LINGUIST List 13.348

Fri Feb 8 2002

Review: Duranti, Linguistic Anthropology

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  1. Lars v. Karstedt, review of Duranti, Linguistic Anthropology: A Reader

Message 1: review of Duranti, Linguistic Anthropology: A Reader

Date: Fri, 8 Feb 2002 11:00:12 +0100
From: Lars v. Karstedt <lkarstedtuni-hamburg.de>
Subject: review of Duranti, Linguistic Anthropology: A Reader

Duranti, Alessandro, ed. (2001) Linguistic Anthropology: A
Reader. Blackwell Publishers, ix+493pp, paperback ISBN
0-631-22111-5, GBP17.99 / USD34.95; hardback ISBN 0-631-22110-7,
GBP60 / USD69.95, Blackwell Anthologies in Social and Cultural
Anthropology

Lars v. Karstedt, Institut f�r Ethnologie, Universit�t
Hamburg, Germany


PURPOSE OF BOOK AND OVERVIEW
This volume is Alessandro Duranti's third effort to present
linguistic anthropology as an academic discipline within
the last few years. While the first publication (Duranti
1997) is a comprehensive introductory text book and the
second one (Duranti, ed. 1999 [2001]) an encyclopedia-style
volume on language matters in Anthropology, the present
volume combines the former's comprehensiveness and the
latter's multitude of approaches toward language issues in
anthropology. However, except from Duranti's introduction
each of the articles included in this reader has already
been published elsewhere.

Though not explicitly acknowledged this volume seems to be
designed for teaching linguistic anthropology at the
undergraduate level. This is implied by a number of exam
questions formulated at the beginning of each of the
volume's main parts. However, combining influential
articles originally published over a time span of five
centuries, the book is valuable for students and scholars
alike.

Thematically the volume consists of four main parts
preceded by a 41 page introduction by the editor in which
he addresses basic terminological questions (linguistic
anthropology, anthropological linguistics, sociolinguistics
etc.), the discipline's historical development, and major
fields of research (linguistic relativity, competence,
performance, language acquisition etc.). The main parts are
entitled "Speech Community and Communicative Competence",
"The Performance of Language: Acts, Events, and
Activities", "Language Socialization and Literacy
Practices", and "The Power of Language".

Part one includes two classics, one by John Gumperz on the
role of the speech community and one by Dell Hymes on
communicative competence followed by an article by
Marcyliena Morgan on the impacts of sociolinguistic
research findings on the African-American speech community.
A paper by Debra Spitulnik deals with the circulation of
media discourse in Zambian popular culture in which the
author considers several cases in which phrases and
discourse styles extracted from radio broadcasting are
transferred into a new context and thus integrated into
everyday usage. Finally Benjamin Bailey presents a study
about the communication of respect in interethnic
encounters focusing on interaction between immigrant Korean
retail merchants and African-American customers.

Part two brings together publications by Claudia Mitchell-
Kernan on 'signifying' and 'marking', two types of speech
acts frequently used by Afro-Americans; by Richard Bauman
on verbal art or, as he also calls it, "spoken art" which
he regards a performative act that must be analyzed within
the frame set by the particular culture under examination;
by Judith Irvine on the concepts of 'formality' and
'informality' in communicative events with the
establishment of a more precise terminology as the main
goal; by Alessandro Duranti on universal and culture-
specific properties of greetings, and by Marjorie and
Charles Goodwin on the expression of emotion illustrated by
the analysis of verbal communication between children
playing hopscotch, and between a man suffering from aphasia
and members of his family.

Part three combines articles on language acquisition and
socialization by Elinor Ochs and Bambi Schieffelin
providing ethnographic examples from three societies (white
middle-class America, Kaluli, a group located in Papua New
Guinea, and Western Samoa); on American Indian children's
communicative competence in community and classroom by
Susan Philips in which the author shows how certain
patterns of verbal behavior required at school differ
significantly from those required within the community; on
the role of reading and narrative skills at home and at
school illustrated by examples of first language
acquisition patterns in three different social environments
in a region of the Piedmont Carolinas by Shirley Brice
Heath, and on the creation of social identities through
certain narratives in a 'doctrina' class, a religious
education class attended by students of Mexican origin in
Los Angeles written by Patricia Baquedano-L�pez.

Finally, part four includes Benjamin Lee Whorf's "The
Relation of Habitual Thought and Behavior to Language", the
classic paper triggering the development of the Sapir-
Whorf-Hypothesis and contributions by Michael Silverstein
on native speaker's awareness of the kind of speech form
being used within different types of verbal interaction and
its limitations, and by Paul Kroskrity on Arizona Tewa
(Tano) Kiva speech, a ceremonial speech variety, as a
manifestation of a language ideology that intends to hinder
linguistic innovation. In an essay by Susan Gal
anthropological work centering on language, gender, and
power is reviewed while Elinor Ochs and Carolyn Taylor
study gender asymmetry in middle-class European American
families through an examination of the social activity
labeled "dinnertime narratives". Finally Jane Hill unveils
the reproduction of racial stereotypes in everyday
discourse by examining the usage of "Mock-Spanish", the
utilization of Spanish expressions or phonetical features,
by Anglo Americans.

