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Linguistic Anthropology Roundup #1

Welcome to the inaugural Society for Linguistic Anthropology Roundup Blogpost that will briefly summarize some of the current interesting linguistic anthropology related materials available on the web.

Three of us, Alex Enkerli (SLA Web Guru), Chad Nilep (a regular blogger on this site), and myself (Leila Monaghan, SLA Digital Content Editor), will share the duties of doing the Roundups. We welcome suggestions about interesting current news links or good websites—feel free to post them in the Feedback Boxes at the bottom right of every page in this blog or make a comment in response to this Roundup. We will also be soliciting suggestions from the Linganth List (see the Resources Link on the bar above to join). Do let us know if you are interested in doing a guest or regular Roundup Blogpost

ROUNDUP for March 19, 2010

Times’ Topics: Language and Languages
A good source for language connected articles, some of them more interesting to linguistic anthropologists than others, is the New York Times’
Times Topics: Language and Languages

Classic articles

Nicholas Wade’s article A Human Language Gene Changes the Sound of Mouse Squeaks on the effects of implanting a human language gene into a mouse’s brain

and Simon Romero’s A Language, Not Quite Spanish, With African Echoes
that documents Palenquero, a language used only in one small village in Colombia that might be the last trace of a Spanish-based lingua franca used by enslaved Africans across Latin America.

More recent articles in the archive

John Tagliabue’s Trumpeting Catalan on the Big Screen
Trumpeting Catalan on the Big Screen covers a recent Barcelona local government law just passed requiring that half the films shown in local theaters to be dubbed in Catalan, which is similar to Spanish but shows more similarities to French and Italian than Castilian Spanish does. Local movie theater operators are objecting because of the cost of dubbing movies and argue that Catalan productions are available in live theater productions.

For more information on Catalan, language variation in Spain, and Spanish dialects see
Spanish Dialects Catalan Dialects

Ammon Shea’s Vocabulary Size
This is was in the NY Times’s On Language column, a regular feature of the NY Times Sunday Magazine.
Vocabulary Size

As Shea discusses in this article, there has long been a push by dictionary writers and educators for people to “increase their vocabulary.” There is also standard testing evidence linking higher socio-economic status with larger vocabularies. While Shea defends simplicity in language, arguing for Winston Churchill’s “blood, toil, tears and sweat” over “vermeil, moiling, delacrimation and sudorification,” he does not question the validity of the standard tests of vocabulary.

M.A.K. Halliday’s concept of “anti-language”, which describes how groups of people with something to hide from authorities will “overlexicalize” the standard vocabulary (multiple and ever changing terms for standard items in the repertoire). This overlexicalization would lead to a large vocabulary that the standardized test takers would never using in their testing materials. This reframes a standard vocabulary test as “a test of how many words a person knows of the words that the test writers know,” not of overall vocabulary. When I was teaching elementary school in Philadelphia, I saw a group of teachers bristle when the research on vocabulary was mentioned—while Philadelphia school children have many issues, lack of vocabulary was not seen as a problem.

Favorite of the Month
My personal favorite article of the month is an Esquire interview by Chris Jones with film critic Roger Ebert. Ebert was left unable to speak after repeated bouts of jaw cancer but maintains an active life writing and blogging. For me as a scholar of disabilities as well as a linguistic anthropologist, it was a fascinating study of the work arounds in a life that was previously and famously verbal.

Linguistic Anthropology in languages other than English
One response I got to a call for links was an e-mail mentioning a site with numerous links to linguistic anthropology in Spanish:
Txupi Blog
(see the right side bar for the links).

One of these is
Lenguaje y Violencia by MJ Hardman.

Feel free to send other international links along, we would be happy to publish them in these Roundups.

Send us more links!

This Roundup is just the beginning—please send us any and all links you may have that you think will be of interest to our linguistic anthro audience. Just post them in our Feedback Box at the bottom of the page or leave a comment for us!

2 thoughts on “Linguistic Anthropology Roundup #1”

  1. Sorry to say that one of the links in this post, that of, , is unfortunate and doesn’t deserve to be here. It’s full of inaccuracies and even a gross error, that of calling Aranese a “dialect” of Spanish. Aranese is an Occitan variety, and as such it has to do as little with Spanish as Italian does. Further, the descriptions of “dialects” are clearly amateurish. I won’t go into the details, just this quotation as a sample: “This is the dialect of urban mainland Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, and the majority of Central and South American countries” !! — all THAT, just ONE dialect!?

