Linguistic anthropology is the interdisciplinary study of how language
influences social life. It is a branch of anthropology that originated
from the endeavor to document endangered languages, and has grown over
the past century to encompass most aspects of language structure and
Linguistic anthropology explores how language shapes communication,
forms social identity and group membership, organizes large-scale
cultural beliefs and ideologies, and develops a common cultural
representation of natural and social worlds.
1 Historical development
1.1 Anthropological linguistics
1.2 Linguistic anthropology
1.3 Anthropological issues studied via linguistic methods and data
2 Areas of interest
2.4 Social space
3 See also
5 Further reading
6 External links
Alessandro Duranti has noted, three paradigms have emerged over the
history of the subdiscipline: the first, now known as "anthropological
linguistics," focuses on the documentation of languages; the second,
known as "linguistic anthropology," engages in theoretical studies of
language use; the third, developed over the past two or three decades,
studies questions related to other subfields of anthropology with the
tools of linguistic inquiry. Though they developed sequentially, all
three paradigms are still practised today.
Main article: Anthropological linguistics
The first paradigm was originally called linguistics, but as it and
its surrounding fields of study matured, it came to be called
anthropological linguistics. The field was devoted to themes unique to
the subdiscipline: linguistic documentation of languages that were
then seen as doomed to extinction (they were the languages of native
North America on which the first members of the subdiscipline
focused). The themes included:
Typological classification (see typology), and
The unresolved issue of linguistic relativity (associated with Edward
Benjamin Lee Whorf
Benjamin Lee Whorf but actually brought to American
Franz Boas working within a theoretical framework going
back to European thinkers from Vico to Herder to Humboldt). The
so-called Sapir–Whorf Hypothesis is perhaps a misnomer insofar as
the approach to science taken by these two differs from the
positivist, hypothesis-driven model of science. In any case, it was
Harry Hoijer (Sapir's student) who coined the term.
Humboldt's philosophy holds an important place in recent work produced
in Germany, France, and elsewhere in Europe.
Dell Hymes was largely responsible for launching the second paradigm,
which fixed the name linguistic anthropology in the 1960s, though he
also coined the term ethnography of speaking (or ethnography of
communication) to describe the agenda he envisioned for the field. It
would involve taking advantage of new developments in technology,
including new forms of mechanical recording.
A new unit of analysis was also introduced by Hymes. Whereas the first
paradigm focused on ostensibly distinct "languages" (scare quotes
indicate that contemporary linguistic anthropologists treat the
concept of "a language" as an ideal construction that covers up
complexities within and across so-called linguistic boundaries), the
unit of analysis in the second paradigm was new, the "speech event."
(The speech event is an event defined by the speech occurring in it,
like a lecture, so a dinner is not a speech event, but a speech
situation, a situation in which speech may or may not occur.) Much
attention was devoted to speech events in which performers were held
accountable for the form of their linguistic performance as
Hymes also pioneered a linguistic anthropological approach to
Hymes had hoped to link linguistic anthropology more closely with the
mother discipline. The name certainly stresses that the primary
identity is with anthropology, whereas "anthropological linguistics"
conveys a sense that the primary identity of its practitioners was
with linguistics, which is a separate academic discipline on most
university campuses today (not in the days of Boas and Sapir).
However, Hymes' ambition in a sense backfired; the second paradigm in
fact marked a further distancing of the subdiscipline from the rest of
Anthropological issues studied via linguistic methods and data
In the third paradigm, which has emerged since the late 1980s, instead
of continuing to pursue agendas that come from a discipline alien to
anthropology, linguistic anthropologists have systematically addressed
themselves to problems posed by the larger discipline of anthropology
but by using linguistic data and methods. Popular areas of study in
this third paradigm include investigations of social identities,
broadly shared ideologies, and the construction and uses of narrative
in interaction among individuals and groups.
Areas of interest
Contemporary linguistic anthropology continues research in all three
of the paradigms described above: social identities, broadly shared
ideologies, and the construction and uses of narrative in interaction
among individuals and groups. Several areas related to the third
paradigm, the study of anthropological issues, are particularly rich
areas of study for current linguistic anthropologists.
