The Chinese language phrase book I picked up in my first week in the city of Kunming, capital of Yunnan Province, People’s Republic of China, asserts in a blurb on the back cover that travelers to China experience “instant illiteracy” and certainly this was a significant aspect of my first extended stay in that country. I have never before visited a place where I not only did not speak the language but also could not even sound out and guess at the meaning of signs, menus, ads in hotel rooms and the like. I was painfully aware of my dependence
By Mark Allen Peterson (MiamiU) Journalist Alix Spiegel’s feature story “When Did We Become Mentally Modern?” on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered in August 2010 raised a wide-ranging discussion on the Linganth listserv about the expertise of linguistic anthropologists. While a well-intentioned effort, its descriptions of language and semiotics were… simplistic—to be generous. The story claimed human language was “entirely composed of these arbitrary symbols”—even when many of the examples used were non-arbitrary indexes. Spiegel did interview an anthropologist—Dr. Allison S. Brooks of George Washington University, a respected paleoanthropologist who often contributes to debates on when homo sapiens originated.