by Arwen Kimmell

Linguistics and Anthropology are connected through the transfer of theoretical frameworks as well as, overlapping scholars.  A focus on language has been a part of Anthropology from the time of Boas, and concepts and frameworks from the works of theoretical linguists have influenced structuralist theories in Anthropology.  Linguists have benefited from both the original linguistic data collected by anthropologists and from an awareness of social and cultural factors on language usage.  In this essay, I have examined the current (2006) connections between the two fields by examining institutional associations between the two disciplines found in associations, universities, conferences, and journals.  In addition I have identified key individuals and books, which also help to illustrate these connections.

  • Associations with overlapping membership

A survey of online sources and curricula vitae indicated many professional associations that attract both anthropologists and linguists. For example: International Pragmatics AssociationLinguistic Society of AmericaInternational Linguistic AssociationSociety for Linguistic AnthropologyAmerican Anthropological AssociationInternational Association of Applied Linguistics; as well as many overlapping area studies associations.

  • Joint PhD, Masters or BA programs

Although joint programs in linguistics and anthropology are not common, they do exist.  The University of Arizona and the University of Chicago have joint PhD programs, which allows students to combine the resources (courses, faculty, etc) in both departments while pursuing one degree.  The University of Massachusetts Amherst and NYU offer similar joint programs for undergraduates. University at Albany (SUNY) has an interdisciplinary program in linguistics and cognitive science in their anthropology department, which draws from several disciplines including linguistics and anthropology. These programs varyingly originate in either linguistics or anthropology departments, but not in both.

More common are programs in linguistic anthropology in anthropology departments.  Not all anthropology departments have a program in linguistic anthropology, although many offer an introductory course and have a faculty person who focuses on language.  In some cases students working on a degree in linguistic anthropology in an anthropology department will be required to take courses in the linguistics department.  Additionally, some linguistics programs also have elective courses available in linguistic anthropology.


  • Journals and book series which combine the two disciplines

There are several book series, which address the intersection of linguistics and anthropology. Cambridge University Press has Key Topics in SociolinguisticsStudies in the Social and Cultural Foundations of Language.  Oxford University Press has the following series, Oxford Studies in SociolinguisticsOxford Studies in Anthropological Linguistics. In addition, Blackwell has the current series Language in Society.


Linguists and anthropologists publish in many of the same journals, and contribute to common edited volumes.  Here is a list of primarily journals publishing articles of interest to both disciplines:


Anthropology journals include:


American Anthropologist – Anthropological Linguistics – Annual Review of Anthropology – Current Anthropology


Linguistics journals include:


Annual Review of Applied Linguistics – International Journal Of American Linguistics – Discourse and Society – International Journal of the Sociology of Language – International Sociolinguistic Perspectives – Journal of Pragmatics – Journal of Sociolinguistics – Language – Language in Society – Linguistic Inquiry – Pragmatics – Text – Word

And, the Journal of American Folklore also contains articles by and for both linguists and anthropologists.


  • Important recent conferences or seminars which combine the disciplines


In addition to the American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting and theLinguistic Society of America Annual Meeting, which attract both linguists and anthropologists, there are other common conferences including the Conversation Analysis Conference,  the Sociolinguistics Symposium, the Workshop on the Semantics and Pragmatics of Dialogue,  the American Association of Applied Linguistics Conference, the Annual Conference on Language, Interaction, and Culture, and theGender and Language Association Conference.


  • A few of the major books which have a major contemporary influence on the two are:


Austin, John Langshaw. 1962. How To Do Things With Words. Cambridge: Harvard

University Press.


Berlin, Brent, and Paul Kay. 1969. Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution. 

Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.


Bourdieu, Pierre. 1991. Language & Symbolic Power. Cambridge, MA: Harvard

University Press.


Brenneis, Don & Ronald Macauley, eds. 1998. The Matrix of Language. Boulder, CO:

Westview Press.


Duranti, Alessandro, ed. 2001. Linguistic Anthropology: A Reader. Malden, MA:

Blackwell Press.

de Saussure, Ferdinand. 1972. Course in General Linguistics La Salle, IL: Open

Court Classics.


Goffman, Erving. 1981. Forms of Talk. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.


Gumperz, John J. 1982. Discourse Strategies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Jakobson, Roman. 1979 Six Lectures on Sound and Meaning. Cambridge, MA: MIT



Labov, William. 1973. Sociolinguistic Patterns. Philadelphia, PA: University of

Pennsylvania Press.

Newmeyer, F. J. (Ed.), 1989. Language: The socio-cultural context. New York:

Cambridge University Press.

