular identifiable
denotational code, or even using a word or expression or other formal feature in
the course of communicating, is an emblem of local identity, it, too, is swept up
into this scheduling principle and the problematics of ideological rationalization
of difference. Using language A instead of language B; using a word identifiably
of language A instead of language B: seen within a larger economy of communi-
cation such usage constitutes what we term a register phenomenon (a context-
indicating variant way of “saying the same thing as could otherwise be commu-
nicated”). Here, whole languages, just like sociolectal variants of languages such
as Ebonics and Broadcast Standard American English, are brought together as
registers in a performable cultural imaginary of difference actually or potentially
in contrast one with another as alternative forms for the same social actors.
Observe, then, the very particular translational sensibility involved in the
enregisterment of language difference. Hence, by this measure, what gets trans-
lated, when, by, and for whom, is an essential part of scheduled recognition. I
recall the report of a Stuyvesant High School classmate in the early 1960s that his
grandfather was reading Alexandre Dumas fils’s Le comte de Monte-Cristo in
Grandpa’s first language, Yiddish. The old gent had read much of the rest of the
corpus of European nineteenth-century literature in Yiddish translation as well.
Think of the intersection of class, education, and ethnicity—let alone raw figures
of print circulation in the simplest market computation — in which this kind of
translation was not only possible but a continuing fact of life of how and where
two languages and their textual production came together. Even in America,

Public Culture Grandpa’s generation had constituted a multilingual audience of a certain con-
stancy of class and educational characteristics, living in a relatively autonomous
universe of the political economy of culture. When Yiddish definitively became
an ethnolinguistic minority language—a heritage language, in fact—enregistered
as not standard American English, the structure of relationship changed pro-
foundly; in America, one aspires to “culture” at the level even of Dumas’s work in
English or, with real “distinction” (Bourdieu 1984), in French. The latter is more
like the identity act in which readers of the Latin translation Winnie ille Pu (Milne
1960), rather than Winnie the Pooh (Milne 1926), were participating. The mes-
sage of the distinctive refinement of cultured Latinity is loud and clear, and this
best-selling translation was in brisk circulation as a culture-artifact, hardly a text-
artifact — among adults, not children, by the way!— as both a frivolous act of
affirmation of belonging and as an ironic challenge to those who aspired to it.
Within a stratified political economic structure of ethnolinguistic identity, how-
ever, translation itself is a fraught cultural praxis, one that people experience with
both upward and downward effects.
Here is a case in point, from the Northern Kimberleys, Australia. Among the
Worora ethnolinguistic group in the Mowanjum Community of Australian Abo-
riginal people (with whom I lived in 1974 and 1975), the gospels of Mark and
Luke were used in church services, translated from English into Worora by an
Anglican missionary, the Rev. Mr. Love. By the time of my fieldwork forty-ish
years after Love, the translations had becomes highly influential among the older,
multilingual Worora speakers. For them, they seemed to be composed in a special
church register of Worora, with connotations of sacredness and closeness to
the—in their experience—anglophone Christian world.
As it turned out, the translations manifested many grammatical and phraseo-
logical errors from the perspective of (secular) norms of Worora as I could dis-
cover them, and these were not archaisms, since the Rev. Mr. Love’s own gram-
matical notes agreed with my consultants’ speech. So the literalisms — calques
from English idiom — and outright bad morphology and syntax in the translated
texts were taken to be the authoritative Christian Word in Worora, a new register
for the community to assimilate to its system of register variation. The trans-
lation, being much more like English in syntax and diction, is a force of assimila-
tion to English denotational code at the same time as it appears to render English
into a local language of higher register-value. But that act of rendering has
changed the local language community as well — in fact, in the direction of lan-
guage loss. (Recall here Walter Benjamin’s “The Task of the Translator” [1923] in

