by Arwen Kimmell


Anthropology and linguistics have been connected throughout time in various complex ways.  Linguists, anthropologists, and scholars somewhere in between identifying as linguistic anthropologists and/or sociolinguists have collaborated, borrowed theories from each other, and built upon each other’s ideas.  Works by linguists Roman Jakobson and Ferdinand de Saussure were instrumental in the development of anthropological structuralism.  Anthropologist Edward Sapir and his student Benjamin Lee Whorf contributed the theory of linguistic relativity, which continues to influence both linguistics and anthropology today.  In addition anthropologists have not only collected large amounts invaluable linguistic data throughout their fieldwork, they, along with linguists and other scholars (folklorists, sociologists) interested in cultural and societal elements of language and communication, but also have inspired work on many aspects of language in use, language in context, language variation, language contact, pragmatics, discourse analysis, performance, and many others. 

This essay will first provide a timeline including a selection of important books influencing both linguistic and anthropological theory as well as the foundation of common associations, conferences and symposia, which provide venues for conversation and collaboration between individuals found at the intersection of linguistics and anthropology.  Then I will present the results of a survey of two commonly used introductory textbooks Cultural Anthropology, edited by William Haviland and Language Files: Materials for an Introduction to Language & Linguistics, edited by members of the Ohio State Linguistics Department, published between the late 1970’s and the early 2000’s.  In each textbook I identified sections that contained content overlapping with the other discipline.  I then tracked these changes over time, identifying points in time where the content increased, decreased and changed.  My goal has been to identify the ways in which these textbooks have illustrated the connections between these two disciplines, as well as key ideas or individuals important to both, throughout time.


Timeline of Important Books, Meetings and Organizations

           In this section I have compiled a timeline including the founding of associations and conferences which provide a venue for the intersection of Linguistics and Anthropology.  In addition I have included books that have had influence in both fields identified through a survey of syllabi and textbooks from the two fields. 

  • 1956 Whorf, Benjamin Lee. 1956. Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • 1962 Austin, John Langshaw. 1962. How To Do Things With Words. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • 1969 Berlin, Brent, and Paul Kay. 1969. Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution.  Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
  • 1972 de Saussure, Ferdinand. 1972. Course in General Linguistics La Salle, IL: Open Court Classics.
  • 1973 Labov, William. 1973. Sociolinguistic Patterns. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • 1978 Jakobson, Roman. 1979 Six Lectures on Sound and Meaning. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • 1979 Searle, John R. 1979. Expression and Meaning: Studies in the Theory of Speech Acts. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press.
  • 1981 Goffman, Erving. 1981. Forms of Talk. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • 1982 Gumperz, John J. 1982. Discourse Strategies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • 1991 Bourdieu, Pierre. 1991. Language & Symbolic Power. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


Cultural Anthropology

           A review of five editions of William A. Haviland’s Cultural Anthropology textbooks published between 1978 and 2002 show that the amount of space devoted to linguistics and language has remained relatively consistent.  Each of these five editions contains sixteen chapters, and one, chapter four, is always devoted to “Language and Communication.  These chapters range between twenty and twenty-nine pages, and represent between four and five percent of the total text. 


Total Pages

Language Pages


# of suggested readings

2nd – 1978





5th - 1987





7th – 1993





9th – 1999





10th – 2002






           The first sections of this chapter contain the same content throughout all of the editions.  It briefly discusses phonology, morphology, grammar and syntax, paralanguage, kinesics and linguistic change.  The following section, “Language in its Cultural Setting,” appears in all editions, also in relatively stable form.  These sections all contain information on language and thought, kinship terms, social dialects, and the origins of language.  In the 1978 edition, this section also includes sections on taboo words, and transformational grammar.  This edition also contains an original study on “animals humans, and communication.”  The 1987 edition contains the section on taboo words, and an original study on, “The Logic of Nonstandard English.”  In the 1993 edition the section on taboo words is replaced with one on language and gender.  There is also a new applied anthropology section on, “Language Renewal among the Northern Ute” and the original study is now on “Sexism and the English Language.”  Between the 1993 and 1999 editions, the only change is in the original study, which changes to “The Great Ebonics Controversy” in 1999.  The 2002 edition covers the same topics as the 1999 with no additions or subtractions.

