Language is a fundamental property of being human. Linguistics, the study of human language, is one of the four branches of anthropology. Linguistic anthropology explores the dynamic interrelationships among language, culture, and society, how human beings make sense of the world, and participate in social life through creative speech acts and linguistic play. Courses familiarize students with a range of theoretical and analytic approaches, including general linguistics, sociolinguistics, theories of languages, communication, semiotics, and literary studies.
Notes about this immersion:
This immersion is closed to students majoring in anthropology and sociology who have chosen the cultural anthropology track.
Language has a crucial role in our lives as a functional system of human communication. Language is central to our cultures and societies. This course provides an introduction to the field of linguistics. It considers both how language is described and analyzed by linguists and how evidence from language can shed light on a variety of social, cultural, and cognitive phenomena. The course provides an orientation both to human language and the field of linguistics. It introduces the languages of the world, how languages have been described, the diversity in language structure, the issue of language endangerment and death, and the efforts to document and preserve the world’s languages, among other topics.
Choose two of the following:
Ethnographic Imagination: Writing about Society and Culture
Language and Culture: An Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology
Language is a core element of culture, both as a repository of meaning, and also because it is the primary means through which humans carry out social relationships, share ideas, and contest received understandings. Linguistic anthropology investigates this interplay between language and culture. Topics will vary by semester, and may include metaphor and narrative; language acquisition in relationship to childhood socialization; language, thought, and worldview; language and identity; multilingualism; the social contexts of language change; literacy; and the politics of language use and language ideologies.
American Indian Languages
With a focus on the indigenous languages of the Americas, we explore language contact among peoples, study various writing systems, and the sociolinguistic and cultural contexts in which these languages are spoken. Students learn how indigenous languages have been studied and classified. In addition to providing an overview of the languages' structural and typological attributes, we will also discover their histories as well as present-day challenges.
Language and Sexuality
In exploring the relationships between language and sexuality, we investigate the language used by members of sexual minority groups, discuss how sexual orientation shapes language use, and examine the role of language in the social construction of sexual identity. We will focus on several aspects of the language used by and about gay men, lesbians, and bisexual and transgendered people.
Comparative and Historical Linguistics
All languages change through time, but how do they change? Where do these changes come from? In exploring traditional and contemporary approaches to historical linguistics, the study of language change, we compare different languages, different dialects of the same language, or different historical stages of a particular language, and investigate the history of languages and also language groups (or families). We investigate hypotheses about the grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation of languages long dead, and we explore how languages can give us insights to understanding human prehistory.
People Before Cities
More than half the global population today lives in densely populated urban areas, which are further surrounded by complex networks of smaller communities. Yet, the earliest cities appeared less than 6,000 years ago, a small fraction of time since our species’ first appearance. The characteristics that define us as human were forged in radically different social universes from those of today. We lived our lives among not much more than 20-30 other people at any one time, hunting and gathering our food, and occasionally moving from place to place. This lifestyle was so successful and adaptable it endured pressures from more complex societies well into the 20th century. Understanding what life was like in such these small-scale societies is important because the material and social world in which they lived is the foundation for societies where food production, social hierarchy, and occupational specialization are the norm. This course will examine both the ethnographic and archaeological record of hunter/foragers from around the globe in an attempt to understand how it proved to be such a versatile and resilient way of life and how its successes, in fact, laid the foundation for social inequality, complexity, and food production.
Intercultural communication provides an examination of the role of culture in face-to-face interaction. Students may find a basic background in communication, anthropology, or psychology useful.
Philosophy of Language
This course examines how philosophers and others have understood the nature of language. It explores the classical philosophical contexts in metaphysics, epistemology, aesthetics and rhetoric in which concerns about the nature of language arose. In addition, the course focuses on recent debates, within both contemporary analytic and continental traditions of philosophy. Some likely areas of inquiry will be: theories of reference, description and naming; theories of meaning, metaphor and narrative; functionalist, pragmatist and naturalist accounts; structuralist, post-structuralist, and hermeneutic accounts, among others. The prominence of one or the other of these debates and approaches will vary.
* At least one course must be taken at the 300-level or above.