Searle, John R. 1979. Expression and Meaning: Studies in the Theory of Speech Acts.

Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press.


Whorf, Benjamin Lee. 1956. Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings of

Benjamin Lee Whorf. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


  • Key individuals who seem to play a role in connecting the two (in no particular order)


Dell Hymes                           William Labov                            Allesandro Duranti


John Gumperz                       Richard Bauman                         Susan Gal


Judith Irvine                          Michael Silverstein                      Charles Briggs


Elinor Ochs                           Bambi Schieffelin                       William Hanks


Erving Goffman                    Donald Brenneis                         Benjamin Lee Whorf


  • Websites or other online resources


Language & Culture

The Linguist List

Social Science Directory

Linguistic Anthropology

Journals for Ling-Anthropologists

Journals in Anthropology and Linguistics


Guide to Internet Resources in Anthropology

Sociolinguistics Resources

Linguistic Anthropology Resources


  • Sample of major and minor universities – joint appointed/interdisciplinary faculty


Major Universities:


University of Pennsylvania


  • Anthropology Core Faculty and Lecturers/Research Associates:  23
    • 2 Linguistic Anthropologists
    • Adjunct Faculty:     20
    • Emeritus Faculty:  9 (1 Linguistic Anthropologist)
  • At the undergraduate level, linguistic anthropology is subsumed under the Social/Cultural Anthropology category.
  • Linguistics Department Core Faculty and Lecturers/Research Associates:  15
    • 2 faculty members list sociolinguistics as a specialty.
    • Adjunct Faculty: 3
    • Emeritus Faculty: 2
  • The University of Pennsylvania has “Graduate Groups” of faculty members who come together to evaluate graduate students.  There is 1 linguistics professor in the Anthropology Graduate Group and 1 anthropology professor in the Linguistics Graduate Group.
  • They also have an interdisciplinary “Program in Language, Culture and Society” allowing students to combine interests in Anthropology, Education, Communications, Folklore and Folklife, Linguistics, and Sociology.


Indiana University


  • In Indiana University’s Anthropology Department there is a Linguistic Anthropology track
  • Anthropology Core Faculty: 35
    • 3 Linguistic Anthropologists
    • Adjunct Faculty:     25  (2 from Linguistics)
    • Emeritus Faculty:    5
  • In their Linguistics Department there is no specific track in sociolinguistics or linguistic anthropology,
  • Linguistics Core Faculty: 13 (1 adjunct in Anthropology)
    • 3 faculty members who list a specialty in sociolinguistics.
    • Adjunct Faculty:     16  (0 affiliated with Anthropology; 4 list interest in Sociolinguistics or related topic)
    • Emeritus Faculty:    2 (1 is adjunct in Anthropology)


University of California, Berkley


  • UC Berkley’s Anthropology department offers PhDs in Social/Cultural Anthropology and Archaeology, but includes a linguistic component.
  • Anthropology Core Faculty: 28
    • 4 Linguistic Anthropologists
    • Affiliated Faculty/Researchers:  18 (1 from Linguistics)
    • Emeritus Faculty:    15 (1 Linguistic Anthropology)
    • Visiting Faculty/Scholars and Post-Docs:  18
  • In the Linguistics Department  there are two “Research Areas” related to anthropology: “Fieldwork & Language Description” and “Language & Social Context.”
  • Linguistics Core Faculty: 15 (2 Sociolinguists)
  • Affiliated Faculty/Researchers:  4 (1 from Anthropology)
  • Emeritus Faculty:    6 (1 Linguistic Anthropologist)
  • Visiting Faculty/Scholars and Post-Docs:  1


Liberal Arts: Davidson College


  • In the Anthropology department at Davidson College, there is no linguistic anthropology track, no courses on linguistics, and no faculty specializing in language.
  • Anthropology Core Faculty: 5
    • Adjunct Faculty:     0
    • Emeritus Faculty:    0
  • There is no Linguistics Department
  • The English Department and the Spanish Department each have one course in linguistics.
  • There is no apparent connection between these linguistics courses and the anthropology department.


Minor Universities:


University at Albany (SUNY)


  • The department of Anthropology has an undergraduate program in Linguistic and Cognitive Science drawing faculty from several departments including 4 from Anthropology.
  • Anthropology Core Faculty:  18
    • Linguistic Anthropologists: 4
    • Adjunct Faculty:     0
    • Emeritus Faculty:    4
  • There is no Department of Linguistics.
  • There do not appear to be linguists in other departments who have connections to the Anthropology department.


