Skip to content
Home » Blog (hidden) » Linguistic Anthropology Roundup #4

Linguistic Anthropology Roundup #4

This roundup feature is still in its early stages of development. As Leila indicated in her inaugural roundup, we are summarizing some current material related to linguistic anthropology. And that should work very smoothly once we start receiving some links from the membership… (Wink, wink, nudge, nudge…)

As mentioned before, I tend to be informal. So, in this first roundup I submit, I’m taking some liberty with both how “current” some of these items are and how close the connection to our field may be.

Post-Colonial Francophones

As a French-speaker, I feel I should start with an item about my native language. On March 20, 2010, Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (International Organisation of La Francophonie) turned 40. In a speech celebrating this anniversary, Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë connected the French language with its colonial past:

«La Francophonie a 40 ans. Et la décolonisation a 50 ans. Aujourd’hui 19 mars, c’est le 38e anniversaire du cessez-le-feu en Algérie. J’aimerais souligner à quel point cette langue qui a été un instrument de conquête et de domination doit être une langue de l’égalité, de la fraternité, et de l’ambition du projet culturel partagé»

“La Francophonie is 40 years old. Decolonization is 50 years old. Today, March 19, marks the 38th anniversary of the ceasefire in Algeria. I would like to emphasize the extent to which this language, which has been an instrument of conquest and domination must be a language for equality, brotherhood, and the ambition of a shared cultural project.”

swissinfo – Pour ses 40 ans, la Francophonie «ensemble» à Paris.

French Classics

Speaking of the French language, those of you who can read it may be interested in the following resource, making openly accessible some social science classics published in French and now in the public domain (at least for Canada). A bit like the Gutenberg Project for French-speaking social scientist.

Les Classiques des sciences sociales.

Among classic texts related to linguistic anthropology, I recommend Rousseau’s Essay on the Origins of Languages:

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Essai sur l’origine des langues. Où il est parlé de la Mélodie et de l’Imitation musicale (1781).

I said I might stretch the meaning of “current.” In this case, though, the connection with linguistic anthropology seems clear, especially given the path going from Rousseau and Herder to Sapir and the development of our field.

Practical Resource

And while we’re discussing resources, this one might be useful to those of you who have to translate between French and English.

Grand dictionnaire terminologique.

Created by Office québécois de la langue française (Quebec’s French language board, known as the “language police” among English-speaking Quebeckers), this dictionnary contains terms which are officially recognized as translations for a large number of English words. This dictionary can provide insight into the mechanisms through which language planning and language policies may be enacted. In terms of language ideology, this dictionary represents a rather unique case as it is decidedly prescriptivist, as is France’s Académie française, but its approach is mostly utilitarian.

Montreal Anglophones

Speaking of Quebec’s languages, Montreal’s English-language daily newspaper The Gazette (advertised, a while ago as “The English Language. Daily.”)  has published a series of articles on Montreal’s English dialectology

Accent on Montreal.

The title of the introductory piece is quite revealing:

Sociolinguist followed Henry Higgins.

In that rather short piece, Gazette reporter Marion Scott manages to tie some of Labov’s best-known work to both Shaw’s Pygmalion and the current work of McGill sociolinguist and dialectologist Charles Boberg.

The five main parts of this series cover such issues as the diverse aspects of language contact, including loanwords.

  1. Hear that ‘O’ in anglo?.
  2. Montrealers’ borrowed lingo.
  3. That ‘aboat’ sums it up.
  4. Bagels & schmooze.
  5. Trilingual spice.

Typography, Toponymy, and Identity

While our field tends not to focus that directly on such topics as typography, the following is a rather unusual piece using hyphenation and onomastics as pretexts for discussions of social and even cultural identities.

Get Hyphenated by Joseph Kloc – The Morning News.

Assessing Non-Verbal Cues

A key lesson of ethnography in general and of the ethnography of communication more specifically, is that context is key. In the following post, blogger Brian Lam solicits the help of “body language” consultant Janine Driver in using photographic evidence to assess the degree of  “awkwardness” between the chief executive officers at Apple and Google.

So Awkward: Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt’s Body Language Analyzed – Gizmodo.

The story of this “awkward” meeting broke out recently, after a rather long series of discussions about relationships between the two corporations. According to a well-publicized New York Times article on the topic, the conflict between the two companies may involve tensed personal relations between their chief executive officers. The “body language” evidence was used to reinforce the thesis of personal tensions. As might be expected, the actual meeting between these two executives as been described, in at least one technology-focused podcast, as a public display of friendliness between the participants. The significance of the phatic function of communication is often made obvious but this case seems particularly clear.


Speaking of the ethnography of communication, paleoanthropologist John Hawks recently wrote a blogpost about some uses of backchannel in conferences.

Part of that post is based on some work on computer-mediated backchannel by NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen.

PressThink: How the Backchannel Has Changed the Game for Conference Panelists.

In these contexts, “backchannel” tends to refer to the use of public writing during an oral presentation and, more specifically, to the use of Twitter during conferences. Clearly, linguistic anthropologists have a lot to say on these topics.

As an update in his blogpost, John Hawks mentions the case of a rather difficult conference presentation experience lived and told by social media researcher danah boyd:

apophenia » Blog Archive » spectacle at Web2.0 Expo… from my perspective.

That blogpost by boyd brings up several issues which could spark conversation bring concepts from linguistic anthropology: non-verbal communication, the cultural importance of shared expectations, and the diversity of roles in a communication event.


Among other links I have recently found relevant, in relation to our field, were several pieces having to do with literacy. These may have struck me more directly because I have been doing work for Quebec’s Adult Learner Week, a context in which literacy is put to the fore.

First among these is an episode of Ockham’s Razor, a show on ABC Radio National. The show previously had LSA Ethics blogger Claire Bowern as a guest to discuss language and prehistory.

This particular show, however, takes a rather different perspective in discussing obstacles to literacy among indigenous Australian children.

Ockham’s Razor – 24 January 2010 – Early language and reading skills in indigenous children in Australia.

A second item connecting literacy with social status concerns a decision, by Virginia governor Robert McDonnell to require that nonviolent felons submit written essays in order to be regain their voting rights.

McDonnell in hot water over nonviolent felons’ rights.

The piece was sent to me with a note asking if this might be a case for scriptocentrism.

The last part of the literacy-focused section of this roundup comes from diverse blogposts by an English teacher calling herself Siobhan Curious.

In these posts, literacy is associated very directly to diverse things we would likely consider anthropological, such as in the following forum thread, mentioned by Siobhan Curious.

Why Study Literature? – Freethought Forum.