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Anthropological Linguistics

  Anthropological linguistics is concerned with the way language functions as an integral part of human social institutions. This kind of research originated with Bronislaw Malinowski (1884 - 1942), whose technique of participant observation allows the investigator to observe communities from within, while maintaining an objective stance. Language is studied as it occurs in natural discourse, firmly embedded within its cultural context. There is, then, a heavy emphasis on the way language is used, and on the pragmatic knowledge speakers display in the production of speech in social settings (communicative competence). It is argued that the members of a particular speech community draw on a unique repertoire of communicative events. Different speakers may share a common language, but unless they also come from the same speech community, a breakdown in communication may well arise owing to conflicting views about the way communication should be structured. Evidently, speech communities vary widely in the way they construct conversations and deploy their knowledge of language in practice. For anthropological linguists, language is not merely a tool for gaining access to a storehouse of cultural knowledge. It is a fundamental aspect of that knowledge. MS

See also anthropology; ethnography; sociolinguistics.



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