           In each edition, the chapter on “Language and Communication” includes a section on “suggested readings,” termed “classic readings” in the 2002 edition.  These suggested reading lists do not reflect much change in the 24 years between the second edition and the tenth edition of this text, and the suggested readings refer only to the topics covered in the chapter.  Two texts appear on all five reading lists: R. L. Birdwhistell’s Kinesics and Context: Essays in Body Motion Communication and G.L. Trager’s Paralanguage: A First Approximation.  The changes that do occur over time in the reading lists do not reflect changes in content, but the deletion of texts, and occasionally updating to a more recent volume on the same topic, and there are no differences at all between the 1999 and 2002 reading lists.  Although the suggested readings provide additional references pertaining to some of the topics introduced in the chapters, they do not reflect innovations in the fields of Linguistics or Anthropology.  The two places where there is actual change in the content of these texts are in the addition of the “Anthropology Applied: Language Renewal Among the Northern Ute,” which appears in 1993, 1999 and 2002 editions, and in the “original study” sections discussed above.  All of these “original studies” from different editions combined give just a few examples of the many ways language is studied by anthropologists both historically and in contemporary scholarship.    


Language Files

Language Files: Materials for an Introduction to Language is an introductory textbook used in many beginning general or theoretical linguistics courses.  It has been published by the Ohio State Linguistics Department, beginning in 1979.  Each of the nine editions published between 1979 and 2004, was edited by a variety of individuals associated with that department.  A review of these texts illustrates interesting changes in the representation of the connections between linguistics and anthropology.  Language Files began as a collection of actual file folders used in the introductory linguistics classes at Ohio State University, which they formalized and published between 1977 and 1979. The Advocate Publishing Group in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, published the first four editions and beginning with the fifth edition in 1991 the volumes were published by the Ohio University Press in Columbus, Ohio. The first three editions do not have page numbers and are not indexed, and each edition adds more files, increases the number of topics covered, or includes more pages increasing the length of the discussion on various topics.

In the 1979 edition there are 131 files are arranged into 13 sections.  The intersections of language and society and/or culture are acknowledged in this first edition in several ways.  Anthropological linguistics, sociolinguistics, applied linguistics and pragmatics are all defined as “Major Subfields of Linguistics” in File 2.  These definitions are included in all editions, either in the “Subfields” section or in the glossary.  This first edition included six files with content relevant to the discipline’s connections with anthropology that focus on regional and social variation, dialects, sex differences, and speech styles.  The second edition, published in 1982, covers the same topics, and also includes files on pragmatics regarding speech acts and conversational rules.  The third edition (1985) adds to these topics by adding a section on “Applications for Linguistics” with files on discourse analysis and the use of language in advertising.

The fourth edition, from 1988, provides the most innovation in regards to anthropology.  In this edition, edited by Carolyn McManis, Deorah Stollenwerk and Zhang Zheng-Sheng, new sections are created devoted to “Anthropological Linguistics,” “Pragmatics”, and “Social Variation.”  In addition to materials previously appearing in other sections, files included in the 1988 edition now cover the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, language origins, and sound symbolism.  In this edition, the number of files relating to anthropology more than doubles, from eight in 1985 to 17 in 1988.  In 1991 the fifth edition no longer includes a section on Anthropological Linguistics, but the file on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis remains in a section called, “Language in a Wider Context,” which also includes a new file on “Color Terms” which outlines Berlin and Kay’s work on the universality of color categories.  In the sixth-ninth editions (1994, 1998, 2001, 2004), anthropological content becomes stabilized in three sections, “Pragmatics,” “Language Variation,” and “Language in a Wider Context.”  In these four editions, there is very little change in the content regarding anthropological issues.  The only variation occurs with the location of the “Color Terms” file, which moves from a section on semantics into the section on language in context.  In each of these four editions the number of pages increases between 40 and 50 pages, but the total number of files is reduced from the first five editions.  The files related to anthropology remain relatively consistent, but because the total files are reduced, the percentage of content related to anthropology more than doubles when compared to the first five editions (See chart below).