which he worries about the dialectical mutuality of source- and target-language Ethnolinguistic
versions of a text, inevitably coming to be meaning lenses one on the other.) Recognition
Within a stratified conical order, then, use of an ethnolinguistic group’s denota-
tional code or register is licensed for certain times, places, institutional sites, and
modalities—whether positively by prescription or negatively by proscription. It is
licensed in exactly the same way as are a group’s emblematic style of dress, food and
its mode of preparation or consumption, and its textual “expressive culture” (genred
aesthetic production, whether verbal, plastic, or graphic). And certain schedulings
are, in effect, reserved to such-and-such group as ritual sites in the social organiza-
tion that anchors language to identity in group-particular ways, much as, in the
United States, national self-recognition ritual is distributed “throughout the land”
on the Fourth of July every year (cf. Rosaldo and Flores 1997).
I think that this becomes obvious to anyone who has been stuck in traffic in a
major American city as that day’s ethnic pride parades or street festivals make
their claim on functional public space. Perhaps the historical model in large
cities — one would have to check this — is St. Patrick’s Day, 17 March. (Of
course, small, predominantly ethnic towns and villages have always celebrated
their own local ethnonational heritage for themselves.) But there is now a total
spatiotemporalization of display for every ethnic, ethnonational, ethnolinguistic,
and other group that participates in the paradigm of politicoeconomically recog-
nized identity. The group is licensed to enact ethnic private space somewhere in
town, to use a street, a downtown plaza, or the run of a traditional ethnic enclave
at some definite point or interval in the overall civic calendar. The identity “owns”
that date and has rights floridly to display itself. In my own city, Chicago, a highly
enclaved and multifariously “identified” city, Dearborn Street in the Loop—past
Daley Center — is the parade route of choice for every ethnonational identity on
occasions like the old country’s independence day or a similar founding histori-
cal moment. In this logic, Columbus Day has become the property of Italian-
American Chicagoans, just as the day commemorating the Stonewall incident has
become central to when the Gay Pride parade occurs (though taking place in what
is now identified on the civic map as the gay enclave).
Many of the traditional or former identitarian enclaves are now evacuated of
heritage ethnic and especially ethnolinguistically identified folk (who have moved
to the suburbs, sometimes re-creating at a different level of socioeconomic inte-
gration the spatial particularity of the city). Hence, a kind of localizing museolo-
gization of ethnic, ethnonational, and ethnolinguistic identity has been taking
place, in which items of emblematic value — such as arts and crafts, food, cloth-

Public Culture ing, music, and actual museums—recuperate the location as a spatial and tempo-
ral renvoi. In historical process, the neighborhood becomes a secondary locus to
whatever it referred back to, in a kind of rhizome (punctuated network) model of
spatiotemporalization, as we might term it (I shall return to this below). People of
that heritage can make a weekly or monthly pilgrimage back to the enclave (or
one determined by liturgical calendar). They can purchase items that become —
in Anderson’s nice phrasing—ethnic logos (here, consumable or wearable ethnic
logos, to be sure, or more literal cultural texts) (Anderson 1991: 175, 182–84).
Note that it is not simply the matter of commodification of identity insofar
as it is identity paraphernalia commoditized; it is a dominant urban modality of
experiencing one’s heritage and feeling affirmed in one’s participation in a group,
not merely a category or kind of people. One is at home in the old neighborhood.
Perhaps an older relative still lives in the ethnic enclave—if gentrification hasn’t
driven the taxes up through the roof—and families, even significant swatches of
kin, return to this domicile on ritual occasions (think of the liturgical year of an
associated religion), or even at other calendric intervals. They frequently are
invited to participate in meals that turn into rituals of consubstantiality, eucharis-
tically consuming the ethnicity as an act of personal reaffirmation as well as of
commensality with kindred others. It is on such occasions, and in such places,
that the language of the ethnolinguistic group—especially a heritage language—
is maximally present, to whatever degree people are competent in it. Even in the
context of Native American reservations, one hears long-moribund languages, in
formulaic speeches, recitations and songs, on occasions of the community’s civic
cyclic time as well as at life-cycle transition rituals. Funerals, with their backward-
looking tropic forms befitting the normatively old-deceased — notwithstanding
they are, as one says, for the living—are especially laden with language that other-
wise is not seen or heard in ordinary life.
In larger social formations, what is termed assimilationism, for example, can
be seen to be a particular adjustment of the scheduling of ethnolinguistic identity
such that there are few, if any, ritual sites in the spatiotemporal public sphere for
a particular identity-conferring language or register. Assimilation can be by degrees.
For example, in contemporary America the Latino ethnolinguistic identity is affil-
iated rather promiscuously by outsiders with any and all New World Spanishes. It
increasingly operates to license an ethnolinguistic identity useful to a paradigm of
political and economic allocations. But there are at least five or six different
dialectal standardizations of Western Hemisphere Spanish, with a complex inter-
nal relative cultural stratification (cf. Zentella 1996) as well as, of course, a distinct
country-of-origin ethnonational consciousness.

