Talking Like Children: Language and the Production of Age in the Marshall Islands

Elise Berman

“Talking Like Children: Language
and the Production of Age in the Marshall Islands”

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Now a VIRTUAL event

7 p.m. Talk

Children are often seen as small versions of adults, but research shows that children often think differently from adults, and that many of their learned behaviors can be attributed to cultural differences in their homes and communities. Elise Berman, a professor at UNC Charlotte,will examine this idea from a multicultural perspective during her Personally Speaking talk about her book, “Talking Like Children: Language and the Production of Age in the Marshall Islands.” The virtual talk is offered to communities everywhere, and will especially appeal to people interested in children, language, Pacific Island culture, and American colonialism.

In this Personally Speaking series talk, offered by the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences (CLAS) with Atkins Library and The Dubois Center at UNC Charlotte Center City, Berman will present her findings on Tuesday, Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. Each event in the series stimulates conversation between the community and UNC Charlotte researchers about topics that are both interesting and relevant. The event includes a question and answer period, giving attendees a chance to talk with the researcher. Attendees must register at to obtain the link for the event.

Berman is an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology and examines the life of the Marshallese who live and work in North Carolina today, as immigrants and citizens. Berman’s book tells a series of captivating stories about life in a community of 250 people, on a small atoll in the Pacific Ocean. She has lived in Marshallese communities in the Marshall Islands and the United States, while teaching English and math, and studying childhood, language, and education. Her book has several central mysteries: Who gets to adopt the baby? Will Roka keep his lollipop? Who is telling the truth? As the details unfold, Berman also shows how age differences emerge through the decisions people make, the emotions they feel, the things that they say, and the power they gain. She demonstrates an important link between language and culture that is relevant not just with Marshallese people.

Berman’s research has been published in The Journal of Linguistic Anthropology and American Anthropologist. She also is studying migration to the New South and linguistic inequality in schools. More broadly, her research focuses on the politics of language and exchange, socialization, and racialization, with an examination of children’s cultures, language, lying, and age. She has also worked with and studied ultra-Orthodox Jews, and K’iche’ Maya.