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Linguistic anthropology Language as a non neutral medium Alessandro Duranti To appear in The Cambridge Handbook of Sociolinguistics Edited by Raj Mesthrie Language is not a neutral medium that passes freely and easily into the private property of the speaker s intentions it is populated overpopulated with the intentions of others Expropriating it forcing it to submit to one s own intentions and accents is a difficult and complicated process Bakhtin 1981 294 Linguistic anthropology was born in the late 19th century out of early efforts in the United States to document North American Indian languages and establish anthropology as a professional discipline dedicated to the holistic study of what makes humans distinct from the rest of the animal world For the German born Franz Boas who played a key role in the shaping of North American anthropology the empirical study of unwritten aboriginal languages was just as important as and in some respects even more important than the study of human remains dwellings past and current rituals classificatory systems and artistic productions From its inception then linguistic anthropology arose as one of the four subfields of the U S tradition of anthropology with the other three being physical now biological anthropology archaeology and ethnology 8 25 09 2 now sociocultural anthropology This conceptual and institutional organization is found nowhere else but in Canada Boas fascination with American Indian languages played a major role in his decision to leave the field of geography and embrace anthropology Sponsored by John Wesley Powell at the Bureau of Ethnology later renamed the Bureau of American Ethnology or BAE Boas taught himself linguistic methods and managed to produce and encourage first rate grammatical descriptions of the native languages of North America e g Boas 1911 Stocking 1974 He used his knowledge of Kwakiutl and other Native American languages to argue against a Euro centric view of grammatical categories Boas



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