Japanese Journal of Cultural Anthropology
Online ISSN : 2424-0516
Print ISSN : 1349-0648
ISSN-L : 1349-0648
Special Theme: Dynamics in the Indexical Process of Signification: Perspectives from Linguistic Anthropology
Tracing Ancestral Vestige / Figure
Figure-Ground Reversal, Semiosis, or Realism in the South Pacific
Yuichi Asai
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2020 Volume 84 Issue 4 Pages 482-502


This paper aims to integrate the linguistic anthropological perspective into the recent "ontological turn" in sociocultural anthropology. First, the paper discusses Roman Jakobson's schematization on "poetic language," which was further developed by Michael Silverstein through his semiotic theorization on ritual as indexical icon or "diagram." Second, the paper examines the process of colonial time documentation and its diagramatization of social groups in Fiji, through which the category of itaukei ni vanua (people of the land) was foregrounded among Fijians along with their repetitive acts of visiting abandoned ancestral sites and engaging in ritual speech to glorify their mana. Third, the paper recognizes the conceptual similarity of "poetic function" with Roy Wagner's insight of "figure-ground reversal", which later became the basis of Marilyn Strathern's work on Melanesian personhood, and thus illustrates that such ontological turn in Oceania is also semiotically comprehensible as a shift in language use. In this way, building on the linguistic anthropological viewpoint, the paper tries to identify a way of cultural description after the ontological turn.

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2020 Japanese Society of Cultural Anthropology
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