God Is Nothing but Talk: Modernity, Language, and Prayer in a Papua New Guinea Society

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Abstract

This article brings together theories of local modernity and of linguistic ideology to analyze the way the Urapmin of Papua New Guinea have encountered modern linguistic ideology through their Christianization. Against the prevailing anthropological focus on the indigenization of modernity, this article argues the importance of attending to cases in which people grasp the content of modernity on its own terms. Studying this kind of local modernity allows us to model an important kind of contemporary cultural change and discover neglected aspects of modernity as refracted through the experiences of people new to it. Here, an analysis of the Urapmin encounter with modern linguistic ideology reveals that ideology's rootedness in a model that ties meaning to intention and truthfulness and favors the speaker over the listener in the construction of meaning. It is suggested that an awareness of the biases of this ideology can open up new topics in linguistic anthropology. [modernity, linguistic ideology, religion, Christianity, Melanesia]

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