Wednesday Seminar: Language and Legacy in Afghanistan, Norway and the diaspora

Rachel Lehr, Fulbright scholar at the National Library in Oslo, will present her research on the Norwegian linguist Georg Morgenstierne. 


Long before the recent engagement of Norwegians in Afghanistan, Georg Morgenstierne embarked on a journey to investigate the multiple languages spoken along the Indo-Afghan frontier. His 1924 trip led to a career of more than 50 years of linguistic and cultural exploration, and his multiple language descriptions and analyses continue to influence the field.  Rachel Lehr will discuss Morgenstierne’s early work in Afghanistan as well as her own linguistic work among Pashai-speaking communities in Afghanistan and the Afghan diaspora. Pashai speakers are an Afghan linguistic minority with less than 1% of the population.

An increase in multilingualism has eroded the reproduction of Pashai, especially among men. Conversely, female Pashai speakers are more likely to be monolingual, particularly when their access to public space is limited. Lehr will discuss the intersecting roles of gender and geographic space in language use patterns in areas of Afghanistan with a higher-density of Pashai speakers in comparison with the spatially diffuse diaspora. Through case studies and ethnographic description Lehr analyzes the conjunction of language, space and gender in Afghanistan and the diaspora, while exploring the role of women, men and technology in Pashai language preservation.

Lehr’s findings from the Morgenstierne archive highlight a cultural and linguistic legacy. She demonstrates how such materials can be used to create durable linkages between individuals and communities of multiple linguistic and cultural heritages.


Rachel Lehr earned her PhD in linguistics from the University of Chicago writing a descriptive grammar of Pashai, a minority language spoken in eastern Afghanistan.  For more than 20 years she has examined the languages and cultures of central and south Asia, while living and working in the region.  Lehr’s translation from Tajik of The Sands of Oxus: Boyhood Reminiscences of Sadriddin Aini with John R. Perry was awarded the 2004 Lois Roth Endowment Persian Translation Prize. Her latest book The Carpetbaggers of Kabul and other American-Afghan Entanglements, co-authored with Jennifer Fluri, explores the everyday actions of people associated with the international effort in the post 9/11 era. Currently, Dr. Lehr is a Fulbright scholar at the National Library in Oslo, Norway, exploring the archive of the Norwegian linguist Georg Morgenstierne.

Published May 31, 2017 3:28 PM - Last modified June 23, 2017 3:06 PM