Professor Shalini Shankar from Northwestern University will give a lecture on “The Semiotics of Spelling Bees: Sound, Temporality, Language and Materiality” at the Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures. Shalini Shankar is a sociocultural and linguistic anthropologist whose central concerns include media, semiotics, race and ethnicity, youth culture, Asian America, and the South Asian diaspora.
The spelling bee, American folk tradition and elementary school staple, has long been underwritten by commercial sponsors to promote education. Over the last twenty years, however, spelling bees have dramatically increased in popularity, commercialization, and mediatization. Drawing on ethnographic research, this talk will explore the linguistic materiality of spelling bees to consider temporality, sound, and the Peircian “firstness” of words. It will consider new constraints and contingencies of mediatization by discussing how language is manipulated to create viewable content for live television broadcast, and situate these analyses in the anthropology of sound, language commodification, and the production of mediatized identities.