    As to the NYT article, “Trumpeting Catalan on the Big Screen”, well, it’s also questionable. Apart from another inaccuracy (painter Miquel Barceló is not Catalan, but from the also Catalan-speaking Balearic Islands), the article is not unbiased (“trumpeting” a language which is Catalonia’s OWN language?). And pay attention to this (my emphasis):

    “By law, schoolchildren are required to receive their education in Catalan. IN A FURTHER BLOW TO SPANISH CULTURE, a referendum before the Catalan Parliament would end bullfighting, another Spanish passion, here altogether”.

    That is, the mandatory Catalan-language immersion program in school is a “blow to Spanish culture”. Not so. Let’s say the blow to Catalan culture was the prior SUBmersion in Spanish. The Catalan program is very successful in maintaining and recovering Catalan (while Spanish is also obligatorily taught), it has been praised by the European Bureau for Lesser-Used Languages ( ) for its adherence to the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages ( ), and it has generated a wealth of research on language policies.

    It is important to remember that the only “blow” to culture in general in Spain was and is that practiced by an essentialized view of “Spain” as that homogeneous imaginary that reaches tourists and language-commentators journalists alike 😉 . Every time I read one of these pieces on languages in Spain in the foreign press, particularly the US, it seems as if a piece of their travel myth (tapas, sun, late evenings, cheap alcohol, nice beaches, eccentric, almost primitive folklore, “pathos” and a good retirement paradise) is being taken away by irrational “nationalists”. The journalist doesn’t even comment on the fact, for example, that the Catalan legislation simply follows the aberrant path of continuing to dub hundreds of US cinema subproducts which reach our screens. Dubbing in Catalan doesn’t correct the fact that moviegoers still have to swallow (and they like it!) horrendous US-produced junk that continues to transform, literally, our hippocampus.

    In short, the Catalan model regarding language policies, including the promotion of the territory’s own language in culture and public life, is one to be followed in other nations (Galiza and the Basque Country) belonging to the almighty Kingdom of Spain were it not for the fact that their respecty autonomous governments have been recently reconquered by centralist parties.

  2. John Tagliabue’s New York Times article on the new Catalan law mandating the dubbing and/or subtitling of 50% of foreign films into Catalan (“Trumpeting Catalan on the Big Screen,” March 10, 2010) contains a number of inaccuracies and tendentious arguments not easily recognized as such by the uninformed reader. Catalonia is represented as a place where all things Spanish are subjected to nationalistic backlash: Catalan schoolchildren are “required by law” to receive their education in the Catalan language, and the Catalan Parliament, “in a further blow to Spanish culture,” was poised to end bullfighting in Catalonia. Would any reputable journalist write that French schoolchildren were “required by law” to be educated in French? Since when is the torture of animals as public spectacle defensible on “cultural” grounds? We need only recall the general revulsion inspired by the case of the NFL star Michael Vick, found to be operating a dogfighting ring and personally treating the animals cruelly. The photograph accompanying the article shows a poster of the film “Precious” at the Verdi Park cinema in Barcelona announcing “V.O. subtitulada en català en exclusiva.” This means that the Verdi Park cinema was the only theatre where moviegoers could see this film subtitled in Catalan, but the photo caption translates this incorrectly as “subtitled exclusively in Catalan,” suggesting, falsely, that nowhere in Catalonia could the film be seen with Spanish subtitles. The message of the article is that Catalans’ defense of their own language and culture is a negative phenomenon based on opposition to Spanish language and culture. Tagliabue neglects to point out that the hegemony of Spanish is overwhelming in the media.
    Having thus laid the groundwork, Tagliabue practices a kind of journalism that advertises itself as “balanced” and “objective” by seeking out opposing opinions, juxtaposing them, and letting readers choose the opinion they prefer: the Catalan minister of culture Joan Manuel Tresserras arguing that if the public does not go to see films subtitled or dubbed in Catalan it is because there are so few of them; or the theatre owners, film distributors, and major producers arguing that there are few films in Catalan because the public isn’t interested in seeing them. Unless readers know better, their choice will be heavily conditioned by the way the issue is framed. What this article demonstrates, more than anything else, are the limitations of context-free journalism.

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