MA Linguistics thesis defence

Academic Events
Trinity Western University
Room 208, CanIL Harvest Centre
7600 Glover Road
Langley, BC V2Y 1Y1

MA Linguistics thesis defence: "Dividing to Connect: An Ethnography of Canal Zone Americans”

By:  Marilee Brewer

Supervisor: Dr. Jamin Pelkey

Second Reader:  Dr. Doug Trick

Third Reader: Lori Gardner, MA

Exam Chair:  Dr. Bill Gardner



This thesis is a linguistic ethnography of the Americans who moved from the Panama Canal Zone to the U.S. when the Canal was sold to Panama. Theirs was a society of authoritarian socialism, lived beneath the Zone’s official motto: “The Land Divided, The World United.” Close-knit, but wary of outsiders, they called themselves “Zonians.” Upon returning to the United States en masse between 1978 and 1999, they suffered overwhelming nostalgia for the Canal Zone, declaring it a “utopia.”

Using Thomas More’s Utopia as a gestalt for the utopian experience, this study compares the features of More’s Utopia with the Panama Canal Zone.  In particular, it examines the utopian gesture of dividing from the old to connect to the new, arguing that the image- schematic metaphor of dividing in order to connect is constitutive of Zonian culture at multiple semiotic levels, from the physical transformation of the earth, to the social construction of group identity to everyday practices involving intercultural relations.

The author’s fieldwork within the Zonian community in the USA is intertwined with findings from cognitive linguistics and semiotics in order to interpret Zonian language and culture today, exploring the idea of dividing as connecting, from the way that division and connection formed the primary meaning of the Canal, to how these seemingly paradoxical elements are perpetually reinterpreted by their opposite in a process of conceptual blending, until division and connection are fused into a single construct.

As a result of researching the Zonian subset of American culture, the themes which emerge shed light on the implications of division as connection, findings which are pertinent to all who are enticed by idealized cognitive models of 'utopia'.