Anthropology 329: Language in Society
College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, NAU
Fall 2010, lecture T/Th 9:35-10:50
3 credit hours

Note: This syllabus is subject to revision. Students are responsible to check the course’s Vista page calendar before each class (twice weekly) for such changes and for assignments and course-related materials.

Instructor: James M. Wilce, Ph.D.
Office hours: M 4:30-5:30 (Anth Computer Lab, SBS West), T 11-12 (Computer Lab), and Weds. 1-2 (my office, room 101E, Anth Building)— or by appointment. (Really! Ask me for an appointment outside of the appointed times if they don’t work for you—meeting with you is important!
Office location: Emerald City, Bldg. 98D, Room 101E.
Contacts: Office phone 523-2729, email:
Course prerequisites: Declared major in anthropology with senior or junior standing on Louie. Seniors with a Linguistics Minor will be accepted as space permits.
Course description: Surveys the role of language in society and culture as well as methods of analyzing speech events as sociocultural phenomena.
Expanded course description:
This course surveys language and its role in society and culture, presenting a variety of approaches to the analysis of actual speech and speech events as sociocultural phenomena. It provides an overview of linguistic anthropology—the branch of anthropology that treats language as a cultural resource, and speaking as a social practice (Duranti 1997:1-2), and that links the analysis of linguistic/semiotic form to the interpretation of sociocultural phenomena. It provides an introductory knowledge of how languages are organized (phonetics, phonology, morphology, semantics, syntax, and pragmatics). It introduces a semiotic perspective on language, situating language as one among many systems of signs evident in the natural and human worlds. It aims to broaden students’ visions of the social and linguistic world by presenting various forms and levels of linguistic diversity and their relationship to social and cultural diversity. It enables students to accurately describe forms of language they encounter in their environments through recording and analysis of naturally-occurring speech. It thus enhances students’ potential for enjoying cross-cultural and cross-linguistic contacts throughout life.

Student Learning Expectations/Outcomes for This Course
Students will be able to:
1) Represent at an intermediate level two arguments that support claims for the four-field anthropological relevance of linguistic anthropology
2) Represent with rich detail language— its levels of structure— and other semiotic systems linguistic anthropologists focus on. What is language?
3) Trace at an intermediate level of detail the evolution of language from animal sign systems, noting the areas of continuity and discontinuity (scientific inquiry)
4) Demonstrate an intermediate understanding of linguistic varieties as means for signaling social identities
5) Design an appropriate test of a hypothesis about the relative power/effect/impact of some bit of speech based on its semiotic features
6) Write a clear description of how communities around the world socialize children to and through the use of language
7) Analyze a real-world example of (political or “religious”) ritual text— i.e. text involved in locally-perceived cosmic or transformative— that reveals some reasons for its ritual effectiveness.
8) Describe at least one linguistic-anthropological research method and its relation to anthropology as a whole
9) Articulate one area of ethical tension in linguistic anthropological research
10) List, define, and briefly describe three language ideologies
11) Compare dominant American language ideologies with those common in another society
12) Distinguish “society” from “culture” by listing one linguistic anthropological issue that exemplifies the concerns of cultural anthropology, and another that illustrates the concerns of social anthropology
13) Represent at an intermediate level the contributions of linguistic anthropology to anthropological theory.

Assessment of Student Learning Outcomes:
Methods of Assessment
1) Written exercises in linguistic analysis are to be found in OSU or will be available online. Exercises must be turned in weekly according to the schedule on the last page as announced in lecture. Some will entail analysis of field recordings (audio and video).
2) There will be a fieldwork assignment designed to introduce you to the work linguistic anthropologists do. You will write a final paper analyzing naturally-occurring speech that you have recorded and transcribed. A list of approved topics and readings, along with instructions, will be published on the course’s Vista pages.
3) Before the final paper, to help you learn the theoretical background for it, you will write a brief critique— not a summary, but a critical contextualization— of one or two readings outside of those listed here, according to your topic.
4) Other assignments may be announced in lecture and posted on the course website.

There will be regular quizzes on the readings. These are to be completed by the times announced on the Vista calendar.

There will be a midterm and a cumulative final exam. The midterm will be mostly objective but may include some short essay questions. The final may contain both sorts of questions. Exams will cover lectures and readings. In addition to tests, quizzes may be given on reading assignments, even before lectures on that topic have been given.

Timeline for Assessment
Written exercises (mostly early in the semester)
Quizzes (throughout the semester)
Exams (two)
projects (end of semester)


Course structure: The approach taken in this course combines lectures, quizzes on readings to be completed before class, in-class discussion, exercises, and field research assignments. In break-out periods in class, students will work with the instructor and G.A. on the skills necessary to carry out analytic exercises, field recording, and transcription.
Texts and materials:
Required texts:
1) Laura Ahearn, Language in Anthropological Perspective
2) Ohio State University. 10th edition. Language files: Materials for an introduction to language. (OSU) (Exercises are listed as follows in the schedule: 1.5 [etc.])
3) Duranti, Alessandro. 1997. Linguistic Anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (LA)  Online through Vista
4) ________________, ed. 2001. Linguistic Anthropology: A Reader. Oxford
Malden, MA: Blackwell. (R)

Other readings and required materials:
5) There will be some outside readings that you must download from the course’s Vista pages. You can print these Adobe pdf files from the computers at Cline or any of the Learning Resource Center computers on campus. Library or Learning Resource Center staff sometimes have time to help you do this.
6) Tape recorder, or digital audio recorder; camcorder access would be very useful but is not required. No mini audio tapes; these are of poor quality.

