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TSC Osbourne Lecture_ Codemixing and the Semiotics of Taboo Language in the Philippines

Toronto Semiotic Circle Lecture Series

TSC Osborne Lecture: Codemixing and the Semiotics of Taboo Language in the Philippines

Dr. Dana Osborne

Ryerson University

Taboo language, as it has long been understood by anthropologists, underscores and sketches out the boundaries of the things that are important or up for debate within a given cultural milieu. This analysis focuses on two complimentary streams of practices of doing taboo language in the contemporary Philippine linguistic scene, with a focus on: 1) the words themselves that occupy the recognizable categories of taboo in cross-linguistic contexts – those of sexual acts, excrement, and loose morals, among others, and 2) practices that manifest taboo-ness by way of their materially bringing into the world linguistic objects of indeterminate status through the mixing of languages. I argue that much of the contemporary conceptualization of taboo language in the Philippines derives from not only the invocation of the recognizably taboo words themselves but also from the act of variously mixing words, sounds, and grammars as practices that destabilize the apparent social and linguistic order through their metapragmatic action in discourse. In anthropological and semiotic terms, I argue that the mixing of languages taps into longstanding ideologies of language located in colonial logics of linguistic purity and cleanliness, whose violation in contexts of mixing gives rise to perceived monstrosities of indeterminate status – the essence of taboo. This state of in-betweenness allows these constructions to challenge and subvert the apparent naturalness and rigidity of language-types as they are indexically connected to person-types, thereby opening up a space in which challenges to dominant social orders can be realized through everyday linguistic practice. In many ways, these constructions confront head on the metaphysical risk of harm or violation through the material action of ‘becoming’ in the world on the untamed tongues of everyday speakers, destabilizing dominant ideologies of social and linguistic hierarchies one pakshet or tangina at a time.

This lecture was hosted in partnership with the Department of Philosophy at Ryerson University and organized by the Meaning Lab in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures.

A Bit About Me

Date & Time

Thu, 23 March 2017

5:00 PM – 6:30 PM EDT


Victoria College, University of Toronto

Old Victoria Building (Old Vic), Room 115 (VC115)

91 Charles Street West

Toronto, ON M5S 1K5

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