CRITICAL EVALUATION
I would like to acknowledge, just from the start, that I am
glad Duranti, who teaches at the department of anthropology
at the University of California, Los Angeles, made this
compilation. Many of the articles included have been and in
many cases still are examples of highly innovative
scholarly work on issues of language related to culture.
Therefore it is to Duranti's (and the publisher's)
unquestionable credit that one does not have to gather a
scattered number of books and journals anymore in order to
get a representative overview over the last 50 years of
linguistic anthropological work.

It would be unfair however, to reduce Duranti's work solely
to the compiling and editing process. His introduction is
actually more than just a few preliminary words preparing
readers on what to expect from what follows. It is a
contribution on its own, providing an excellent (and long
overdue) discussion of terminology, American linguistic
anthropology's development within Cultural Anthropology,
its subsequent drift away from anthropology towards an
independent discipline increasingly focusing on theoretical
and formal linguistic issues, its rediscovery by
anthropologists in the late 1960s, and its reestablishment
as a subfield of anthropology in the 1980-90s. As a matter
of fact the discipline's history proves to be the read
thread leading through the whole text. To give an example:
Duranti illustrates how subdisciplines like linguistic
anthropology, anthropological linguistics,
ethnolinguistics, sociolinguistics and so on may differ in
terminology but not in content, or may differ in both
aspects depending on factors like place, time, academic
traditions, funding, and research opportunities (2-8). In
sum the introduction is a very well written and substantial
historical narrative centering on the academic study of
language in its cultural environment (or the study of
culture in its linguistic environment).

Of the texts compiled the overwhelming majority are
similarly well written and many of them provide fascinating
insights in a number of different aspects of language use
throughout a great range of cultures. However, the
selection of articles and authors seems to be somewhat
biased. As Duranti states in his introduction "it became
very difficult to include such authors [like linguist Roman
Jacobson and sociologist Erving Goffman, whose work has
been very influential to the discipline] without excluding
an even greater number [of authors] that have recently
helped to define linguistic anthropology as a discipline
with its own unique vision of language structures and
language practices" (2).

There is, indeed, a great predominance of authors with an
explicit anthropological background. Therefore it is to no
one's surprise that many authors presenting and analyzing
linguistic data make extensive use of primary ethnographic
sources as well (Bailey, Baquedano-L�pez, Duranti, Goodwin
and Goodwin, Heath, Mitchell-Kernan, Ochs and Schieffelin,
Ochs and Taylor, Philips, Spitulnik). However, it is
exactly the presentation of both, linguistic and
ethnographic data, that make many of the articles a highly
informative and at the same time entertaining reading.
Even though theoretical questions are considered in every
article, a few authors deal with theoretical questions to a
much higher degree. This does not mean the authors would
not use linguistic data but they do so in order to
illustrate their rather philosophical reasoning (Bauman,
Hymes, Irvine, Kroskrity, Silverstein, Whorf). Hence both,
concrete linguistic data and theoretical aspects are
addressed in each of the articles but to a varying degree
in each case.

As already mentioned the volume contains contributions
originally published within a time span of almost 50 years.
However, the majority was written in the 1990s (9). The
remaining articles are distributed as follows: 1950s (1),
1960s (1), 1970s (5), 1980s (3), 2000 (1). It is remarkable
that the majority of articles with a strong ethnographic
approach date from the 1990s. Duranti's possible preference
for this approach aside I think it is safe to say that this
selection indeed reflects a common trend in recent
linguistic anthropology.

Regarding the increasingly growing number of publications
centering on language and culture matters it is clear that
one has to exclude certain publications in order to keep
the total number of book pages within a reasonable limit.
Therefore personal preference as one of the criterions to
restrict the number of articles seems to be acceptable.
There has been other highly influential and innovative work
on the issues in question that was not included (scholars
like William Labov, Uriel Weinreich, Einar Haugen, George
Lakoff, Joshua Fishman, and especially Keith Basso come to
mind to name but a few) but the generally fine, often
excellent quality of the contributions selected justify
Duranti's choice. As a textbook this reader makes a very
useful teaching aid, as a source book it provides valuable
insights into the discipline of linguistic anthropology.

BIBLIOGRAPHY
Duranti, A. (1997) Linguistic Anthropology. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.

Duranti, A., ed. (1999 [2001]) Language Matters in
Anthropology: A Lexicon for the New Millennium, Special
Issue of the Journal of Linguistic Anthropology. Vol. 9 (1-
2). [Reprinted as Duranti, A., ed. (2001) Key Terms in
Language and Culture. Malden: Blackwell].

ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Lars v. Karstedt is an anthropologist (MA 1999, University
of Hamburg) with a strong interest in language,
linguistics, cognitive anthropology, American Indian
languages, and the ethnography of arctic and subarctic
peoples. At the moment he prepares a PhD dissertation on
the history of linguistic anthropology in Austria, Germany,
and Switzerland. He lives in Hamburg, Germany, is a hobby
Jazz musician (bass), has two children, several chickens,
two ducks, and still likes Frank Zappa and the Grateful Dead.
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