What is termed multiculturalism, by contrast, can be seen to be a scheduling Ethnolinguistic
such that there are many ritual sites licensed for presentation of identity-indicating Recognition
language, perhaps even expansively constituted ones that invite wider participa-
tion not under the licensing sign of specific ethnolinguistic identity. We might
point here to proposals for making everyone multilingual within a polity with a
minority as well as a majority denotational code as alternative, if perhaps not fully
equivalent, registers. (Observe that the English Only movement in the United
States has found at least one response in the English Plus movement, which
encourages mass multilingualism in American English and at least one other
ethnonationally identifiable language [see Adams and Brink 1990; Baron 1990;
Crawford 1992]. At one time in the 1960s, the Province of Quebec within the
nation-state of Canada considered transforming English-French asymmetric
bilingualism into a pedagogical program to achieve universal symmetric bilin-
gualism; this never happened [see Dunton et al. 1965, 1967–70].)
Observe that as ethnolinguistic assimilationism versus ethnolinguistic multi-
culturalism are construed from the top-and-center, they are different adjustments
of parameters of licensed language usage, and not fundamentally distinct orders
of the political economy of language and culture. In the logic of a politics of recog-
nition, moreover, they are asymmetrically irreversible, because identity emblems
of a minority that is assimilating pass out of an erstwhile in-group to the larger
social formation’s societal memory, or historical consciousness. This then becomes
the consciousness of the in-group as well.
Note, for example, the degree to which the current squaw controversies, the
protests by Native American people against using place-names containing that
lexical form, are based on such a history of assimilative forces. For various Algon-
quian language communities, cognate forms in the seventeenth century were just
the words translatable as “woman; wife,” of course. It was clearly Europeans who
enregistered usage from outside. This lies behind the contemporary English-lan-
guage term, squaw, that is in semantic contrast with woman and more strongly in
contrast with lady (suggesting refined, especially white, woman). The contempo-
rary Native American consciousness of the term is an assimilated one, even
though the protest is couched in terms of traditional ethnolinguistic pride and its
denigration. Note even the taco—ethnically bleached as it ascends the class strat-
ification as the “wrap”— and do not forget the assimilated bagel — de–“New
York”–ified with blueberries and cinnamon and other Leviticusine abominations
in many places—in the American fast-food experience.
If scheduling in social-organizational sites is the correct way of looking at the
contemporary dynamics of locality in its impact on language, I want to highlight

Public Culture three trends of globalization that are affecting the topographies and the kinds of
scheduling of ethnolinguistic identity. These trends seem to sharpen the crises of
demand for recognition that we linguists remark and report. First, increasingly
the “connected” ethnolinguistic groups have heightened diasporic (“rhizomic”)
linguistic and cultural sensibilities. Second, self-localizing processes of identity
seem to operate in tiered or fractalized re-regionalization of politicoeconomic
frames (competing “conics”). And finally, ethnolinguistic praxes articulate them-
selves under pressures of functionalist ideologies of tier-shift or museologization
of language and culture (fractal “disks”). Let me briefly discuss each one, gestur-
ing to some examples I have in mind.

