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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Eugene S Hunn
ANTH 203
Seattle Campus

Introduction to Anthropological Linguistics

Linguistic methods and theories used within anthropology. Basic structural features of language; human language and animal communication compared; evidence for the innate nature of language. Language and culture: linguistic relativism, ethnography of communication, sociolinguistics. Language and nationalism, language politics in the United States and elsewhere. Offered: jointly with LING 203.

Class description

Human language is miraculous. We manipulate our breathing to produce 1-30 speech sounds every second, generate an infinity of novel utterances employing nearly 50,000 discrete words, all seemingly without mental effort. Furthermore, children master the essentials of their native language by the tender age of three, showing signs of recognizing speech sounds amongst the chaos of ambient noise in their first few months of life. Even those born deaf and/or blind learn language. Yet the end result of this marvel of human genetic engineering is not one human language but an estimated 6000 mutually unintelligible ways of speaking that vary in seemingly bizarre and unpredictable ways. This paradoxical conjunction of a universal human language "instinct" with the bewildering profusion of specific forms of language is the central question we will attempt to resolve in this course. Besides grappling with the puzzle of WHAT language is we will survey anthropological research as to HOW language is put into play on the human stage. How do people use language to create intricately detailed mental maps of their natural environment? How do people use language to manipulate their social and political worlds? How have people transformed the ephemeral sounds of language into permanent monuments? Finally, is the Tower of Babel now crumbling before the onslaught of the global media? And if so, what do we lose when a language dies?

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

This is a rather large lecture course and suffers the obvious limitations sheer size entails. However, I hope we will work together to try to overcome the impersonality of the large lecture class format. Discussion sections with your Teaching Assistant, Mr. William Galloway, should be lively seminars, not warmed-over lecture material regurgitated on a smaller scale. To facilitate this, sections will focus on student presentations and projects that apply concepts from the course in your everyday lives. (It is very hard to escape language!) There will be one section oral presentation based on the readings and two section projects. These assignments are designed to encourage your active participation (each assignment is worth five points). Projects, for example, might involve analyzing how you use kinship terms to define your relationships with members of your family. Or, you might be asked to analyzed how politicians use [abuse?] language to put a "spin" on events. Or you might be asked to replicate some famous experiment. Mr. Galloway will explain the details in sections. A series of films and guest lectures should add other voices to the conversation and provide ample scope for debate. Each lecture will include time to address questions or challenges from members of the class based on what you are reading or hearing in class. To facilitate this, each student is required to submit two questions based on the previous week’s material each Monday in class.

Recommended preparation

Linguistic anthropology is one of the "four fields" of American anthropology. Thus this course, together with the introductions to biocultural anthropology (Anth 201), sociocultural anthropology (Anth 202), and archaeology (Anth 205) are basic prerequisites for the anthropology major. Anthropology and linguistics are now distinct academic departments, but early in this century the two disciplines were more closely allied. Anthropologists studied a great diversity of languages, mostly unwritten, which helped broaden the focus of linguistic study beyond the classic, written traditions of Europe. Modern linguistics is a highly theoretical discipline. Advances in linguistic theory have forced anthropologists to rethink their own key concepts, culture and human nature. This course is offered jointly with linguistics (as Ling 203) in recognition of these close connections.

Class assignments and grading

Each student is required to submit two questions based on the previous week’s material each Monday in class. This will be the basis for the five points to be awarded for class participation. For the short term paper (4-5 pages; worth 30 points) we urge you to select a topic of personal interest that draws on your own experience. The midterm (20 points) and the final exam (30 points) will be in-class tests that include a mix of open-ended, short-essay style questions and more "objective" limited-choice questions designed to test your familiarity with the basic concepts and facts presented:

· three section projects (5% each = 15%) & class participation (5%); · a term paper (30%); and · a midterm (20%) & a final (30%): · TOTAL: 100 possible points.

Subject to revision, we expect scores in the 90s to rate an A (3.5-4.0), 75-89 a B (2.5-3.4); 60-75 a C (1.5-2.4). Scores below 50 will merit a failing grade.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Additional Information
Last Update by Eugene S Hunn
Date: 10/23/1998