ANT206H5 Lecture Notes - Lecture 1: Signify, Linguistic Anthropology, Marination
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What is Linguistic Anthropology?
•Look at the connection between culture, language and thought in different ways
Three Sets of Questions
oHow are meanings made? How do we learn a language? What does it mean to speak a
language? Does it impact the way I see the world?
oEx: Sapir-Whorf and the empty drums
Came to the question about whether language impacts the way we see the world
from a different perspective.
He was at a gas station, and saw someone throw a cigarette bud into a “empty gas
chamber”. He then argued that it is the language that we speak that caused the
fire as it shapes our behaviour.
•Language and social interaction
oHow are interactions socially and culturally shaped? What does this mean in a context of
oEx: Personal space and conversations
Ex: In America, people talk to everyone. If you don’t start a conversation or
interaction with someone (i.e., on the bus) then it may be perceived as rude.
Whereas in Europe, there is a distance as there is me, and there is you when it
comes to space.
There is a certain expectation when it comes to conversations, which can be
•In Kenya, people acknowledge constantly throughout the conversations
such as saying, “eh” or “ah ha”.
•Whereas other cultures might not have these implicit rules, and might
actually find these constant acknowledgments as annoying.
oGreeting styles: handshakes vs. hugs?
In North America, we hug and not kiss others on the cheek. Whereas other
cultures may kiss on the cheek rather than hug.
•Language and power, language and ideologies
oHow is language enmeshed with cultural values and social power? How do differences or
inequalities (i.e., gender, race, age…) get created, reproduced or challenged through
language? How do people’s perceptions about language affect their perceptions about
How did we get to Linguistic Anthropology?
•In the 1800s, people were interested in Greek and Latin, while other languages were considered
to be less valuable of ways of speaking
•William Jones looked at core vocabulary between Sanscript, Greek and Latin and found that there
are similarities. He then suggested that before they were all one language a long time ago, and
then through time, branched off into Sanscript, Greek and Latin.
•Ex: Red = English, rough = French, rojo = Spanish, and rot = German. Even with a few other
words, people suggested that French and Spanish have similarities and must have derived from
one language a long time ago.
•Language: As a warehouse of vocabulary items, a source of comparisons with others
•Goal: To discover the proto-language, not the languages from which it was derived, nor the
people speaking it.
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