A great deal of work in linguistic anthropology investigates questions
of sociocultural identity linguistically. Linguistic anthropologist
Don Kulick has done so in relation to identity, for example, in a
series of settings, first in a village called Gapun in Papua New
Guinea. He explored how the use of two languages with and around
children in Gapun village: the traditional language (Taiap), not
spoken anywhere but in their own village and thus primordially
"indexical" of Gapuner identity, and Tok Pisin, the widely circulating
official language of New Guinea. (Linguistic anthropologists use
"indexical" to mean indicative, but some indexical signs create their
indexical meanings on the spot.) To speak the
Taiap language is
associated with one identity: not only local but "Backward" and also
an identity based on the display of *hed* (personal autonomy). To
Tok Pisin is to index a modern, Christian (Catholic) identity,
based not on *hed* but on *save*, an identity linked with the will and
the skill to cooperate. In later work, Kulick demonstrates that
certain loud speech performances in Brazil called *um escândalo*,
Brazilian travesti (roughly, 'transvestite') sex workers shame
clients. The travesti community, the argument goes, ends up at least
making a powerful attempt to transcend the shame the larger Brazilian
public might try to foist off on them, again by loud public discourse
and other modes of performance.
In a series of studies, linguistic anthropologists
Elinor Ochs and
Bambi Schieffelin addressed the anthropological topic of socialization
(the process by which infants, children, and foreigners become members
of a community, learning to participate in its culture), using
linguistic and other ethnographic methods. They discovered that
the processes of enculturation and socialization do not occur apart
from the process of language acquisition, but that children acquire
language and culture together in what amounts to an integrated
process. Ochs and Schieffelin demonstrated that baby talk is not
universal, that the direction of adaptation (whether the child is made
to adapt to the ongoing situation of speech around it or vice versa)
was a variable that correlated, for example, with the direction it was
held vis-à-vis a caregiver's body. In many societies caregivers hold
a child facing outward so as to orient it to a network of kin whom it
must learn to recognize early in life.
Ochs and Schieffelin demonstrated that members of all societies
socialize children both to and through the use of language. Ochs and
Schieffelin uncovered how, through naturally occurring stories told
during dinners in white middle class households in Southern
California, both mothers and fathers participated in replicating male
dominance (the "father knows best" syndrome) by the distribution of
participant roles such as protagonist (often a child but sometimes
mother and almost never the father) and "problematizer" (often the
father, who raised uncomfortable questions or challenged the
competence of the protagonist). When mothers collaborated with
children to get their stories told, they unwittingly set themselves up
to be subject to this process.
Schieffelin's more recent research has uncovered the socializing role
of pastors and other fairly new Bosavi converts in the Southern
Highlands, Papua New Guinea community she studies.
Pastors have introduced new ways of conveying knowledge, new
linguistic epistemic markers—and new ways of speaking about
time. And they have struggled with and largely resisted those
parts of the Bible that speak of being able to know the inner states
of others (e.g. the gospel of Mark, chapter 2, verses 6-8).
In a third example of the current (third) paradigm, since Roman
Michael Silverstein opened the way, there has been
an efflorescence of work done by linguistic anthropologists on the
major anthropological theme of ideologies,—in this case
"language ideologies", sometimes defined as "shared bodies of
commonsense notions about the nature of language in the world."
Silverstein has demonstrated that these ideologies are not mere false
consciousness but actually influence the evolution of linguistic
structures, including the dropping of "thee" and "thou" from everyday
English usage. Woolard, in her overview of "code switching", or
the systematic practice of alternating linguistic varieties within a
conversation or even a single utterance, finds the underlying question
anthropologists ask of the practice—Why do they do that?—reflects
a dominant linguistic ideology. It is the ideology that people should
"really" be monoglot and efficiently targeted toward referential
clarity rather than diverting themselves with the messiness of
multiple varieties in play at a single time.
Much research on linguistic ideologies probes subtler influences on
language, such as the pull exerted on Tewa, a Kiowa-Tanoan language
spoken in certain New Mexican pueblos and on the Hopi Reservation in
Arizona, by "kiva speech", discussed in the next section.
Other linguists have carried out research in the areas of language
contact, language endangerment, and 'English as a global language'.
For instance, Indian linguist
Braj Kachru investigated local varieties
of English in South Asia, the ways in which English functions as a
lingua franca among multicultural groups in India. British
linguist David Crystal has contributed to investigations of language
death attention to the effects of cultural assimilation resulting in
the spread of one dominant language in situations of colonialism.
