Blog One: Society of Linguistic Anthropologists (SLA)

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.

4 thoughts on “Blog One: Society of Linguistic Anthropologists (SLA)

  1. Hello Teresa!
    I thought your post was really interesting, especially the part where you mentioned that linguistic anthropologists are trying to remove the use of American Indian names as school mascots. Okemos High School right around the block from MSU actually had to change their logo recently! Their old logo was a Chieftain Head which represented Chief Okemos who was a part of the Chippewa Native American tribe in Michigan. The new logo is the “Okemos O” – as in the letter “O” like how the University of Oregon has the large yellow “O”. Being a graduate from Holt High School, the rival of Okemos High School, I thought this was great. However, they could’ve thought of a more creative mascot, I can easily say the Holt Rams can kick Okemos O butt.

  2. Hi Teresa,
    You did a good job informing us about the Society of Linguistic Anthropology. I am highly interested in learning about linguistics as a whole; I think it’s a great form of expression and artistic also. Linguistics is a great part of culture worldwide, and it is an important way of learning about history in various regions. Learning the idea of linguistics can help understand a lot of the causes of why cultures follow certain routines, or how a lot of myths and stories came about. The fact that SLA is trying to stop the use of mascots that are racially offensive says a lot about their integrity as an organization. They seem like they are very caring and involved in preventing negative stigmas against minorities.

  3. I love linguistic anthropology! It’s so interesting to me how much culture can influence a language and how language can influence a culture. Linguistic cartography is also something I find super interesting. It’s crazy how something as simple as geographic location can influence something as major as an individual or culture’s way of life, customs and experiences. It’s interesting how words and symbols can carry so much meaning, especially when they are often something many people do not put much thought into.

    One part of your blog that I found intriguing is the issue of immigration and what terms should be used in relation to people who are immigrants. The chicken/egg argument makes a lot of sense in this issue, as certain words only carry a negative stigma because of the way they were used in the past.

    Awesome blog 🙂

  4. I really like your choice on linguistic anthropology. Particular, the belief linguistic anthropologists have that language creates culture. Looking at the American Cities that grew from large immigration rates in the nineteenth and twentieth century, like New York and Chicago, you can see how each ethnic group had their own predefined geographical area in the city. Each geographical area had their own distinct language and culture. Most ethnic groups did not mix, their kids however learned English in school and were exposed to other cultures. Most children spoke their ethnic language at home. Newer immigrants have carried on the same tradition in America, especially Hispanic Immigrants. The great thing about America being this great melting pot of language and culture, it has all combined as one culture. Depending on the region your in, you can experience these small little ethnic suburbs in each city. For example, Chinatown, most large cities have these sections, where predominately most of the Chinese live and you can experience their culture and language.

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