By Kamil Wiśniewski Aug 17th, 2007

Anthropological linguistics is more often considered to be a sub discipline of anthropology than linguistics and historically that is where it comes from. The primary concern of anthropologic linguistics was with the unwritten languages in America and their recording in order to preserve them in case the number of speakers started to decrease drastically. Moreover, the languages were seen as a vital part of culture so the knowledge of language was required to be able to completely understand the analyzed culture.

Anthropological linguistics deals with describing many languages and issues such as the influence of language on the behavior of the community that uses it. The well known Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is a result of such investigations. According to this theory the language that people use has strong influence on the perception of the world. Therefore, anthropolinguists deal with problems such as how it happens that peoples sharing a culture might speak different languages and peoples who have different cultures sometimes share a language.

Also finding a systematic way of putting down previously unwritten languages in a way that would reflect all linguistic peculiarities and phonetic phenomena is the task of anthropologic linguists. Such undertakings not only lead to preserving endangered languages, but are also important from the point of view of culture. To find appropriate way of writing in a language that has only been spoken linguists seek the phonetic patterns. It is also important to provide a way of symbolizing speech sounds in such a way as to enable the native speakers to read it in order to verify if the linguists’ assumptions are correct. When this task is accomplished the analysis of morphemes begins and later on also of syntax.

As anthropologic linguistics works on the assumption that communities’ cultures are reflected by language change it investigates synchronic and diachronic language change – that is it analyses various dialects and if it is possible the historical development. Moreover, the emergence and evolution of pidgins and creoles is also within the scope of interest of anthropologic linguistics. What is more, language acquisition in children is also studied by anthropolinguists, however, not the stages of language development are examined, but how the acquisition of linguistic abilities is perceived by the community. It turns out that in certain cultures parents do not interfere with the process, while in others caretakers put a lot of effort in teaching verbal etiquette.

Brown K. (Editor) 2005. Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics – 2nd Edition. Oxford: Elsevier.

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