The Routledge Handbook of Linguistic Anthropology ed Nancy Bournville (2016)

This is an interesting volume, a set of all kinds of essays on linguistic anthropology. It’s useful to see the kinds of concerns that come up.


Anna Wierzbicka in Overcoming the Eurocentrism and Scientism of Kinship Studies through Lexical Universals writes about the assumptions made in discussions of kinship such as the assumption of the universality of terms like brother. I’m interested in how difficult it is to declare what seems from a European standpoint a straightforward, concrete concept to be a universal one – harder than it looks.

Paul Kroskrity’s Language Ideologies: Emergence, Elaboration and Application is an overview and a history of language ideologies research. He focuses on positionality, multiplicity and awareness, noting that “members may display varying degrees of awareness of local language ideologies […] language ideologies are often explicitly articulated by members, [but] researchers also recognise ideologies of practice that must be read from actual usage.” p. 101. He lists conventional LA research methods as “participant observation, formal and informal interviewing, life history, person-centered ethnography, conversational analysis, historical linguistics, and textual analysis. Since researchers read language ideologies both from actual practice and from speakers’ metalinguistic and metadiscursive responses in interviews, many researchers will collect data using two or more of the above methods. This is especially necessary for those studies in which researchers are concerned with discerning and refining the typology of speakers’ awareness (Silverstein 1981, 1993; Kroskrity 1998).” p. 103.

Margarita Huayhua in Social Subordination and Language remarks on power relations in the highlands of Peru, with extended transcriptions of house visits by municipal agents. She situates these with reference to usual etiquette when receiving a visitor, dominance and the state policies, and notes the ways that usual etiquette is breached in these unwanted, imposed visits. It’s interesting for me to note that little of the discussion is really about the language itself, focusing instead on the exchange and the power relations holistically; she sets the scene in a way that reminded me of my structuring of my own master’s thesis.

John M. Conley’s chapter on Legal Discourse is also of interest to me, as it deals with technical language that aims at neutrality.

“In an excellent but hard-to-find 1988 paper with the intriguing subtitle of “Acquiring the ‘Cant,'” [Susan] Philips investigated how law students – typically 22-year-olds just out of a generalist undergraduate education – were socialised into a manner of speaking that seems utterly foreign to most of the American speech community (Philips 1988). Then, in a 1998 book entitled Ideology in the Language of Judges, she used detailed analysis of discourse to refute the notion that Angl0-American judges are neutral arbiters who sit above the fray (Philips 1998). Instead, as she showed, judges are active and often dominant participants in many aspects of the adversary process, using such linguistic deviced as turn control to move the unfolding legal discourse in directions they prefer.” p. 395

He also makes some interesting notes on translation, discussing John Haviland’s 2003 paper on an Oregon murder trial. “The first (Haviland 2003: 767) is the notion of “referential transparency,” or “the assumptions that expressions in one language can be unproblematically rendered into propositions and translated ‘verbatim’ into another.” This belief, or ideology, rests on the fallacy that “the truth-functional core of what someone says can be decoupled from the actual saying itself.”” p. 397. “Atkinson and Drew (1979:22) emphasise that the analyst’s task is “not to stipulate what rules members really were ‘following’ or ‘governed by’, but to locate rules that that they might be ‘orienting to’ and using in producing a recognisable orderliness in some setting.”” p. 399. The Current Contributions and Research section contains a number of interesting ideas about acquisition, neutrality and conversation. “Lawyers claim this process [of learning to think like a lawyer] as their intellectual hallmark, often describing it in terms of a logical rigour that stands in stark contrast to the sloppy emotionalism of the nonlegal world. Critics, on the other hand, have derided “thinking like a lawyer” as nothing more than a superficial language game that mystifies the simple and thereby reinforces the legal profession’s unwarranted monopoly power – merely “acquiring the Cant”, as Philips (1998) puts it. Critical legal theorists have also questioned the deeper effects of the process on students, arguing that legal education strips students of the values they bring to law school while subtly inculcating new and troubling ones that may undermine empathy for people and their problems.” p. 400.


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