University of Rochester

EVENT: Dinner Talk is More Than Conversation; It's About Learning Culture

October 29, 2003

From children in Samoa to middle-class families in America, Elinor Ochs has studied how people use language and culture as they develop and learn. Her work with fellow anthropologist Bambi Schieffelin has helped create the field of research known as "language socialization."

Ochs is the guest speaker for this year's Lewis Henry Morgan Lectures, titled "Becoming a Speaker of Culture," sponsored by the Department of Anthropology at the University of Rochester. She will also participate in a panel discussion by local health care professionals and advocates for children. Both events are free and open to the public.

In her presentation on "Talking to Children and the Limits of Culture," Ochs will discuss how everyday speech and language makes children participants in their culture. Her talk is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 12, in Lander Auditorium in Hutchison Hall on the River Campus.

Ochs is professor of anthropology and applied linguistics at the University of California at Los Angeles. Her research has examined such diverse situations as laboratory discussions among scientists, conversations by people with mental disorders, and family talk at the dinner table to show the importance of language and conversation in emotional well-being and collaboration.

At UCLA, Ochs helped establish the Center for Language, Interaction, and Culture to study and analyze how people talk in different community settings such as schools, shops, medical offices, and the workplace. Most recently, she has taken on the direction of the UCLA Center on Everyday Lives of Families, a Sloan Center on Working Families that examines how middle class working families create a home life through social interactions.

Ochs has numerous publications to her credit, including, with Schieffelin, Language Socialization across Cultures and Developmental Pragmatics. She has served as president of the American Association for Applied Linguistics and of the Society of Linguistic Anthropology, is the recipient of a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship, and has been a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow and a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow.

Ochs received her doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania in 1974 and also has taught at Cambridge University and the University of Southern California.

"Narrative Lessons," the panel discussion portion of this year's Lewis Henry Morgan Lectures, will be held at 2:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 13, in the Gamble Room in Rush Rhees Library on the River Campus. In addition to Ochs, the other panelists, who will respond to her work, are Eileen Hurley of Spiritus Christi Mental Health Clinic; Pieter LeRoux, associate professor and director of the Family Therapy Training Program in the psychiatry department at the University of Rochester Medical Center; Donna Schulman, nursing coordinator at the Monroe County Public Health Department's Sexually Transmitted Disease Clinic; and Anne Steider, senior instructor in the psychiatry department at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

The Morgan Lectures honor the memory of Lewis Henry Morgan, the distinguished 19th-century anthropologist and University of Rochester benefactor, and have been presented annually since 1963. They are one of the oldest and most prestigious lecture series in anthropology in North America. For more information, please contact the Department of Anthropology at (585) 275-8614.