In a final example of this third paradigm, a group of linguistic
anthropologists have done very creative work on the idea of social
space. Duranti published a groundbreaking article on Samoan greetings
and their use and transformation of social space. Before that,
Indonesianist Joseph Errington, making use of earlier work by
Indonesianists not necessarily concerned with language issues per se,
brought linguistic anthropological methods (and semiotic theory) to
bear on the notion of the exemplary center, the center of political
and ritual power from which emanated exemplary behavior. Errington
demonstrated how the Javanese *priyayi*, whose ancestors served at the
Javanese royal courts, became emissaries, so to speak, long after
those courts had ceased to exist, representing throughout
highest example of "refined speech." The work of Joel Kuipers develops
this theme vis-a-vis the island of Sumba, Indonesia. And, even though
it pertains to Tewa Indians in
Arizona rather than Indonesians, Paul
Kroskrity's argument that speech forms originating in the Tewa kiva
(or underground ceremonial space) forms the dominant model for all
Tewa speech can be seen as a direct parallel.
Silverstein tries to find the maximum theoretical significance and
applicability in this idea of exemplary centers. He feels, in fact,
that the exemplary center idea is one of linguistic anthropology's
three most important findings. He generalizes the notion thus, arguing
"there are wider-scale institutional 'orders of interactionality,'
historically contingent yet structured. Within such large-scale,
macrosocial orders, in-effect ritual centers of semiosis come to exert
a structuring, value-conferring influence on any particular event of
discursive interaction with respect to the meanings and significance
of the verbal and other semiotic forms used in it." Current
approaches to such classic anthropological topics as ritual by
linguistic anthropologists emphasize not static linguistic structures
but the unfolding in realtime of a "'hypertrophic' set of parallel
orders of iconicity and indexicality that seem to cause the ritual to
create its own sacred space through what appears, often, to be the
magic of textual and nontextual metricalizations,
Evolutionary psychology of language
Identity (social science)
List of important publications in anthropology
Sociology of language
World Oral Literature Project
^ Duranti, Alessandro (ed.), 2004: Companion to Linguistic
Anthropology, Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Society for Linguistic Anthropology. n.d. About the
Anthropology (accessed 7 July 2010).
^ a b Duranti, Alessandro. 2003.
Culture in U.S.
Anthropology: Three Paradigms. Current
^ Hoijer, Harry. 1954. "The Sapir–Whorf hypothesis," in
culture: Conference on the interrelations of language and other
aspects of culture. Edited by H. Hoijer, pp. 92–105. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press.
Hill, Jane, and Bruce Mannheim. 1992. "
Language and Worldview." Annual
^ Trabant, Jürgen (2012). Weltansichten: Wilhelm von Humboldts
Sprachprojekt. Verlag C. H. Beck.
^ Underhill, James W. (2009). Humboldt,
Language and Worldview.
Edinburgh University Press.
^ Bauman, Richard. 1977. Verbal Art as Performance. American
^ Hymes, Dell. 1981  Breakthrough into Performance. In In Vain I
Tried to Tell You: Essays in Native American Ethnopoetics. D. Hymes,
ed. Pp. 79-141. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
^ Kulick, Don. 1992.
Language Shift and Cultural Reproduction:
Socialization, Self and Syncretism in a Papua New Guinea Village.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
^ Silverstein, Michael. 1976. Shifters, Linguistic Categories, and
Cultural Description. In Meaning in Anthropology. K. Basso and H.A.
Selby, eds. Pp. 11-56. Albuquerque: School of American Research,
University of New Mexico Press.
^ Kulick, Don, and Charles H. Klein. 2003. Scandalous Acts: The
Politics of Shame among Brazilian Travesti Prostitutes. In Recognition
Struggles and Social Movements: Contested Identities, Agency and
Power. B. Hobson, ed. Pp. 215-238. Cambridge: Cambridge University
^ Ochs, Elinor. 1988.
Culture and language development: Language
acquisition and language socialization in a Samoan village. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Ochs, Elinor, and Bambi Schieffelin. 1984.
Language Acquisition and
Socialization: Three Developmental Stories and Their Implications. In
Culture Theory: Essays on Mind, Self, and Emotion. R. Shweder and R.A.
