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Margaret Bender (Ph.D., University of Chicago). Margaret Bender received her A.B. degree in English from Cornell University, her A.M. in the social sciences from the University of Chicago, and her Ph.D. in Anthropology also from the University of Chicago. Bender believes strongly that the study of language is essential to our understanding of cultures, persons, and events. She has studied the relationship between language and culture in a variety of contexts—from political rhetoric in Iran to family literacy education in Chicago. Most of her work, however, has centered around the Cherokee language and been based in North Carolina’s Eastern Cherokee community. Focal areas have included literacy, language ideologies, linguistic sovereignty, and language revitalization.

Bender’s current book project is The New Voice of God: Christian Language in 19th-century Cherokee, under contract with the University of Oklahoma Press and co-authored by Cherokee first-language speaker Thomas N. Belt.   This book documents the world-changing encounter and transformation of culture and language that occurred as part of the intensive introduction of Christianity among the Cherokee people.  Though Cherokees had been in contact with Christian Europeans since 1540, organized missionary efforts on the part of five Protestant denominations (Moravian, Baptist, Congregationalist, Methodist, and Presbyterian) began in 1799.  Translating the Bible and other Christian texts into Cherokee presented many specific challenges and opportunities because of the extreme structural differences between Cherokee and European languages such as English.  Following the lead of scholars like Whorf, Lucy, Silverstein, Levinson, and O’Neill, The New Voice of God argues that these linguistic differences encode basic predispositions and orientations toward the physical, spiritual, social and spatial worlds.  The translations serve as a detailed record of this cross-cultural encounter and support the argument that macrosociological phenomena can be profoundly and intricately reflected in microlinguistic detail. 

In recent years, Bender has worked with authors and artists to develop two new Cherokee language texts being used in language immersion education in North Carolina and Oklahoma. Linguistics minor Katie Von Bargen received a Wake Forest Research Fellowship in 2020 to help Bender demonstrate that the introduction of indigenous texts (not translations from English) leads to greater student exposure to language-specific grammatical and stylistic structures.

Bender’s broader interests in scholarship and teaching include linguistic and educational anthropology, Native American cultures and languages, and anthropological theory.  She teaches in Wake Forest’s Linguistics Program and cross-lists her course, Language and Gender, with Women’s and Gender Studies.

Before the arrival of Covid-19, Dr. Bender lead an annual October camping trip with students to the Eastern Cherokee Indian reservation for the Cherokee Indian Fair.  She hopes to go again soon! 

If interested, email Dr. Bender for details.

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