Ceremonial Dialogues in South America

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Abstract

In native South America, ceremonial dialogue is a widespread and prominent, yet simultaneously enigmatic, form of ritualized language use. This paper examines the ceremonial dialogic complex through the interpretive lens of a semiotic hypothesis, namely, that ritualized dialogic form is a sign vehicle, a “model of and for” linguistic and more generally social solidarity. A comparative correlational study confirms this semiotic interpretation, showing that the ceremonial dialogue is used in situations of potential conflict—the maximally distant social relations within a given society. This paper also raises a broader theoretical issue concerning the role of metacommunicative devices in social action, suggesting that it is the “meta-signal” itself that enables actors to formulate an image of action—thereby regulating it—simultaneously as it occurs.

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