Q. The relationship between Linguistics and Social- Cultural Anthropology.                                                                (CSE 2019)

Ans: Anthropology as a holistic science of Man aims to study human origins, human variation, and human nature. Anthropology thus shares frontiers with the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities, or to be precise, it synthesises the knowledge in order to understand Man as a species and his dynamic world. The way populations communicate with speech, signs, and symbols tells us a lot about them. Language is learned and part of the holistic culture studied by anthropologists.

Beyond cultural and linguistic anthropology, language and communication are also studied by biological anthropologists when they look at the ways primates and human ancestors communicated. By studying communication and linguistics, we can learn how populations teach, learn, and share and most importantly, how language shapes social life. Linguistics and anthropology are so intertwined, there is an entire field called linguistic anthropology that studies the way language shapes communication, culture, and society.

As a field of anthropology, linguistic anthropologists are concerned with how language influences culture. This can include how language impacts social interactions,beliefs, cultural identity, and other important aspects of culture. Currently, linguistic anthropologists particularly concerned with the issue of endangered languages. The main goal of linguistic anthropology, like the are whole discipline of anthropology, is to better understand culture. A linguistic anthropologist could ask many questions, including:

  • Why is one language preferred over another?
  • Why do different geographic regions have different language accents?
  • What types of values and ideologies are communicated through language?
  • Does language vary according to gender, beliefs, and other criteria?

Linguistic anthropologists have ventured into the study of everyday encounters, language socialization, ritual and political events, scientific discourse, verbal art, language contact and language shift, literacy events, and media. So, unlike linguists, linguistic anthropologists do not look at language alone, language is viewed as interdependent with culture and social structures. Linguistics is the study of language, not any particular language, but human language in general. Although linguists may specialize in the study of a single language or group of languages, the aim is to come to a general understanding of language as a human phenomenon. Like socio-cultural anthropologists, linguists usually conduct long periods of fieldwork living with people who speak the language they are studying.

According to Pier Paolo Giglioli in “Language and Social Context,” anthropologists study the relation between worldviews, grammatical categories and semantic fields, the influence of speech on socialization and personal relationships, and the interaction of linguistic and social communities.

In this case, linguistic anthropology closely studies those societies where language defines a culture or society. For example, in New Guinea, there is a tribe of indigenous people who speak one language. It is what makes that people unique. It is its “index” language. The tribe may speak other languages from New Guinea, but this unique language gives the tribe its cultural identity. At present, some of the cultural anthropologists specialize themselves in linguistics because language is an important aspect of human behaviour. Transmission of culture from one generation to other has been possible only for language.

Language enables man to preserve the traditions of the past and to make provisions of future. However, the anthropologists who study language in order to understand a culture help to form this distinct wing. They deal with the emergence and divergence of languages over time. Contemporary languages also get their attention.

Linguistic anthropology complements socio-cultural nthropology with detailed attention to spoken and igned languages-their structure and use in the daily ives of people around the world, both at home and abroad. Socio-linguistics, considered another subset of inguistics, is the study of how people use language in Hifferent social situations. Linguistic Anthropologists study unwritten anguages as well as written languages. Another crucial difference between them is that those features which the Former taken for granted are taken into consideration by the latter. These features are related to the systems of knowledge, belief, assumptions and conventions that produce particular ideas at particular times in the mind of people. Each of these features are culturally conditioned and hence unique to each culture and society.

Sociolinguistics includes the study of dialects across a given region and an analysis of the way some people may speak to each other in certain situations, for example, at a formal occasion, slang between friends and family, or the manner of speaking that may change based on the gender roles.  Additionally, historical sociolinguists will examine language for shifts and changes that occur over time to a society. For example, in English, a historical sociolinguistic will look at when “thou” shifted and was replaced by the word “you” in the language timeline.

Like dialects, sociolinguists will examine words that are unique to a region like a regionalism. In terms of American regionalisms, a “faucet” is used in the North, whereas, a “spigot” is used in the South. Other regionalism includes frying pan/skillet; pail/bucket; and soda/pop/coke. Sociolinguists may also study a region, and look at other factors, such as socio-economic factors that may have played a role as to how language is spoken in a region.

Anthropological linguistics today generally views language through a cultural and behavioural lens rather than through a formal, cognitive lens. Anthropological linguistics definitely concerns itself with the formal properties of phonetics, phonemics, morphemics and syntax, as well as the cognitive skills that are required for linguistic communication. However, its central questions lie in how language is used in the social and cultural life of people in different societies. It is also concerned with the broad question of how language evolved as part of the repertoire of human biological skills and behavioural adaptation.

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