Kansas State University


  • Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work
  • Anthropology Department has a 4 field focus, and requires students to take Linguistic Anthropology courses.
  • Anthropology Core Faculty:  7
    • Linguistic Anthropologists: 1 (In the process of hiring a second)
    • Adjunct Faculty:     4
    • Emeritus Faculty:  2
  • There is no Linguistics Department
  • The Department of English has a program in “Language, Composition, and Rhetoric” which allows students to focus on linguistics if they choose.
  • 1 faculty member interested in linguistics – no indication there is a focus on sociolinguistics.
  • There do not appear to be institutional connections between these faculty or departments.


University of Wyoming


  • Anthropology department offers courses in Linguistic Anthropology, but no undergraduate concentration or graduate specialization in language.
  • Anthropology Core Faculty:  13
    • 1 Linguistic Anthropologist
    • Adjunct Faculty:     5
    • Emeritus Faculty:  2
  • There is no department of Linguistics.
  • The Department of English has an English as a Second Language Endorsement, which includes sociolinguistics classes.
  • Modern and Classical Languages Department also offers a course in sociolinguistics currently taught by a professor from the Spanish Department.
  • There appears to be no affiliation between these departments/individuals and the Anthropology Department.


Liberal Arts: Juniata College


  • Department of Sociology, Anthropology, Social Work, and Criminal Justice: Core Faculty:  6  (only 1 anthropologist)
    • Adjunct Faculty:     0
    • Emeritus Faculty:  0
  • There is no Linguistics Department.
  • There is no linguistics offered through this department; but they recommend a grammar course as well as interpersonal & intercultural communication courses offered through the department of Department of English, Communications, and Theater Arts.
  • There appears to be no affiliation between the faculty of these departments and anthropology.


  • Some measure of the size of the inter, trans, and cross-disciplinary movement

I believe there is more movement between Linguistics and Anthropology than between many other disciplines due to the subfields of Sociolinguistics and Linguistic Anthropology, which provide the space for conversations across disciplinary boundaries.  Although there is opportunity for movement between these fields within institutions, through adjunct appointments, interdisciplinary programs and other kinds of affiliations, I do not believe that the affiliations found institutionally are an accurate picture of the quantity of movement between them. I believe that a thorough investigation of the actual work produced by linguists and anthropologists would illustrate more overlap in content, as well as sharing of common references. In addition, connections could be made through participation in area studies programs between scholars in the two fields, which would not become clear through this investigation focusing only on Anthropology and Linguistics.  Scholars working at the intersection of Linguistics and Anthropology are also found in departments not investigated here including (but certainly not limited to) Folklore, Communication and Culture, English, and other individual language programs.  I also believe that there are obstacles to official institutional connections in universities do to the bureaucratic structure of the institutions, as well as politics between and within departments, that may limit official affiliation. Investigation into the research interests of individuals working within these disciplines and their publications suggests that there is a large amount of overlap in their work, even if they are not officially affiliated with multiple departments. A more accurate evaluation of the level of connection between individuals, theories, and research in these disciplines would require an intense investigation into these connections in addition to institutional affiliations.




Anthropology and Linguistics have a long and complex history.  This project has attempted to provide a contemporary description of the ways in which these two disciplines are connected.  The connections between the disciplines of linguistics and anthropology can primarily be found in their sub disciplines, linguistic anthropology and sociolinguistics.  Some definitions are in order to begin.  Alessandro Duranti, in his textbook, Linguistic Anthropology says that the discipline, also called anthropological linguistics or ethnolinguistics, is, “the study of language as a cultural resource and speaking as a cultural practice (2),” and that “linguistic anthropologists work at producing ethnographically grounded accounts of linguistic structures as used by real people in real time and space” (3).  Suzanne Romaine in the introduction to her textbook, Language in Society An Introduction to Sociolinguistics says, “sociolinguistics has close connections with the social sciences, in particular, sociology, anthropology, social psychology, and education” (ix). According to Romaine, sociolinguistics is concerned with “the place of language in society, and to address in particular the social context of linguistic diversity” (ix).  It is clear that these subdisciplines of Linguistics and Anthropology overlap in interests, theories, and methodology, in addition to sharing individuals both officially through institutional alliances as well as more informally through common research goals, and historical connections through common ancestors.  This project has highlighted some of the ways in which they connect through common academic institutions in larger research universities.




Duranti, Alessandro

1997. Linguistic Anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Duranti, Alessandro, ed.

2001. Linguistic Anthropology: A Reader. Malden, MA: Blackwell Press.


Romaine, Suzanne

1994. Language in Society: An Introduction to Sociolinguistics. Oxford: Oxford

University Press.


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