What Is Linguistic Anthropology?

"I am thinking about a career in anthropology. What does a Linguistic Anthropologist do?"

asked by Samuel K. from Anacortes, WA

Linguistic Anthropology can be an exciting and fulfilling career for the adventurous individual. You could find yourself travel the world to study diverse cultures and their languages. This means living among people of exotic cultures and extreme climates in potentially harsh conditions that involves physical exertion. However, when not in the field, you will usually work a regular eight-hour day and spend most of your time in research, chronicling your experiences and giving presentations of your findings.

Your time might be divided between teaching, performing research, and writing if you find employment as a linguistic anthropology instructor. Since so many languages are at risk of disappearing, linguistic anthropologists endeavor to understand and learn as much about these languages as is feasible. This way, in case it does disappear, knowledge of the language will remain available. Researchers keep a written record of language use in a variety of settings, as well as translations. They also make audio and video tapes.

In addition, linguistic anthropologists perform an analysis of the vocabulary and language rules, and go on to author dictionaries and syntaxes. Further, they work with global communities in an effort to help preserve their languages providing both applied and technical assistance in language teaching, conservation, and recovery. This foundation of this assistance help is rooted in the dictionaries and syntaxes that they author.

Why is it Important to Save Languages?

When a society loses its language, much of its cultural identity is lost as well. Though the loss of a language may be intentional or uncontrolled, it usually involves some sort of pressure, and it is frequently viewed as a loss of social individualism or as a symbol of colonization. This is not to say that a community’s social persona is always lost when its language disappears; for example, both the Manx who live on the Isle of Man and the Chumash of California have lost their indigenous languages, but their identity as Chumash or Manx is still very much intact. Nevertheless, language is a commanding icon of a society’s identity. A copious amount of the ethnic, spiritual, and philosophical aspects of a community is understood and experienced by means of language.

This encompasses prayers, folklore, rituals, poetry, rhetoric, technical vocabulary, everyday greetings, conversational patterns, humor, ways of communicating with children, and labels for habits, emotions, and behaviors. When languages are lost, the aforementioned must be integrated into the replacement language—with altered lexes, grammar and sounds—if it is to be successfully preserved.

In another direction, a great deal is lost from the scientific aspect, as well, when languages disappear. A society’s history is handed down through that society’s language. When the language disappears, the significant t information concerning the community’s early history goes along with it.

Further, the loss of human languages places severe limitations on what linguists are able to learn about human perception. By analyzing and discerning the commonalities of the world’s languages, linguistic anthropologists are able to glean what is and is not probable concerning human language.

The bottom line is that the more languages that disappear mean the fewer opportunities for language study. Hence, the less the linguistic anthropologist will learn be able to about the human psyche.

Career Spotlight: Linguist

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