Total Sections

Total Files

Files with overlapping content


1 – 1979





2 – 1982





3 – 1985





4 – 1988





5 – 1991





6 – 1994





7 – 1998





8 – 2001





9 – 2004






           Reviewing the overlapping content of Language Files: Materials for an Introduction to Language through its the nine editions shows that over time this commonly used introductory linguistics textbook has increased its coverage of topics found at the intersection of linguistics and anthropology.  There are two major shifts in quantity of coverage, and inclusion of important topics, which overlap.  The largest increase in content occurs between the 1985 and 1988 editions.  One topic included for the first time in the 1988 edition, that has maintained its status by being included, unchanged, in all subsequent editions provides a review of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, also called the hypothesis of linguistic relativism.  This file describes Whorf’s proposition that, “the world view of a culture is subtly conditioned by the structure of its language,” credited to Whorf’s 1956 publication Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf (McManis: 1988, 31-33).  Another particularly relevant file, “Color Terms,” first appears in the fifth edition published in 1991, and although it moves between sections in later volumes, it appears in all of the later editions.  This file presents a brief summary of the collaborative work of an anthropologist, Brent Berlin, and a linguist, Paul Kay, questioning the universality of color categories across cultures published in 1969 in, Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution.  The consistent inclusion of these topics throughout time, the acknowledgement of anthropological linguistics, sociolinguistics, applied linguistics and pragmatics as “Major Subfields of Linguistics,” and the increase in the quantity of anthropology related topics over time in a widely used introductory linguistics textbook, all indicate that the overlap between linguistics and anthropology has a long history, which has increased in both quantity and quality over time.



Reviewing these introductory linguistics and anthropology textbooks has provided interesting insight into the connections between linguistics and anthropology throughout time.  Each of these textbooks devotes time to discussion of the other discipline and the content overlapping between the two disciplines. The anthropology textbooks provide an overview of work typically associated with general, theoretical linguistics, rather than linguistic anthropology or sociolinguistics, including phonology, morphology and syntax, and the linguistic textbooks contain topics relevant to the study of language and culture. I would propose that anthropology and anthropologists have adopted or built upon more linguistics theories than those working in the other direction, but in the case of these particular textbooks, the linguistics volumes consistently contain a larger percentage of content relating to (linguistic) anthropology, and that content is more dynamic in its response to theoretical developments.  Throughout time the various editions of Language Files included increasingly more content relevant to anthropology, and that content reflected both historical influences and current trends, particularly in linguistic anthropology and sociolinguistics.  The areas of overlap between the two texts tend to be in those areas of increasing interest in the two fields including gender, endangered languages, politics and different dialects, particularly African American English.  What is clear from this survey is that anthropology and linguistics both claim the overlapping content between their disciplines and consistently devote time in their introductory texts to covering the ground they share, and introducing individuals who influenced them both. 


Bisantz, Annette S. and Keith A. Johnson

1985 [1979] Language Files: Materials for an Introduction to Language.

3rd edition. Reynoldsburg, OH: Advocate Publishing Group.


Cipollone, Nick, Steven Hartman Keiser and Shravan Vasishth

1998 [1979] Language Files: Materials for an Introduction to Language.

7th edition. Columbus, OH: Ohio University Press.


Crabtree, Monica and Joyce Powers

1991 [1979] Language Files: Materials for an Introduction to Language.

5th edition. Columbus, OH: Ohio University Press.


Geoghegan, Sheila Graves, F. Christian Latta, John W. Perkins, and Deborah B. Schaffer

1979 Language Files: Materials for an Introduction to Language.

Reynoldsburg, OH: Advocate Publishing Group.


Godby, Carol Jean. Rex Wallace and Catherine Jolley

1982 [1979] Language Files: Materials for an Introduction to Language.

2nd edition. Reynoldsburg, OH: Advocate Publishing Group.


Haviland, William A.

           1978 [1975] Cultural Anthropology. 2nd edition. Austin, TX: Holt, Rinehart

and Winston.


Haviland, William A.

           1987 [1975] Cultural Anthropology. 5th edition. New York, NY: CBS

College Publishing.


Haviland, William A.

1993 [1975] Cultural Anthropology. 7th edition. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt

Brace College Publishers.


Haviland, William A.

1999 [1975] Cultural Anthropology. 9th edition. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt

Brace College Publishers.


Haviland, William A.

2002 [1975] Cultural Anthropology. 10th edition. London: Wadsworth

           Thomson Learning.


Jannedy, Stefanie, Robert Poletto and Tracey L. Weldon

1994 [1979] Language Files: Materials for an Introduction to Language.

6th edition. Columbus, OH: Ohio University Press.


McManis, Carolyn, Deborah Stollenwerk and Zhang Zheng-Sheng

1988 [1979] Language Files: Materials for an Introduction to Language.

4th edition. Reynoldsburg, OH: Advocate Publishing Group.


Stewart, Thomas Jr. and Nathan Vaillette

2001 [1979] Language Files: Materials for an Introduction to Language.

8th edition. Columbus, OH: Ohio University Press.


Tserdandelis, Georgios and Wai Yi Peggy Wong

2004 [1979] Language Files: Materials for an Introduction to Language.

9th edition. Columbus, OH: Ohio University Press.


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