ANTH 252: Linguistic Anthropology

General Information

Professor: Simon D. Levy
Lecture: M/W/F 2:30 - 3:25 Newcomb 9
Office: Parmly Hall (Science Center) 407B
Office Phone: 458-8419
  Office Hours: M/W/F 3:30-5:30 p.m. and by appointment
Textbook: There is no textbook for this course. Most of the readings will be available in a course packet, and the rest are on the Web.

Brief Overview

This course surveys the relation of language to human origins, social identity, and interaction, notably: culture, thought, ethnicity, religion, status, and gender. Through readings drawn from classic and contemporary scholarship, we will explore how the study of language overlaps with virtually all areas of interest to anthropologists and sociologists. Because it is a current "hot topic" overlapping with my own research interests, a major new focus of the course will be current scholarship in language origins and evolution. Although this is not a formal linguistics course, a unifying theme in all these topics will be the way in which the formal "hard science" approach to language provides a framework for understanding these "soft science" issues. For this reason, the course should appeal to students from a broad variety of backgrounds in the humanities, social sciences, and physical/mathematical sciences.

Attendance and Preparation

This course will be taught as a reading-intensive seminar, so it is essential that you do the readings, attend class, and participate in the discussion. The goal is to cover one reading per class meeting, and a typical reading will be around 30 pages long. Each discussion will be led by a student: you can volunteer, or I will pick someone at random. Skipping classes, not doing the readings and/or keeping quiet in class is not a viable approach to this course. I won't take attendance, but when it comes time for me to assign the large class-participation portion of your grade, you don't want me to be struggling to remember a time when you showed up and said something. Feel free, of course, to bring your cell phone.


We will follow the format used in previous versions of this class, taught by Prof. Alison Bell: three assessments, one research paper with presentation, and class participation. To quote from Prof. Bell's syllabus: "Assessments are open-book, open-note, take-home exercises designed to allow the instructor to assess each student's understanding of material in assigned readings and class discussion. Each assessment has 2-4 questions which together should require about five pages (word-processed, double-spaced) to answer." Assessment questions will come from the topic pages, also accessible from the schedule below. Assessments should be e-mailed to me as attachments and will be due by the end of the day (5PM) on these Fridays: October 6, November 10, and December 15. (Note that Dec. 15 is the end of exam period.) You will also be required to lead at least one classroom discussion.

Research Paper

The research paper will be on a topic of interest to you in linguistic anthropology, drawn most likely from one of the topics we have covered. (Each topic will have suggestions for further research.) A proposal and tentative bibliography will be due Friday October 20. Because we will have covered only half of the syllabus at that point, I encourage you to look ahead to the material in the rest of the course, for topics of interest. For some topics I have provided links to relevant Wikipedia entries as a starting point, but your research and citations will have to be from original, published scholarship in each topic area. The paper itself should be 8-10 double-spaced pages. Like the assessments, the research paper should be e-mailed to me, and will be due by 5PM on the last day of class, Friday December 8.   For some pointers on how to write, I encourage you to read this classic essay, and I strongly encourage you to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the Writing Center.

Fieldwork Option

Your research paper may also be a report of on-campus linguistic "fieldwork" done with a native speaker of a language unfamiliar to you. Unless you already have some training in linguistic field methods, this option will require a significant amount of extra work: in addition to the normal class readings, you will have to take a mini-course in phonetic transcription and will have to devote several hours outside class to working with the native speaker, under my supervision. Your research paper will then be your writeup of what you've discovered about the language. If you choose this option, you must let me know by Friday September 22, so I can recruit a native speaker and begin training you in field methods.


Each of the three assessments will count toward 20% of your final grade, as will the final paper/presentation. The remaining 20% will come from class participation (10%) and leading a discussion (10%). Late work will be penalized at 10% per day, and no work will be accepted after December 15.

The grading scale will be 93-100 A; 90-92 A-; 87-89 B+; 83-86 B; 80-82 B-; 77-79 C+; 73-76 C; 70-72 C-; 67-69 D+; 63-66 D; 60-62 D-; below 60 F.

Guest Lectures

Because it is usually better to learn about a subject from from people who are doing research in it, I have arranged for guest lecturers throughout the term. Although there may not be readings assigned for these lectures, you may be responsible for the material in the lectures, in the form of assessment questions.

Topics and Readings

Click on the topic link to see a study guide for that topic, including assessment questions and suggestions for your research paper. Click on the italicized citation for a reading to obtain that reading (if it's available online). Readings not available on-line will be available in a course packet.

Schedule of Topics and Assignments

Throughout the course, this schedule will display the topics to be covered for the next few weeks, and will be updated regularly. Though we may not cover all the topics or all the material for a given topic, the deadlines are fixed.







Sep. 4
Week 0
Course Intro

Survey Due
Sep. 11
Week 1
What is language?
Saussure & Structuralism
Language Origins:
Language as Accident
Chomsky 1972
Language Origins:
Language as Adaptation
Pinker & Bloom 1990
Sep. 18
Week 2
Language Origins:
Language as Culture
Kirby 2000
Language in Non-Human Animals:
Hauser, Chomsky & Fitch 2002
Language as History:
Introductory Readings
Optional fieldwork signups due
Sep. 25
Week 3
Language as History:
Archaeology and Language
Renfrew 1987
Language as History:
In Search of the Indo-Europeans
Mallory 1989
Prof. Levy at conference;
Class canceled
Oct. 2
Week 4
Guest lecture by Prof. Timothy Lubin Language as History:
How to Kill a Dragon
Watkins 1995
Language Contact:
Pidgins & Creoles
Todd 1974
Assessment #1 Due
Oct. 9
Week 5
Language Contact:
Joyner 1984
Language Contact:
Harshav 1990
Reading Day: No Class
Oct. 16
Week 6
Language and Gender:
Gender as a Cultural Construct
Bonvillain 2001
Language and Gender:
Grammatical Gender
Zubin & Köpcke 1986
Language and Gender:
Gender and Power in Japanese
Inoue 2004

Research paper proposal due
Oct. 23
Week 7
Language and Gender:
The Language of Phone Sex
Hall 1995
Language and Status:
Social Stratification of /r/ in NYC
Labov 1972
Guest lecture by Prof. Ellen Contini-Morava Language and Status:
Tu, Vous, Usted
Tucker 1976
Oct. 30
Week 8
Language and Status:
Rickford 1999
Abbie G.
Language and Thought:
The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis
Whorf 1939
Language and Thought:
Natural Categories
Rosch 1973
Nov. 6
Week 9
Language and Thought:
What Categories Reveal About the Mind
Lakoff 1987
Language and Thought:
The Pirahã Controversy
Everett 2005
Language and Culture:
Classifying Illocutionary Acts
Searle 1971
Assessment #2 Due
Nov. 13
Week 10
Language and Culture:
Ilongot Speech Acts
Rosaldo 1980
Language and Culture:
Language and Landscape Among the Western Apache
Basso 1996
Language and Culture:
Silence in Western Apache Culture
Basso 1971
Nov. 27
Week 11
Guest lecture by Prof. Harvey Markowitz Language Death (and Revival):
Dalby (2003)
Paper Presentations
Dec. 4
Week 12
Paper Presentations Paper Presentations Paper Presentations Research Paper Due
Dec. 11
Exam Week
Assessment #3 Due