Mediated Diasporas, Reenergized Linguistic Minorities Modern technologies for

production, circulation, and “consumption” of texts now create them and move
them about with great speed as their circulation subtends great, even global, dis-
tances. Digitized and pixel-based electronic transmission among computers is
now overlaid on an older regime of analog electromagnetic broadcast trans-
mission, in turn both overlaid on durable and circulatable text-artifacts like
printed and photographed material, phonograph and later generation audio- and
video-recorded artifacts and the like. As is implied by all these overlaid regimes
of communication, people can be very much locked into different orders of
chronotopicality —being in (social) space-time—in the different aspects of their
lives that depend on these different media.
For example, that ethnolinguistic identity of a local in-group can now take
place in the chronotope of global, ethnolinguistic 24/7-dom has the effect of
putting some languages—and their users—on a very different footing with respect
to others. Their communicative envelope of scheduling identity-marking cultural
and linguistic material is stretched over multiple orders of chronotopicality. The
experience of identity is thus multiplex for anyone who functions at once at both
extremes, in two such very different spatiotemporal orders of effective simul-
taneity with communicating others in a connected population. Contrast with
those who participate in continuously global electronic communication people in
an ethnolinguistic community whose access to verbally mediated culture is exclu-
sively viva voce, or print-mediated, on intermittent scheduling.
Technology-mediated communicative access—generally implying correlative
facts of people’s socioeconomic integration and class — thus deeply affects any
ethnolinguistic identity issues in the perspective of the conical model. In places
like the United States, this differentiation by communicative mode and access
distinguishes historical types of immigration or mobility. Traditionally, there was

upward-and-inward assimilation of erstwhile ethnic minorities. Such stratifica- Ethnolinguistic
tional mobility required their movement toward the ethnonationally neutral, top- Recognition
and-center 24/7 ethnolinguistic identity, emblematically realized in standardized
American English. With global communication, this is now giving way to ethno-
linguistic identities anchored to global elite maintenance of fully standardized
For the time being, then, there has emerged a rather open accessibility to for-
merly highly local cultural and linguistic forms among connected people sepa-
rated by vast distances in the straightforward geographical or geopolitical senses.
This is combined with temporary as well as emigrant flows of actual people
across these distances. What is created is not so much a so-called diasporic self-
imagination (as is consistent with highly directional cultural and linguistic flows
from historical centers of outmigration) as a new virtual locality at the highest
planes of connectedness and mobility. Language communities in this state can, in
principle, have the same punctate, identity-reinforcing experience of simultaneity-
around-the-globe as currency traders connected by capital flows through elec-
tronic accounts posted in virtual simultaneity in London, New York, Tokyo, Hong
Kong, and Zurich.
At these levels of connectivity are new kinds of cultural and linguistic elites,
whose distinction—to use Pierre Bourdieu’s (1984) term—is to make ethnic lan-
guages visible to Euro-Western ethnonational institutions and consciousness in
rather new sociological configurations. Indeed, local populations affiliated with
such languages are reenergized by (re)connected nodal centerings of identity, in
the figure of a rhizomic growth that replicates the demographic plenitude of a
heterochthonous language. There is, consequently, a kind of elite re-ethnicization,
as I term it, occurring in this way in the United States, reversing the traditional
inverse relationship between schedulings of class and ethnicity. People at the
stratificational top-and-center reschedule ethnolinguistic identity by the logic of
the rhizomic connection. And by mobility across political boundaries, the signif-
icant addition of such cosmopolitan—and highly connected—global elites to tra-
ditional de-ethnicizing postimmigrant populations in the First World has reener-
gized erstwhile ethnic languages like Chinese, Hindi-Urdu, Polish, or Arabic.
Cultural materials at all levels of distinction are available far from historical cen-
ters of outmigration within nearly coincident intervals of scheduling, and they are
making language communities visible to politicoeconomic recognition as new
kinds of localities. Reenergized in this way, once politicoeconomically marginal
and contained ethnolinguistic enclaves can no longer be dealt with through inter-
mittent and peripheral schedulings of identity.

