Linguistic anthropology is the study of language as it is embedded in its social context. At the University of Virginia we provide substantial training in linguistic analysis, while emphasizing an ethnographic approach to the study of language in use.
The linguistic anthropology faculty look at meaning from diverse perspectives: from the analysis of noun-class systems in the Bantu languages of East Africa and the Arapesh languages of Papua New Guinea, to the role of mental states in the interpretation of figurative speech in Mopan Mayan, to the social semiotics of code-choice and code-variation in an Israeli city. We apply diverse theoretical frameworks to the study of meaning: formalist and functionalist, discourse analytic, sociolinguistic, semiotic, neo-Whorfian, and ethnographic.
The Department of anthropology has four faculty members in linguistic anthropology.
Ellen Contini-Morava studies the cognitive and communicative functions of grammatical forms, especially those in Bantu languages. Eve Danziger researches the relations between language, intentionality, and mind, with a focus on the Mayan languages of Mesoamerica. Lise Dobrin specializes in language endangerment, fieldwork ethics, and documentary/descriptive linguistics; her work is on the structure and use of Papua New Guinea’s Arapesh languages. Daniel Lefkowitz focuses on social dialects (including their prosodic features), verbal art, and linguistic ideology, and has applied these research interests to Middle Eastern languages as well as to American English. Mark Sicoli studies language as social action through ethnography and video documentation among speakers of indigenous languages of Mexico, and through study of the cultural evolution of language with focus on historical and typological linguistics of the Americas.
At the University of Virginia, linguistic anthropology is able to draw upon the University’s Interdepartmental Program in Linguistics, while being closely linked to the Department of Anthropology’s other subfields, socio-cultural anthropology, and archaeology. There are many areas of overlapping interest, such as the relation of language to symbolic systems, the role of language in defining social groups and social relations, the interface between individual and society, and the analysis of narratives, prayers, and other texts.
The linguistic anthropology faculty host the Linguistic Anthropology Seminar, an informal, interdisciplinary venue for presentations of work by faculty, students, and visiting scholars in linguistic anthropology, linguistics, and related fields.