LeVine, eds. Pp. 276-320. New York: Cambridge University.
Ochs, Elinor, and Carolyn Taylor. 2001. The “Father Knows Best”
Dynamic in Dinnertime Narratives. In Linguistic Anthropology: A
Reader. A. Duranti, ed. Pp. 431-449. Oxford. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Schieffelin, Bambi B. 1990. The Give and Take of Everyday Life:
Socialization of Kaluli Children. Cambridge: Cambridge
^ a b Schieffelin, Bambi B. 1995. Creating evidence: Making sense of
written words in Bosavi.
^ Schieffelin, Bambi B. 2000. Introducing Kaluli Literacy: A
Chronology of Influences. In Regimes of Language. P. Kroskrity, ed.
Pp. 293-327. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press.
^ a b Schieffelin, Bambi B. 2002. Marking time: The dichotomizing
discourse of multiple temporalities. Current Anthropology
^ a b Schieffelin, Bambi B. 2006. PLENARY ADDRESS: Found in
translating: Reflexive language across time and texts in Bosavi, PNG.
Twelve Annual Conference on Language, Interaction, and Culture,
University of California, Los Angeles, 2006.
^ Silverstein, Michael. 1979.
Language Structure and Linguistic
Ideology. In The Elements: A Parasession on Linguistic Units and
Levels. R. Cline, W. Hanks, and C. Hofbauer, eds. Pp. 193-247.
Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society.
^ Rumsey, Alan. 1990. Word, meaning, and linguistic ideology. American
^ Silverstein, Michael. 1985.
Language and the
Culture of Gender: At
the Intersection of Structure, Usage, and Ideology. In Semiotic
Mediation: Sociocultural and Psychological Perspectives. E. Mertz and
R. Parmentier, eds. Pp. 219-259. Orlando: Academic Press.
^ Woolard, Kathryn A. 2004. Codeswitching. In Companion to Linguistic
Anthropology. A. Duranti, ed. Pp. 73-94. Malden: Blackwell.
^ Kroskrity, Paul V. 1998.
Kiva Speech as a Manifestation
of Linguistic Ideology. In
Language ideologies: Practice and theory.
B.B. Schieffelin, K.A. Woolard, and P. Kroskrity, eds. Pp. 103-122.
New York: Oxford University Press.
^ Braj B. Kachru (2005). Asian Englishes: Beyond the Canon. Hong Kong
University Press. ISBN 978-962-209-665-3.
^ David Crystal (2014).
Language Death. Cambridge University Press.
^ Duranti, Alessandro. 1992.
Language and Bodies in Social Space:
Samoan Greetings. American Anthropologist 94:657-691.
^ Errington, J. Joseph. 1988. Structure and Style in Javanese: A
Semiotic View of Linguistic Etiquette. Philadelphia: University of
^ a b Silverstein, Michael. 2004. "Cultural" Concepts and the
Culture Nexus. Current
^ Wilce, James M. 2006. Magical Laments and Anthropological
Reflections: The Production and Circulation of Anthropological Text as
Ritual Activity. Current Anthropology. 47(6):891-914.
Main article: Bibliography of anthropology
Ahearn, Laura M. 2011. Living Language: An Introduction to Linguistic
Anthropology. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
Blount, Ben G. ed. 1995. Language, Culture, and Society: A Book of
Readings. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland.
Bonvillain, Nancy. 1993. Language, culture, and communication: The
meaning of messages. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Brenneis, Donald; and Ronald K. S. Macaulay. 1996. The matrix of
language: Contemporary linguistic anthropology. Boulder: Westview.
Duranti, Alessandro. 1997. Linguistic Anthropology. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Duranti, Alessandro. ed. 2001. Linguistic Anthropology: A Reader.
Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Giglioli, Pier Paolo. 1972.
Language and social context: Selected
readings. Middlesex: Penguin Books.
Salzmann, Zdenek, James Stanlaw and Nobuko Adachi. 2012. Language,
culture, & society. Westview Press.
Society for Linguistic Anthropology
Downloadable publications of authors cited in the article
Alessandro Duranti's publications
Joel Kuipers' publications
Elinor Ochs' publications
Bambi Schieffelin's publications
James Wilce's publications
The Jurgen Trabant
Wilhelm von Humboldt
Wilhelm von Humboldt Lectures (7hrs)