Public Culture The state as a political form thus faces what can be a crisis of rhizomic, “glo-
cal” (i.e., locally expressed but globally occurrent) plurilingualism that I see as
akin to the crisis of control over multinational corporations and transnational
capital. One result in an assimilationist would-be nation-state like the United
States is jittery attempts at repression, so as to police the schedulings of non-
English languages (and as well of nonstandard sociolects) that become too visible
under a more traditionally and locally negotiated ethnolinguistic politics of
recognition. Note the English Only campaigns involving both federal and state
constitutional amendments, not a new phenomenon, to be sure (see references
above), but accelerated and intensified (Woolard 1989) in California, Arizona,
Florida, and other Sunbelt, particularly hispanophone sites of elite, or at least
bourgeois, re-ethnicization.
In this light, too, I believe we should understand the reaction against African
American Vernacular English (a.k.a. “Ebonics”) when the Oakland Combined
District School Board in December 1996 proposed using students’ competence in
this nonstandard register as a starting point for literacy and language arts. In the
manner of dealing with a pollution-taboo that has been violated in sacred
precincts of standard English (elementary school classrooms), even African
American political and cultural figures were in effect summoned to public media
outlets, one by one, to denounce this official—hence, it was feared, legitimating—
recognition of sociolectal diversity within the overall language community. (One
might add here the nervous suspicions with which have been greeted the public
visibility and audibility of anything like Arabic, Urdu, or Persian, even as a pho-
netic interference in spoken English, since the tragically successful terrorist
action of 11 September 2001.)
So new orders of mobility and of text-transmission and circulation seem to be
transforming ethnolinguistic identity and its modes of possible recognition within
a politicoeconomic order such as ours. And the institutional envelopes of sched-
uling by which ethnolinguistic identities are mapped as demographic realities are,
as well, being noticeably transformed. In universities, for example, the increas-
ingly dense emergence of chairs and programs or departments of “[Glottonym or
Ethnonym] Studies” signals that an ethnolinguistic group clamors for recognition
in the licensing sites of high culture. Observe how the naming patterns as a key to
the negotiation of recognition going on: Native American Studies, Asian Ameri-
can Studies, African American Studies, Jewish Studies. The patterns are very dif-
ferent from Romance Languages and Literatures, East Asian Languages and Civ-
ilizations, and so forth. Notice how they are frequently supplanting government-
and foundation-supported areal studies centers and programs as a function of

aspirations of and funding by ethnolinguistically and ethnonationally internal Ethnolinguistic
constituencies. It is the inside, identity-laden versus outside, disciplinary con- Recognition
strual of topical subject matter. It should also be noted that these new kinds of
programs are likely to deal with languages as heritage matter rather than in the
fashion of the older “department of language and literature.” This was the uni-
versal high-cultural mode for university-recognized languages, emerging from
the earlier secularization of sacred and high languages. It was, after all, the
philology of texts in first sacred and classical, then vernacular languages that
energized notions of standard and its teaching. So emblems of universal cultiva-
tion yield to emblems of particular identity.

Linguistic and Cultural Recognition in Tiers In the modern regime of recogni-

tion, both political power and economic commodities and wealth seem to flow to
local language and culture bearers via nodal points, metropolitan centers of orga-
nization. Capital has become globalized in the way that longitude finally was in
1911: usable in calibrating any space-time on earth with any other — and even
radially, out into space. Notwithstanding, there is a network structure of metro-
politan centers of capital, organized in a tiered or hierarchical fashion such that
there are what have been termed global cities (Sassen 1991) at the first tier, inter-
connected one with another in various kinds of direct flow. The reticulation is
such that between nodes at tier n there are nodes at tier n + 1; locality of language
and culture is scheduled with respect to such a hierarchy.
The situation should be familiar to anyone in the northeastern United States.
The northeast is radially anchored to a single metropolitan area, New York City,
flanked by the two endpoints, Boston and Washington, D.C. Between these first-
tier nodes are second-tier nodes, for example between New York and Washington
is Philadelphia. Between Boston and New York is Hartford (with air travel),
though New Haven was once the interstice in the railroad days. Between Philadel-
phia and Washington is Baltimore; between Philadelphia and Baltimore is Wil-
mington. So you can see that this is not a social formation in a merely continuous
smear of alternatingly denser and more rarefied population and associated eco-
nomic and political institutional forms; it is a culturally organized tiered structure
of discrete nodes of subtended influence and allegiance.
Increasingly there are forces shaping this kind of reticulation of global space-
time not only in matters of capital but in those of culture and language, in terms of
which ethnolinguistic recognition is constituted. Hence, a group’s visibility and
recognition at any tier need not translate into such at higher levels; conversely, any-
body wishing to be nonlocal, to escape locality in a trajectory of self-mobilization,

