Maps, Vocabulary, and Enregistered Identity

I admit it – I love a good map as much as the next giant nerd. As a kid, I literally spent hours in our home office, pouring over atlases that my geography major dad had kept  on hand. Maps are great tools for visualizing the distribution of social relationships in space. So language maps in particular, which help us to examine the ways language is used different across space, are guaranteed click bait for me. I’m clearly not alone on this one, as recent ‘dialect survey’ maps have gone viral over the last few years. This one for the US came out a few years ago, and includes tests that purport to guess where you’re from based on your preferred word for nine or ten common items. I tried it myself, and it wanted me to live in either Detroit, Pittsburgh, or Buffalo. While I’ve lived geographically close to a couple of those places, it still felt off.

So now, finally, someone’s done the same for Canada (though I haven’t seen a quiz version), and mapped out various expressions across the country. I’ve seen it linked a lot, and I’ve looked through it with my language/map nerd brain going ‘ooh, that’s fun’. But at the same time, I have to ask – what else is going on when we create maps like this? Note this CBC article reporting on the project, with the title “Lost in Translation“. The story suggests that English Canadians are “not all speaking the same language”, and that there is a “surprising amount of diversity in vocabulary and pronunciation”. Popularizations of research are, of course, notoriously frustrating, and it’s fairly easy to push back against this framing – are a few words, many of them relatively infrequent items in people’s lexicons (the sport either called ‘kickball’ or ‘soccer baseball’ is not one that I refer to more than, say, once a year, for example) really sufficient to define as major differences? Are we actually unable to understand each other across these differences – are people from Saskatchewan unaware of what a hoodie is? And even if these differences are significant, is it really that surprising that expressions are regionalized?

Beyond the journalistic accounts, though, there are also questions about the research process itself, and how well it captures what it says it does. Ben Zimmer touches on this in a Language Log post on the US version – the data emerges based on self-reporting, from a multiple choice format, using online participants. This has an advantage of gathering a quantity of data from a range of geographical areas, but it also has a number of significant limitations. We are often surprisingly unaware of what we actually say (especially when it comes to pronunciation), a multiple choice list may make a number of assumptions about what the options even are, and, of course, the sample of people who do online surveys is not exactly representative of the population as a whole.

The most interesting point, to me, though, is how these visualizations don’t just represent regional variations, but also create and enshrine regional variants as identity markers. I was thinking about this while doing the reading for my Language & Power seminar this week, which includes Barbara Johnstone’s (2013) article “100% Authentic Pittsburgh”. i-speak-fluent-canadian-canada-humor-funny-vacation-souvenir-blue-t-shirt-m-0b8972b813fe1ce48315898cb05ffb32One point that Johnstone makes is that the creation, selling, and wearing of t-shirts that include certain expressions, under the headline of local ‘authenticity’, do a wide range of types of semiotic work, creating a character image that is rooted in certain forms of class, racial, gender, and personal identity. It’s fairly easy to jump from Johnstone’s Pittsburgh example to Canadian versions – like the one pictured here. Artifacts like these t-shirts – or, I would argue, these dialect maps – shape the meanings of the linguistic resources that people choose to use, as well as the identities that are purportedly represented by them. As with some of the people Johnstone interviewed, I look at this list of supposed markers of speaking “fluent Canadian” and don’t really see myself in them. What are the features that we associate with supposedly Canadian phrases like “Take off, ya hoser”, and what does it imply that they are used to market an entextualized Canadian identity?

The maps are a good deal more sophisticated than McKenzie brother parodies of Canadian English, of course, but some of what they accomplish is the same – especially when they are repackaged by journalists looking to create a narrative out of them. They highlight a few select items that can be used to index certain regions, erasing many other aspects of the language in these areas, and possibly attaching other semiotic baggage to the mix.

That said, having moved to Alberta from Ontario, I really wish the maps had told me what a “windrow” was, because it took me 2 years to figure that one out.



Archaeological Field Methods (Anth396): Public Archaeology Day & Week 5 in Review

Public outreach was a huge component of how I designed my field methods course. I’m a huge proponent of public outreach, of community archaeology, and of students demonstrating what they’ve learned by teaching others all about it. As I knew we were in a high visibility and high traffic area I wanted to formally acknowledge that this kind of labour was needed and necessary, but I also needed to then assess how students engaged with the public, particularly how well they communicated the research objectives and the purpose of the field school. While I knew we’d have plenty of opportunities to give informal “tours” throughout the field school and answer questions from people passing through/around the site, I also wanted to host a formal Public Archaeology Day.  This day would feature tours, activities for kids, and artifacts on display for handing, as a way to formally invite the public to our site and to allow our students’ friends and family an opportunity to see what they’d been up to all summer.

