Signs of Race

2019 Theme and Program

For more than a century, Sociocultural Anthropologists have argued for a critical reconceptualization of “race” to counter dominant and naturalized assumptions about the biological and hierarchical classification of human beings. This political and intellectual project concerns the problem of language, in terms of both the linguistic mediation of scientific and socio-political concepts, as well as the speech varieties associated with different populations. In recent decades, linguistic anthropologists and sociolinguists have developed pathbreaking ethnographic methods and analytical tools for explaining the fused semiotic processes of racialization and racism, especially the covert interpenetrations of linguistic structure, practice, and ideology that produce “race” as we experience (or deny) it today. The inaugural Roman Jakobson Symposium features scholars whose research unveils the semiotic elements of racialization and racism that shape contemporary life and politics.


10:00 – 10:30      Welcome and Opening Remarks

Nicholas Harkness, Department of Anthropology
Steven Caton, Department of Anthropology

10:30 – 12:00 

Strategies of Lexical Excavation: Making Covertly Racist Language Hearable
Elaine Chun, University of South Carolina

Language Ideologies and the Racialization of Native Americans:
Covert Linguistic Racism and Settler-colonial Indexical Orders

Paul Kroskrity, University of California Los Angeles

12:00 – 1:00 Break

1:00 – 2:30 

Real Black: Emphatically Black Signs and Fugitive Humanity in Digital Space
Krystal Smalls, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Race, Image, Empire: Poetic Structures of Philippine Differentiation
Angela Reyes, Hunter College and CUNY Graduate Center

2:30 – 2:45 Break

2:45 – 4:15 

American Apprehensions: A Semiotics of Racial and Linguistic Profiling
Jonathan Rosa, Stanford University

Racialization as Metasemiotic Theory
Adrienne Lo, University of Waterloo

4:15 – 4:45      Closing Remarks 

Marcyliena Morgan, Department of African and African American Studies




Nicholas Harkness
Professor of Anthropology


The 2019 Roman Jakobson Symposium has received generous support from the Asia Center, the Committee on Ethnicity, Migration, Rights, and the Kim Koo Forum at the Harvard Korea Institute.