Public Culture can achieve this by degrees over tiers. Observe how in places like rural central Mex-
ico, ethnolinguistically “Indian” people with aspirations to significant mobility are
not abandoning local languages at this point only for a Mexico City–standardized
Spanish. They are doing so for English, standardized via broadcast Americana or
through at least seasonal work-related presence in Los Angeles, Chicago, New
York, or slightly lower-tiered metropolitan areas. (There is also a significant repop-
ulation of many parts of rural America, abandoned through the urban migration of
their erstwhile inhabitants. As seasonal agricultural labor transforms into settle-
ment, non-English-speaking immigrants recapitulate a history familiar in earlier
generations—for example, people in the American countryside fluent in Zapotec
and speaking limited Spanish, but acquiring English.)
The point is that, viewed from the metropoles, languages and cultures are
summoned to positions in a functional hierarchy of locality defined by a radial
geometry around and anchored to tiered nodes. In this way, they have relative
rights to subtend chunks of the globe’s geopolitical and socioeconomic space-time
as maximal realms to which their recognition can aspire. Within each of these
fractal orders, there is heterogeneity in the politicoeconomics of recognition; out-
side-and-above such a tier, only areal experts know that there is internal differ-
ence. (One recalls the splendid, if extreme, faux pas of then–U.S. vice-president
Dan Quayle in referring to the “Latin” spoken by all the people of “Latin Amer-
ica.” Such is the indifferently homogenizing consciousness of the region’s actual
welter of languages, both indigenous and colonial. This parallels the long-term
pressure within the United States for all speakers of Spanish to be recognized as
From relatively more primary nodal points of such fractally tiered intergroup
relations, recognition or nonrecognition are favored politicoeconomic tools made
more complex in the contemporary situation by the number of levels across which
such recognition of legitimate locality has to reach. Observe then the advantage
to the politicoeconomics of recognition of a language group that connects dias-
porically to a high-tier node of capital and cultural flow. Jane Hill (1995, 1998,
2001) has written about anglophone Americans’ use of what she terms “mock
Spanish,” using utterances like “no problemo” and “grassy ass” in contexts of other-
lowering joking and opprobriousness. Such usage, Hill claims, indexes a certain
white, ethnolinguistically apical outsider stance. But note there is no equivalent
effect (in the United States, at least) of using a word or phrase of “mock French”:
Americans recognize French speakers in a nodally equal-to-superior position of
cultural flow (as do the metropolitan French, of course).
If recognition is a perspective that situates both the recognizers and the rec-

ognized in such a tiered structure, then recognition must be by degree, like the Ethnolinguistic
amount of accurate placement of others in Saul Steinberg’s New Yorker map of the Recognition
world. Long ago Leonard Bloomfield (1927) wrote of how such unwritten Native
American languages as Menomini, Ojibwa, Cree of the Algonquian family, and
Winnebago (now, Ho-Chank) of the Siouan family, were invisible even as lan-
guages, as opposed to mere dialects, in Euro-American folk consciousness. A lan-
guage — and of course its speakers’ legitimated use of it — could be recognized
only where there was a print-based standard, as every political, cultural, and eco-
nomic institution in the European experience of nation-statehood had long been
articulating. A language used only in the oral-aural channel, thus failing to come
to print-centered institutional formedness, as for example those cited by Bloom-
field, failed to achieve separate recognition as a language. It remained a dialect,
assimilated projectively to the cultural model that emerged from the urban-
centered standardizations of European vernaculars, where variability across the
space of nonmetropolitan landscapes is captioned by the folk-term dialect.
One still hears talk, among those innocent of any sociolinguistic science, of
the hundreds, if not thousands of dialects used by indigenous American or Aus-
tralian peoples at first European contact, with nary a language among them. The
practical point is, for indigenous people to come to recognition in such an institu-
tionally embodied culture of language, they must embrace the paraphernalia of
the culture’s “languages.” Only this makes a language a “language,” in spite of the
witty remark attributed to Max Weinreich that a language is a dialect with an
army and navy; here, the pen still is mightier than the spoken word. And to be
sure, many Native American ethnolinguistic groups have determined to assert
their recognizability in schedulings through the print medium, such as the super-
ordinate cultural group institutionally demands for language-hood. (See Bender
2002 for an account of contemporary Cherokee writing in North Carolina, for
The case is no different, mutatis mutandis, for languages of immigrant ethno-
linguistic minorities within such a nation-state. Imagine the case of a speaker of
a nonstandard(ized) form recognizable as “Italian,” but only under the double
negative of being (1) not American English, the standardized language of the
politicoeconomic realm, and (2) while “Italian” in the larger sense, still not stan-
dard and especially print-compatible Italian from the perspectival horizon of
those who live in a culture of “languages” so defined. For a long time (the situa-
tion is now changing), even childhood speakers of relatively standard versions of
New World Spanish—Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Havana, etc.—were devalued
in the eyes of the anglophone policymakers. For in the United States, the educa-