We had over 160 attend our Public Archaeology Day on Saturday July 29th. I was so pleased with this response and the students were too. I was even more impressed by just how excellent the students were at doing tours, explaining archaeology, and answering questions – I mean I’d pretty much figured that out by this point but they really were exceptional on a very hot and busy day. Tours departed approximately hourly; the students met with people at a designated meeting point, then brought them down to the site to see what we’d been up to. Other students hung around the station we’d set up with cleaned and catalogued finds for people to handle and examine. We also had “learn to be an archaeologist” activities that kids could complete to earn stickers.  The media was also on site so our coverage of the project continued.

Highlights of the Public Archaeology Day. From top left clockwise: examining artifacts, the calm before the storm, the guide signs used for the tours, and screening for artifacts. 

After a single day of rest we were back on site and back to work. Week 5 was all about:

a) Routine. At this point in the field school the students have learned that they really can do archaeology (bolstered by the positive feedback and energy of the Public Archaeology Day) and things pretty much just happen. Every morning we unload the gear. We dig and screen and talk about food all day (seriously, we talked about food a lot. At the end of the day we pack up the gear (in a super efficient manner now that it is routine) back into the vehicles and call it a day.

b) Concrete. In Week 4 we opened up three new units and during Week 5 we found that all of these new units had concrete features. Unit 4 had an interesting concrete “floor” The concrete in Unit 5 was a smooth “floor”; it had a unique pattern on it that we eventually figured out was the impressions left from brick “frogs” (bricks with material cut away to reduce weight and to allow more mortar/cement to adhere); to track this feature we expanded the unit by an additional 1 m to make a 1 m x 3 m unit.  Unit 5 also had a concrete “floor”. It was much smoother than seen in Units 1 and 4 but seemed to line approximately up with the concrete feature in Unit 1. It was also much larger. Instead of a narrow line of concrete, the entire 1 m x 2 m unit was concrete so we made the decision to expand it into a 2 m x 2m unit to see if we could assess the extent of the floor. Unit 6 also had a concrete feature that was perpendicular but not attached to the feature in Unit 1.

You can see the impressions left behind in the cement by a brick “frog” in Unit 4. 

Work continued in Unit 3 but the quantity of material recovered had finally started to decrease. The students excavated some articulated cow foot bones, a surprising number of bullet casings (later lab analysis would put the total over 150), and some leather that we initially identified as belonging to a belt. Luckily one of our students had horses and corrected us that it was likely part of a bridle. The preservation in the midden really is remarkable.

Always grateful for students who bring in their items to show their classmates (Thanks Lace!). On the left some harnesses from the 1920s, 1960s, and 1990s are shown; on the right is the piece of buck chinstrap that we recovered from Unit 3. 

With only one week of digging left the pressure was on to finish as much excavating as possible. The students were starting to get anxious about their research papers and I was also busy planning our field trip!


So It Begins

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The beginning of a new school year is a thing. Even from my lofty, fictional, editorial position, I see the plans, the excitement, the resolutions. So as we head into this new school year, let’s check in with our people.

Ed: What are you most excited about this year?
Sarah (the Linguistic One): 
So many things! MacEwan has a new president, and while I’ve only heard her speak once, she articulated a vision for our school as a place that serve the entire community, that places justice and access at the centre of its mission, and that promises to take real action toward implementing the recommendations of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission. I feel like we are at an amazing place right now.

Katie (the Archaeology One): Yeah our new president is ah-maze-ing! I’m really pumped that we are being led by someone who shares so many of the values that are important to me – community, caring, accessibility, activism, justice. Wow. I’m all fired up and feel empowered to create the kind of learning environment I think is important and needed.

Ed: What are you excited about in your teaching?
SS: Five out of the six courses I get to teach this year are linguistic anthropology! Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching sociocultural stuff too, but linguistic anthro is my one true love, and I will be swimming in it this year, with 2 seminars (Language & Power and Language & Media) and a third year course (Language, Gender, and Sexuality), along with 2 sections of intro to ling anth. I feel some definite blog incorporation work coming along…

KB: Can I sit in on your third year course? Because it sounds awesome! I’m redoing my written assignment for my Anth 110 course (Gender, Age, & Culture) to more explicitly involve this blog so that’s exciting. Anth 110 really has become my passion btw so overall I’m just jazzed to get back into it. I’m also really looking forward to finding new/better ways of bringing our lab resources into our classrooms. For example we have this rad new Neandertal skeleton, which we will definitely use in Anth 209 (Introduction to Biological Anthropology) but it could also visit our Anth 101 classes as well.

Ed: OK, you know you have one – what’s your resolution?
 This year, I swear will be the one where I finally break out of the shackles of email notifications controlling my life. Really. I promise. Hold me to it.

KB: Boundaries. I really really need to be clear about what my open door policy is and how it works. Turns out that I need to have times when my door is closed.

