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Anthropological linguistics is the study of the relations between language and culture and the relations between human biology, cognition and language. This strongly overlaps the field of linguistic anthropology, which is the branch of anthropology that studies humans through the languages that they use.
Whatever one calls it, this field has had a major impact in the studies of such areas as visual perception (especially colour) and bioregional democracy, both of which are concerned with distinctions that are made in languages about perceptions of the surroundings.
Conventional linguistic anthropology also has implications for sociology and self-organization of peoples. Study of the Penan people, for instance, reveals that their language employs six different and distinct words whose best English translation is "we". Anthropological linguistics studies these distinctions, and relates them to types of societies and to actual bodily adaptation to the senses, much as it studies distinctions made in languages regarding the colours of the rainbow: seeing the tendency to increase the diversity of terms, as evidence that there are distinctions that bodies in this environment must make, leading to situated knowledge and perhaps a situated ethics, whose final evidence is the differentiated set of terms used to denote "we".
Anthropological linguistics is concerned with
- Descriptive (or synchronic) linguistics: Describing dialects (forms of a language used by a specific speech community). This study includes phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and grammar.
- Historical (or diachronic) linguistics: Describing changes in dialects and languages over time. This study includes the study of linguistic divergence and language families, comparative linguistics, etymology, and philology.
- Ethnolinguistics: Analyzing the relationship between culture, thought, and language.
- Sociolinguistics: Analyzing the social functions of language and the social, political, and economic relationships among and between members of speech communities.
Mark Fettes, in Steps Towards an Ecology of Language (1996), sought "a theory of language ecology which can integrate naturalist and critical traditions"; and in An Ecological Approach to Language Renewal (1997), sought to approach a transformative ecology via a more active, perhaps designed, set of tools in language. This may cross a line between science and activism, but is within the anthropological tradition of study by the participant observer. Related to problems in critical philosophy (for instance, the question who's we, and the subject-object problem).
In many respects, the scope of interest of ethnolinguistics and linguistic anthropology overlap. Both are concerned with the relationship between language and culture. Both work with the concept of worldview. But unlike linguistic anthropology which as a discipline of anthropology, focuses on man, the individual representing his culture, ethnolinguists are concerned with the way individuals express themselves and how they communicate together. Ethnolinguistics looks at the relationship between discourse and language, while linguistic anthropology tends to make more general claims about vocabulary and grammar. Anna Wierzbicka is one of the best-known exponents of ethnolinguistics in English-speaking countries. James W. Underhill redefined the term in his Ethnolinguistics and Cultural Concepts: truth, love, hate & war (Cambridge University Press 2012). See anthropology, linguistics.
- Linguistic relativity
- Linguistic anthropology
- Gender role in language
- Sociology of language
- World Oral Literature Project
- Semiotic anthropology
- "An Ecological Approach to Language Renewal", Mark Fettes, 1997.