Grading system:
Grades will be assigned on a point basis. Although the points will eventually translate into letter grades, letter grades will not be written on assignments or tests. Students will be responsible to calculate their standing throughout the semester according to any announcements during lectures (e.g. if a curve is assigned to a particular midterm) or by using the traditional percentage breakdown (>90% of the potential points = “A,” etc.).
Failure to hand in a given assignment will result in an automatic “F.”
            The total of 500 points will be assigned as follows:

Quizzes &Exams


Papers & exercises


Attendance and Participation





Research paper






Analysis exercises




Critical review


A= 450 points, or 90% of the highest grade in the class, whichever is to your benefit.
B= 400 points, or 80%  “                    “                      “                                  “
C= 350 points, or 70% “                     “                      “                                  “
D= 300 points, or 60% “                     “                      “                                  “
F= less than 300 points, or below 60% of the highest grade in the class

Common courtesy: Come to class on time, remain until lecture is formally over (i.e., don’t start packing up before the lecture is over), don’t leave the class room during class, don’t talk among yourselves when someone else has the floor, don’t put your feet up, and don’t use or monitor walkman-type devices, cell phones, tape recorders, or pagers in the classroom.

Specific course policies:

  1. Students who miss the first two lectures will be administratively dropped.
  2. In-class behavior: An atmosphere of mutual respect, and respect for the university, will be enforced. Example: Putting feet on desks is unacceptable; gum chewing does not show or invite respect.
  3. There will be no re-tests or make-up tests, except in case of well-attested medical emergencies, an essay exam will be given
  4. Assignment deadlines: Assignments will be graded down 10% for every class period they are late. Send completed homework assignments in to class with a friend if you are sick and cannot deliver the paper in person on the due date.
  5. Attendance and participation: Students are responsible for everything said during class; your classmates’ contributions to discussion sometimes give shape to a particular exam question. Part of your grade will reflect regular positive participation in class, lab, and office hours. “Disagree without being disagreeable.” Attend regularly, be on time, and be responsible. If you find you must always be late or leave early, you must drop the class. Note: Lectures will supplement the readings. In no case will the lecture duplicate the readings.
  6. There will be no tolerance of cheating on exams or homework. Students suspected of cheating may be confronted during or after any quiz or exam and will receive an “F.” Analysis problems are to be solved individually.
  7. Plagiarism in written assignments will not be tolerated. It is not hard for an instructor to detect which words are a student’s and which have been copied, even if the source is not our textbook. Points will be taken off for copying material written by others without citing the source properly. For example, you might mention “natural selection in favor of high intelligence” in a paper, in which case you must cite the author, the date of publication, and the page number of the quotation (Bonvillain 1995: 17). Even if you paraphrase, you should give credit in precisely the same way if your idea comes directly from a given page of writing, and simply leave off the page number if your statement is indebted to another’s writing in a more general way. The positive message is to do your own work in the final paper: your own data-collection, analysis, and interpretation. Dialogue with the ideas of other thinkers, but don’t lose your own voice.

8) Writing papers: Students with difficulties in writing research papers and essay questions on exams will be referred for tutorial assistance on campus. Failure to follow through with referrals made by the professor will affect the grade of your final paper.
9)  Swine flu policy: “While class attendance is required per the above stated policy, please be cautious about attending class if you are feeling ill.  Please inform me by phone or email if you are feeling unwell; if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms, you should not attend class; please take precautions not to infect others, and seek medical attention if your symptoms worsen.”

NOTE- This syllabus, including the schedule on the next page, is subject to revision. Students are responsible for announcements made and/or distributed in class, whether or not they are present in class.



Assigned Rdg.

Other Assignments

Videos & Recommended Readings



(1) What is linguistic anthropology?

Ahearn chapter 1

Wikipedia article

Duranti (1997: 1-32)



(2) Why Language in Society?



Irvine video



(3) Linganth methods, apps, & ethical issues

Ahearn chapter 2


Farnell & Graham (Vista)



(4) Semiotics: Signs and sign systems

Noble and Davidson 1996, and Urban 1992 (Vista)





(5) What is language? How did it evolve?

OSU chapters 2-5; Vista





(6) Linguistic diversity



Schieffelin video



(7) Language, thought & culture

Ahearn chapter 4





Midterm review & exam






(8) Lg & social groups// categories

Ahearn chapters 5-6

Hill (Vista)




(9) Vocalization, voice, & authority

Feld et al 2004 (Vista)


Caton video



(10) Language, performance, performativity

Ahearn chapter 8

Silverstein (Vista)

Keane video



(11) Agency, structure, & language

Ahearn chapters 9 &10


Briggs video



(12) Language Socialization

Ahearn chapter 3

Ochs & Capps (Vista, Duranti)




(13) Language death & revitalization

Ahearn chapter 13-14


“Is this supposed to save my language?” [video from Cline]









Final exam