In the news
In this opinion article, Chad Nilep suggests that empathy, informed by cultural relativism is necessary to help gun control advocates and foes understand one another’s positions and to work toward solutions to the problems of mass shootings and gun violence in America.
If a dog wore pants, would word meaning help us decide what they should look like? Using prototype theory and native speaker judgements, we find no clear, shared definition of the word ‘pants’. The results point to gradient understanding of meaning.
Core Committee Established The SLA Committee for Language and Social Justice has now established its core committee, and is proud to welcome the new core committee members, Susan Blum and Hilary Dick. The Society for Linguistic Anthropology thanks Daniel Suslak and Patricia Baquedano-Lopez for their service on the LSJ committee. They have helped make the work for the LSJ Committee more visible […]
The Fresh Air interview of David Thorpe and Susan Sankin makes me look forward to Thorpe’s film, “Do I Sound Gay?” But Sankin’s suggestions that women and young people’s speech is pathological leads me to re-read Robin Lakoff, Deborah Cameron, and Nelson Flores.
Word choice played an important role in Japan and South Korea’s agreement to support one another’s applications for UNESCO World Cultural Heritage listing. Japan’s Foreign Minister told reporters that ‘forced to work’ does not mean ‘coerced labor’. But that depends on what “mean” means.
A report on Fox News intimates that a course using Jane Hill’s Everyday Language of White Racism is problematic. It is not clear from the report whether anyone at Fox News read the book.
The January 7th attacks in France caused great sadness, anger, and fear. They also occasioned outpourings of support, and analyses of what went wrong. Some responses assert that religiously inspired terrorism is “unique” to Islam. Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian violence show that this is incorrect. Understanding religious violence requires careful analysis, not easy assertions.
Japanese media use the label “Lehman shock” to refer to the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent shocks. The phrase “financial crisis” occurred frequently in 2008 but has dropped ever since. “Lehman shock” endures, even though Lehman Brothers was neither the first nor the largest institution to fall.
Press coverage of Dan Jurafsky’s The Language of Food exposes readers to linguistic ideas ranging from etymology and vocabulary to pragmatics, the philosophy of language, computational linguistics, corpus studies, and linguistic anthropology. Here is a brief round-up of the stories.
Susan Blum and Kathleen Riley offer a critical evaluation of programs designed to close the “language gap” between disadvantaged and middle-class children at Anthropology News.
A story by Beth McMurtrie in the Chronicle of Higher Education asks what ethical obligations historians have to people they interview. This is, in my opinion, an issue of tremendous importance for linguists, anthropologists, and all scholars who work with human subjects.
The Society for Linguistic Anthropology’s column in Anthropology News has been updated with an article by Christopher Ball, Alejandro Paz, and Michael Silverstein, entitled, “Teleologies of Structuralism.” Click here to read the article.
Why am I uncomfortable with talk of evolution in the news? Maybe I’m hearing echoes of Herbert Spencer. A brief exploration of Terry Gross and Daniel Lieberman’s discussion of The Story of the Human Body, and my own discomfort with the necessary simplification of complex ideas
Gabriel Arana recently published a defense of creaky voice at The Atlantic. He notes that recent criticism of young women’s use of creaky voice, or “vocal fry”, is part of a long tradition of critiquing the speaking styles of less powerful groups of people. Arana’s conclusion that “normative judgments about linguistic prestige are relative, and merely reflect social attitudes” is absolutely correct and well-known to linguistic anthropologists and other scholars of language. The particular speech patterns he analyses to support his conclusion – up-talk, like, and creak – are somewhat questionable, however.
In 2011 the American Dialect Society listed ‘the 99%’ among its Words of the Year. In 2012 ‘47%’ became the new politically-charged number. These numbers are connected in a way that might not be obvious.
Mitt Romney was recorded declaring, “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what.” Because they pay no income tax, Romney suggested, 47% of Americans are dependent on government. This resembles a charge made in 2011 by conservative activists at the53.tumblr, which in turn was a response to the Occupy Wall Street-affiliated wearethe99percent.tumblr.
Radio programs have recently celebrated a “new understanding” of the importance of preschool for success later in life. Related knowledge has been part of academic discussion for decades, but has had relatively little effect on how education is organized. To contribute to public understanding, I summarize Shirley Brice Heath’s “What no bedtime story means” (1982).
In this guest post Martha Sif Karrebæk relates how her Journal of Linguistic Anthropology paper, “What’s in your lunchbox today?”, became a topic of discussion in Danish mass media.
The phrase, “women and children” to mean non-combatants killed by war strikes me as somewhat outdated. Non-combatants are not necessarily women or children, and women and children are not necessarily non-combatant. The phrase might risk a mis-recognition of the nature of political violence and its victims.
The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer says conservative Evangelical Christians view President Obama as “the avatar of godless socialism”. Do American Christian conservatives use ‘socialist’ to mean ‘insufficiently religious’? If so, their usage parallels that of Osama bin Laden.
NPR’s Morning Edition and the Sunlight Foundation suggest that congressional speech-making is becoming less sophisticated. The presentation appears to validate conventional wisdom that American politics has taken an anti-intellectual turn of late, but the story shows flawed methods coupled with confirmation bias.