Scholars studying the anthropology of work have traditionally been interested in questions of power, class, inequality, moral economy, and the transformations brought about by global capitalism. To address these larger questions, workplace ethnography gives attention to both interactional and systemic level analysis, making linguistic methods a powerful tool for studying both talk at work and institutional discourse. Language has many social functions within the workplace, from the organization of tasks and goals to the ways people navigate relationships and perform identity. Linguistic theoretical and methodological perspectives are applied to the study of power and gatekeeping practices in institutional settings, performance of identity and gender at work, and inequalities related to race, ethnicity, and perceptions of accent. Linguistic practices in the neoliberal global economy are also an economic resource to be managed, regulated, scripted, and marketed, as part of the reflexive project of worker self-improvement. Language is also a form of labor itself in global customer service interactions, accent-reduction training, and contexts of tourism. Thus, workplace ethnography and language study complement each other, and linguistic methods and theory may be applied to major questions in the field of anthropology of work.
Lauren A. Hayes
Robert Hariman, Shauna LaTosky, Michał Mokrzan, Jamin Pelkey, and Ivo Strecker
Pragmatic linguistics, discourse analysis, and the ethnography of speaking developed rapidly from the middle of the 20th century, when researchers began to be able to take ever smaller and more efficient audiovisual recording equipment to the field, and computers helped them play back, analyze, and discuss these especially rich new data with their interlocutors on location and with their colleagues at home. Part of this newly energized research was the comparative study of rhetoric—that is, of how distinctive speech practices could have persuasive effects. It soon led to the finding that specific forms of culture produce specific forms of rhetoric, as when economic horizons (hunters, herders, cultivators, etc.) provide specific metaphorical repertoires. However, a further finding took longer to emerge. It was first articulated by the rhetoric culture project, which seeks to explore not only how culture structures rhetoric but also how rhetoric structures culture. This fundamental chiasmus was initially discussed at several international conferences in Germany and the United States and has been elaborated in nine volumes of the Berghahn Books series Studies in Rhetoric and Culture (2009–2022). A key premise of Rhetoric Culture Theory (RCT) is that human beings are neither fully free nor fully determined in what they can do, and that this tension is mediated by the continual generation of discourses from the interaction between intention, convention, and performance. Stephen Tyler has provided a model for this complex process which illustrates the open-ended and emergent nature of discourse and explains how cultures, with their diverse customs, conventions, habits, and lifestyles, are self-organizing configurations continually recreated, negotiated, and changed through texts and performances. Cultural explanation is advanced through attention to processes of argument and appeal, dissonance and resonance, variation and feedback, and the like, but the results may not be objectively functional. Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s Don Quixote de la Mancha was chosen as RCT’s icon and telling example of this rhetorically produced and potentially fantastic nature of culture. RCT is also inspired and supported by understandings of the power of the word in other (and especially non-European) cultures. An example of this is Baldambe (Father of the Dark Brown Cow), an elder from Hamar, southern Ethiopia, who provided “historic” moments where in collaboration with the ethnographer spoken words were transformed into written ones, and texts with their own distinctive features and literary style emerged as documented in a number of publications. RCT is also influenced by the tenor of its time, not least an impending climate collapse and other threats that characterize the Anthropocene. Rhetorical and cultural abundance can be part of the existential crisis and resources for renewal on behalf of equity and sustainability. Reflecting on the relationship between speech practices and deep problems can reveal how all of culture is challenged by vicissitudes that are unanticipated and that scale up disastrously, and that call up inventive answers while testing the limits of human ingenuity.
Online archives to preserve and share Indigenous language and culture materials emerged in the 1990s and 2000s. They were, in part, a response to concerns about Indigenous language and culture loss that gained prominence during that time period, both in Indigenous communities and in fields such as anthropology and linguistics. From an Indigenous perspective, language and culture were central to community members’ identities and exercise of sovereignty. The development of online archives was also facilitated by technology advances in the 1990s and 2000s, including more sophisticated online platforms for storing and sharing information, broader access to the internet, and digital recording technologies. Prior to the development of online archives, traditional brick-and-mortar archives had a long history of collecting language and culture materials from Indigenous communities. However, they operated in a colonial context in which their practices contributed to the subjugation of Native peoples. In response, the 1970s and 1980s saw a rise in tribal archivists and Indigenous approaches to managing Indigenous materials and collections. Concerns to treat Indigenous materials appropriately and with respect have continued with the development of online archives. One focus has been Indigenous data sovereignty. Some online archives have focused more on language and some have focused more on cultural heritage. The field of documentary linguistics has been highly active in developing language archives, with a particular concern for endangered languages. For example, Endangered Languages Archive (ELAR), Pacific and Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures (PARADISEC), Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America (AILLA), and The Language Archive (TLA) all include data from a large number of different languages. A smaller group of anthropologists has engaged with the development of cultural heritage archives. Anthropologists have also critiqued the colonial logics of traditional archives and theorized what a “postcolonial archive” might look like. Some cultural heritage archives have started to enact these new principles. At the same time, Indigenous communities have developed their own community-based archives, often focused on meeting the needs of community members. Although Indigenous community-based archives have generally had a solid understanding of the needs of their users, archives that collect materials from a large number of communities have not always conducted user research. A user-centered design approach to archives was initiated through a 2016 workshop funded by the US National Science Foundation. In addition, there has been a trend to integrate language and culture materials into combined archives. Participatory design may be the most appropriate approach for archive development because it recognizes and honors the sovereignty of the Indigenous peoples whose materials are included in an archive. One example of an ongoing participatory design process for an archive is a collaboration between Christina Wasson’s research team and four Indigenous communities in Northeast India. Language and culture archives offer opportunities for design anthropologists to engage in a more participatory process than is possible in most private sector work. Many archives, museums, and libraries would be open to hiring people with this expertise.
Jillian R. Cavanaugh
Linguistic anthropology is the study of language as social action. Linguistic anthropologists study how people use language, and how, in using language, people are also defining and displaying who they are, enacting their membership in particular groups, and bringing various types of truths into being. Language, then, is a set of practices that people engage in every day in numerous forms, which helps to define their positions in their families, communities, workplaces, schools, and even nation-states. How one speaks is not only who one is—it is what one does. This is possible because language is multifunctional, that is, it works in many different ways to connect people, convey meanings and feelings, move people to action, and define who they are. The major functions of language are the referential function, the emotive function, the conative function, the poetic function, the phatic function, the metalinguistic function, and the indexical function, which often overlap when people use language and are shaped by language ideologies, that is, the beliefs and attitudes that shape speakers’ relationships to their own and others’ languages, mediating between the social practice of language and the socioeconomic, historical, and political structures within which it occurs. Language use is part of what makes humans human, and as anthropologists, focused on how humans live and make sense of each other and the world, language should always be part of what anthropologists attend to and investigate.