The Society of Linguistic Anthropology (SLA) is a section of the American Anthropological Association that focuses on linguistic anthropology. Their purpose is to “advance the study of language in its social and cultural context and to encourage communication of the results of such study”. Linguistic anthropology is important to the field because it discusses how culture and geography affect the language of a region and vice versa. For example, the cultural makeup of an area includes the language that the signs are in and why certain signs were put up in the first place. There are two main perspectives to study linguistic geography. First, there is linguistic cartography, such as drawing maps of where speakers of a language are located. Second, one can look at how location is encoded in language. “areal linguists” combine areal studies with their own geographic understandings of the politics and culture of a region and explore how and why regions change linguistically over time. Linguistic anthropologists have also been able to use their study to help explain certain environmental issues by arguing the role of language in perceptions of and behavior toward the physical and biological landscape. For example, the role of the Húldufolk, which are supernatural beings in Icelandic myths, had an effect in shaping the “moral geography” in Iceland. There are also arguments of landscape ethnoecology and ethnophysiography that support claims that languages divide the Earth into distinct landforms based on different criteria. Some also indicate that the linguistic categorization of an area affects the perception of the area and also speakers’ behavior in the landscape.
The SLA is doing a great deal of work that is more relevant in today’s society. For example, one movement that they are very involved in is ending the use of American Indian names as school mascots. Anthropologists are very useful in finding out where certain traditions or stereotypes originated from. For example, in the Diamond reading, Diamond indicated that traditional gender roles may have originated when society switched from hunter-gatherer to agriculture. More farm hands were needed, so they were forced to have more children and tend to those kids. This differed from the hunter-societies which were very nomadic and women often waited four years between children because they could not carry more than one child while moving from place to place. It is reason such as this that the SLA is involved in movements such as the one to end use of American Indian names as mascots. Using the names as mascots reinforces the harsh and brutal past that America has with its indigenous people. The SLA hopes to end this negative stigma that stemmed from brutality of the American settlers.
One more issue that the SLA is involved in is referring to immigrants as illegal. Linguistic anthropologists study how language creates culture and vice versa. Their work suggests that language such as “illegal aliens” leads to a negative stigma against immigrants. From my own studies on the negative stigma against immigrants, I believe that this could be a “chicken or the egg” type argument because the language may have developed in response to a negative stigma that was already there due to fear/uncertainty. Nevertheless, the SLA is involved in changing this language that most definitely reinforces the negative stigma.
Overall, linguistic anthropology is a valuable field that stems from the original studies of anthropology. The SLA and other organizations use their foundations in the geography and culture of a region to explain language, and in turn, use language to explain other findings. After reading about all of the issues that the SLA is involved with, I definitely have a better idea of how anthropology is relevant in today’s society.