The medium is the message: attention to language and ways of speaking in understanding sociality

Alexander King (Franklin & Marshall College)
Room 11
Start time:
16 April, 2015 at 9:15
Session slots:

Short abstract:

Session explores the symbiosis between linguistics and anthropology. Language form shapes the content of the message in subtle ways requiring careful attention. Linguists have developed robust methods useful to anthropologists and are looking to us for help with understanding the social contexts.

Long abstract:

Malinowski stressed the importance of recording ethnographic information directly in the native tongue (1922:23-24). This corpus inscriptionum, to use his phrase, provides an invaluable record of linguistic and cultural information that is useful for the ethnographer and many others. Unfortunately, Malinowski's students ignored this advice and contributions from linguistics generally, often working as if language were a transparent medium through which messages can be transmitted and translated unproblematically. Inspired by Dell Hymes's famous quip 'language is too important to leave to the linguists and linguistics is too important ignore', this panel explores the productive symbiosis between linguistics and social anthropology. Linguists are increasingly conducting fieldwork, confronting a new generation of students with all the complexities that experience-near research entails. They are revaluing the project of basic description, creating documentation not only as a way to preserve data but as an act of recognition of their fellow human beings who inhabit other social worlds. Linguists have never before been more open to the disciplinary perspective of anthropology, seeing it as a welcome guide. At the same time, linguists' longstanding commitment to clarity in research design can constructively complement anthropologists' methodological openness. For example, linguists are thinking hard about the disposition and management of the many varieties of information all researchers now hold in their possession, and they have well-developed models for comprehensive data management plans that simplify the future use of material for sharing with the source community and use in further research projects.