Before discussing Linguistic Anthropology, let’s see what Anthropology itself is. Anthropology is the study of humans in society, how they have behaved, what are their lifestyle, cultures, and their origins. The past and the present of human experiences in history are studied in Anthropology. Linguistic Anthropology is a branch of Anthropology that talks about the role of language in the lives of humans in society.
Linguistic Anthropology highlights how language helps humans to shape their communication in society. The influence of language in an individual’s social life is deeply studied and discussed. Linguistic Anthropology focuses on how humans in a society negotiate, reproduce and contest social identity and social relations with the help of language.
Anthropology is studied on a broader scale and further fields of research are explored which are:
Sociolinguistics is the study of language through the lens of its sociological aspects.
Historical Linguistics focuses on the history of languages as well as the evolution and relation between languages.
This is a documentation process in which it collects, processes, and archives different forms of languages like texts, recordings of conversation, etc.
Syntax are the basic rules and principles of forming the structure of a sentence.
Morphology describes the internal structure of words and how they are formed and the relation between words of the same language.
Pragmatics deal with the impact of the context. This talks about how the same words or symbols can have different meanings.
Phonology and Phonetics
Phonology focuses on the patterns of different sounds in various languages whereas, phonetics stresses the generation of sounds by individuals without knowledge of the language being spoken.
The Study of Linguistic Anthropology
The study of language and its impacts on an individual’s life was first talked about and discussed by Franz Boas in the early 20th century. Boas talked about the importance of language and pointed out how it was an emerging discipline. Boas is known as the father of American Linguistic Anthropology.
In the late 20th century, the study of Linguistic Anthropology saw a huge paradigm shift known as the second cognitive revolution. Linguistic Anthropology became a more defined field with many subcategories and subfields.
With changing times, the idea of Linguistic Anthropology also changed. The 21st-century scholars and their findings regarding linguistic anthropology do not resemble the initial idea of Boas. The characterization is different, the definition is not that specific anymore and the field of research has expanded. Studies have shown a richer perspective about language and how it works in the construction of social identity and social relations in society.
The shift from examining the ancient language and speech of old civilizations to understanding different aspects of forensic linguistics or neurolinguistics, linguistic anthropology saw a lot of change in perspective.
Linguistic Anthropology is confused with the concept of linguistics because of many overlapping interests. But it is differentiated by the idea that linguistic anthropology talks about broader fieldwork and social relations of humans in the society through language.
Specialization in this field includes:
- Relationship between historical linguistics and archaeology
- Documentation of minority and indigenous languages
- Relationship between social structures (class, ethnicity, gender)
Examples of Linguistic Anthropology
Linguistic Anthropology also talks about how language defines a society or a culture of an individual. This idea is supported by the example that there is a group of people in New Guinea who speak the language, Tok Pisin. They speak the native language of that area too but the unique language that they speak is what makes them different from others. This uniqueness gives them a cultural identity.
Another great and prominent example of language and its influence is the widespread use of the English language all over the world. This is majorly a result of colonization and imperialism. Language became the tool of exerting power and moulding the social identity of the colonized. English is being used all around the globe as a universal language now.
Moreover, the importance and influence of language on social lives can also be highlighted through socialization. Infants form their social relations through learning language and communication. Their initial grooming and socialization are heavily aided by the use of language. Language socialization is deeply connected with linguistic anthropology and how language influences our behaviour.
The Importance of Linguistic Anthropology
Linguistic Anthropology focuses on the role of language in the lives of individuals in a society. This idea revolves around the social lives of individuals in communities. As discussed before, language holds great importance from the start as it helps in defining social identity, establishes cultural beliefs and ideologies, and forms group memberships.
As language plays an essential part in making us humans, the study of language holds great importance. Studying linguistic anthropology helps scholars find information regarding policy formation, program development, and suitable problems to daily life language and cultural issues.
Linguistic Anthropology also helps us understand the gender, class, and ethnicity constructs. The language differences between various ethnicities and classes and how the social identity of different genders are identified by the use of language.
Linguistic Anthropology has been discussed in detail in this article. The point that needs to be remembered is that this field is filled with various interrelated methodologies and ideologies. There are many overlapping theories but linguistic anthropology is connected with all these. They highlight how social issues are dealt with the help of these theories.
Linguistic Anthropology has seen its fair share of shifts but a modern researcher considers all the paradigms for a clearer understanding and better findings. The major aim and goal of scholars is to find answers about language acquisition and socialization. The answers to how language forms social identity and social relations in society.
Linguistic anthropology was introduced and further extended to bring a balance in society and to understand the importance of language. The language was considered and treated as just another innate behaviour in humans.