Ed: What advice do you want to give your students?
SS: Whatever happens this semester, you’re a human first and a student second. Take care of your needs. Admittedly, some profs are better than others about hearing that, and sometimes your grades end up taking a hit because life. A bad semester, or a bad few classes, is something that can be overcome, and there are people who want to help you with that. Find them, and let them.

KB: ^^^THIS^^^ And read the syllabus #sorrynotsorry It really is an important, useful document.

Ed: New semester on – Got meme?




Archaeological Field Methods (Anth396): Week 4 in Review

NOTE: I really fell behind in writing these week-in-review posts but that’s one of the realities of fieldwork, it is physically, emotionally, and intellectually draining so sometimes non-fieldwork things get set aside. But luckily they are review posts so it’s not to late to reflect back upon what happened. This is why we take good field notes right?!

Week 4 began with what we called our “Big Bonding Day”. Unit 1 was flooded from all of the rain we’d had over the weekend; as the lower strata in the unit was clay, drainage was an issue, and all the rainwater just collected and sat in the bottom of the unit. Luckily archaeologists always have an abundance of buckets, so we bailed the unit out and got back to digging (Note: this wouldn’t be the last time we’d need to bail out this unit…).

The students finished Unit 1 this week and opened up Unit 5, a 1m x 2m just north of Unit 1, and Unit 6, a 1m x 1m just west of Unit 1. These were placed to capture some more of the cement feature found in Unit 1 and get a better idea of what it represented (foundation? wall? ramp/sidewalk?). Unit 6 was specifically placed to try to find more of a possible wooden beam found in a Shovel Test Pit in that location.

IMG_7884This is what Unit 1 looked like after we bailed it out!

Unit 2 was completed; upon reaching and excavating “sterile” levels (sediments with no cultural materials in them) the students drew wall profiles to capture the stratigraphy seen in that unit. This is a labour-intensive task but critical for making interpretations post-excavation; it challenges students to use their best mapping, measuring, drawing, sediment analysis, and communication skills. The Unit 2 team was partially disbanded – one of the students was sent over to Unit 3 to help with the midden/bone bed, and the other two opened up Unit 4, a 1m x 2m unit located just west of Unit 2.

Work was proceeding well in Unit 3 now that three students were dedicated to its excavation and mapping. Having a third student working on that unit was really needed at this point – there was much that needed to be done, we weren’t sure how much deeper the bone bed would go, and the clock was ticking.

So it wasn’t clear what that cement feature was in Unit 1 and it wasn’t clear how much midden there was in Unit 3. It was clear, however, that we’d just passed the midpoint of the field school; several students missed a day or two as they were sick. We didn’t have a single day where everyone was working on site. The air quality was still not great so it seemed like we all were having headaches. Overall body pain was not too bad as we’d all reached the point where we were used to the physical work but some students were starting to have symptoms of more serious, potentially chronic pain (elbow, hip, and foot pain/numbness). We talked about self-care on the site and shared tips and tricks (yoga, shower beers, bath salts, massage, etc.). All of this was not surprising as field work is extremely taxing mentally and physically; so I supported and encouraged students to take days off when they weren’t feeling well and to leave early/arrive late to accommodate appointments. Part of my mandate to have an accessible, ethical field school was ensuring that students felt comfortable to take time off when needed, no questions asked. I also ran the field school around “regular” working hours (8:30 am – 4:30 pm, Monday – Friday); this selfishly also supported my childcare requirements. These policies were the direct result of my personal experiences as a student and my concerns about overwork, stress, and work-life balance. I know as a young archaeologist in my first CRM job, I worked insanely long hours in really long stretches (12-18 hour days for two or three weeks) and did not feel like I could take off time when I became sick (and ended up being very very sick with giardia for an unnecessarily long time as a result). All of these concerns about health, safety, and risk were constantly on my mind.

Haeden and I appeared on Global News at 7 am on the Thursday morning; it was an opportunity to discuss the project and field school, but also promote our Public Archaeology Day (more on that in another post). It was my first time doing a studio interview but I think we did a great job in the 3 minutes we had.

The week ended with a day in the lab as usual. We spend some time talking about and planning for our Public Archaeology Day; we pulled artifacts to display, prepared signage, printed stickers, and planned some simple activities for kids. It was clear that building in a lab day was really worth the “loss” of time in the field; the students were making excellent progress in cleaning and cataloging the finds.

IMG_7906The site at the end of Week 4. Unit 1 was “closed” – it is under the plywood. Unit 4, under the green tent was opened. Unit 5, under the grey tent, was opened just north of Unit 1. Unit 6, in the process of being made, was opened just west of Unit 1. 


IMG_7897This neat red plastic car was found in Unit 4. We were super excited by it. Children are often “missing” in the archaeological record so to find a toy was fun. We posted some photos and video of its big reveal on social media and the response was really interesting and informative. Someone commented on my Instagram post that their husband said he had a car just like this when he was a kid in the 1960s in Saskatoon; he revealed that Donald Duck was its driver (no, we never found Donald!).