Public Culture tional system valued Madrid standard as the same-tier nodal other, just as it val-
ued Paris-standard French or Berlin-standard German. At one point, then, fluent
native speakers of these New World Spanishes were remediated in American
high school foreign language classes, taught the language through “proper” gram-
mar and pronunciation.
So recognition aspired to, fulfilled, or denied comes about through a structure
of institutional sites that have different reach for shaping both languages and our
consciousness of them in relation to issues of identity.

Neoliberal Functionalist Ideologies in an Age of Identity Benedict Anderson

(1983, 1991), among others, has gestured toward the role of grammarians, lexi-
cographers, philologists-folklorists, and other language-and-culture workers in
the furtherance of imperial as well as statist nationalisms, and, we might add, of
ethnonationalist identity claims within these politicoeconomic orders. (See Gal
1995, 2001 for a case history in re Hungarian.) Whatever the professed descrip-
tive aims of the cultural sciences, then, the compilation of archives of words,
grammatical forms, and texts, no less than attempts to standardize in the form of
institutionally sponsored linguistic paraphernalia (textbooks, usage guides, spell-
checkers), has had effects on recognition claims. Such activity under the sign of
disinterested and dispassionate science cannot but become the basis for schedul-
ing claims to groupness, or for their suppression. Representations or even pre-
sumptions of ethnolinguistic groupness can incorporate the logic of facticity in
the image of expertise brought to the bar in legal and administrative procedure.
(See the florid failure of realization of this logic by the experts in the infamous
“Mashpee” case seeking U.S. federal recognition, laid out in James Clifford’s
[1988] account.) Note the classic Andersonian case of Horace Lunt, whose doc-
toral dissertation (1952) described the Macedonian regional variant (dialect) of
what had been, to Slavists, Bulgarian. Lunt is now a Macedonian ethnolinguistic
and hence (ethno)national hero for “giving us our language,” his descriptive
account becoming a prescriptive one under the sign of separatist identity long-
ings. Compare here, too, all Fourteenth Amendment—equal protection clause—
legal actions such as the Lau case of 1974 (mandating bilingual education) or the
Ann Arbor Board of Education case of 1979 (mandating special schooling reme-
dies to children speaking only African American Vernacular English). These rest
on such descriptive expertise that scientifically recognizes and taxonomizes
ethnolinguistic difference sufficient to suggest unequal treatment of a category of
people. Language as such is, to be sure, nowhere protected in federal law—though
the denotational content or equivalent (the “what one says”) of what constitu-

tionalists call “speech” is. So it is the linguistic expertise of discernment and sci- Ethnolinguistic
entific categorization that can, as a matter of legally relevant fact, suggest recog- Recognition
nition to bodies, like courts and agencies, with governmental power.
In this kind of regime of identity claims, the knowledge encapsulated in our
work as linguists and ethnographers, then, is recognized for its concentration on
denotational codes in the image of standard languages precisely to find an issue-
external natural grounding for identity claims to recognition. This is a very uncom-
fortable voice with which we are asked to speak. For observe that our bracketed
“science”—by the terms of its participation summoned to a constructed ideolog-
ical dispassion on the image of standard languages and timeless cultures—must
thereby violate a good deal of what it knows about such sociocultural things as
languages are.
And our work projects especially into two kinds of identity-effectuating orga-
nizational sites. One is the classroom and its penumbra, on which are brought to
bear all kinds of standardizing views of language and verbally mediated, cultur-
ally salient identity-conferring forms. So it is not just focus on the language as
such that is involved here, though that is a major factor of linguistics as a policy
science. As well, a group’s historical consciousness is created in the form of texts
of ethnic history (see Glazer 1997), identity-indexing genres of textuality (cf.
Grimmschen Märchen in nineteenth-century Prussia), and so forth. The other
organizational sites central to identity are the museum and archive, in which are
displayed, or at least kept, reference collections of identity-constituting value
turned objectual. These institutionalizations of collectanea insert themselves as
privileged sites of self-recognition within regimes of history and of diasporiza-
tion no less than sites of recognition by others within a larger framework of dif-
ference. A language in every archive and a culture in every museum.
Such organizational forms have profound influence on linguistic self-con-
sciousness in a politics of group language and culture, because they provide
targets especially for intellectuals and other elites in struggles over recognition.
Does the group emerge from creating and implementing the paraphernalia of
standardization, with all its appeals to the same rights and privileges as the lan-
guage of the regionally anchoring metropole at the relevant tier of reticulation?
Does it result in an advanced prose composition course in, say, Cree or a course in
Cree literary masterpieces at the community college, the state college, or a local,
national-, or international-tier university? Or does the group emerge from consti-
tuting a museum and archive with its appeal via concern for pedigree, prove-
nance, and perfection-of-specimen, to transmission of language and culture over
time and space? Such an establishment of tradition through a reference collection

Public Culture provides the authority of continuity in a way that bespeaks current value of
unchanging or essential heritage. Notice that there is such a collection for all
Native Americans now abuilding on the Mall in Washington, D.C., distinct from
the National Museum of Natural History in which languages and cultures find
their repose according to the sense of “science.” And innumerable local museums,
including one in the Mashantucket Pequot casino, I understand, also assert local
group essentialisms in terms of which heritage identity comes to venues of self-
recognition and claims recognition by others.
In many instances, both avenues of recognition have been launched, of course,
using the full panoply of organizational sites that have, historically, emerged from
cultural science within liberal political orders. But in which of them does the
larger politicoeconomic establishment have an interest? In which, for example,
can culture, and with it, language, be commodified as marketable diversity, as, for
example, in sparking postdiasporic tourism or other culture industries? On Warm
Springs Reservation in central Oregon, near the Kah-Nee-Tah Lodge is the Tribal
Museum, in which the story of the three historically component “tribes” is told,
with much referencing of ethnolinguistically pregnant words for culture items.
The Tribal Museum has a role both internally and, via tourism, externally; it is an
“attraction” with a certain economic and, thence, political leverage in the regional
state consciousness.
It should be clear from the ubiquity of role of the classroom (broadly speaking)
and the museum/archive in the identity of peoples that there is, in the long run, no
neutrally dispassionate, disinterested linguistic or ethnographic collecting and
describing, whatever the explicit intent of the linguist or anthropologist. There is
no neutral or dispassionate translation work possible regardless of the notion of
denotational faithfulness in the narrowest sense that may anchor the work to its
context of value. We, the intellectuals or knowledge workers of our societies,
must engage, directly or indirectly, with the intellectuals and elites of the cur-
rently recognized as well as “wannabe” groups. We must understand where they
are positioned in the dynamics of scheduling their, and others’, identities. We
must position ourselves in some at least potential trajectory of the (re)scheduling
implications of our work in undertaking it and in presiding over or acceding to its
use. In the process of working on languages, we must come to terms with our
own self-orientations to others’ projects of ethnolinguistic recognition. Only
then should we be entrusted to intervene in the ethnolinguistic identity projects of

Michael Silverstein is the Charles F. Grey Distinguished Service Professor in the Ethnolinguistic
Departments of Anthropology, Linguistics, and Psychology and the Committee Recognition
on Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities at the University of Chicago,
where his research and teaching center on how cultural communication shapes
language and vice versa. He recently published Talking Politics: The Substance of
Style from Abe to W (2003).


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