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ANTH 3621: Symbols: Forms, functions, failures (or, The anthropology of communication)

Semester 1, 2024

We are all interconnected, and so we can’t not communicate. To say that people will always depend on each other is to say that we depend on languages and other shared resources for understanding each other. Systems of communication are the ways people adapt to their own incompleteness. Many contemporary issues in anthropology and the social sciences are in one way or another concerned with the ways people communicate and the social effects of communication. This perspective is crucial when one considers that powerful forces teach people to ignore ecological relationships. The study of language in use is the antidote to an ideology of liberal individualism and its ontological blindness. In this class, we learn the main tools anthropologists use to understand communicative action through ethnographic cases of meaning-making, and how struggles over what and how things mean make the worlds people live in.1)

Welcome to the seminar

Coordinator: Ryan Schram

Last updated: January 16, 2024


Weekly plan of topics and readings

Week Date Topic Main reading Other reading
1 February 19 No language left behind “Meta AI Research Topic: No Language Left Behind” (n.d.); “New AI Model Translates 200 Languages, Making Technology Accessible to More People” (2022) Cameron (1999)
2 February 26 Pronunciation guides, or Where do you think I’m from? Newman (2002) Ahearn (2021b); Ahearn (2021a); Blommaert (2009); Moore (2011); Silverstein (2022); Thorpe (2015)
3 March 04 Communication as event Irvine (2012) Ansell (2009); Berman (2020); Goodwin (2006); Harkness (2017); Hymes (1974); Irvine (1996); Jakobson (1960)
4 March 11 Words that can hurt: Slurs, insults, and everyday racism in language Hill (2011b) Hill (1998); Hill (2011a); Jakobson ([1957] 1984); Woolard (1998); Zuckerman (2016)
5 March 18 Border controls: Language standards and the nation state Errington (2022b) Errington (2001); Errington (2022a); Gal (2006); Silverstein (2015)
6 March 25 Listening for modernity Inoue (2003) Bauman and Briggs (2003); Inoue (2002)
B April 01 Mandatory closure for Judeo-Christian memorial festivals
7 April 08 Between a nation and a speech community Zentella (2003) Haviland (2003); Urciuoli (1991); Woolard (1989)
8 April 15 Translation and the unequal division of communicative labor Orellana and Guan (2015) Ghandchi (2022); Stasch (2014)
9 April 22 The signs of a race Reyes (2017b); Reyes (2017a) Bucholtz and Hall (2005); Chumley (2017); Rosa and Flores (2017); Smalls (2020)
10 April 29 Communication as commodity production Jones (2021) Blum (2009); Gershon (2023); Gershon (2022)
11 May 06 The right kind of honesty Carr (2010), intro. and chap. 6 Carr (2010), conclusion; Bauman (1983)
12 May 13 Learning to be Deaf Hoffmann-Dilloway (2011) Green (2022); Haviland (2022)
13 May 20 Feeling our way Edwards (2023)
14 May 27 Reading week
15 June 03 Final exam period


Ahearn, Laura M. 2021a. Living Language: An Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology. Malden, Mass.: John Wiley & Sons. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781444340563.

———. 2021b. “The Socially Charged Life of Language.” In Living Language: An Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology, 3–30. Malden, Mass.: John Wiley & Sons. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781444340563.

Ansell, Aaron. 2009. “‘But the Winds Will Turn Against You’: An Analysis of Wealth Forms and the Discursive Space of Development in Northeast Brazil.” American Ethnologist 36 (1): 96–109. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1548-1425.2008.01101.x.

Bauman, Richard. 1983. Let your words be few: symbolism of speaking and silence among seventeenth-century Quakers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. http://archive.org/details/letyourwordsbefe00baum.

Bauman, Richard, and Charles L. Briggs. 2003. Voices of Modernity: Language Ideologies and the Politics of Inequality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Berman, Elise. 2020. “Avoiding Sharing: How People Help Each Other Get Out of Giving.” Current Anthropology 61 (2): 219–39. https://doi.org/10.1086/708068.

Blommaert, Jan. 2009. “A Market of Accents.” Language Policy 8 (3): 243–59. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10993-009-9131-1.

Blum, Susan D. 2009. My Word!: Plagiarism and College Culture. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press. https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.7591/9780801458408/html.

Bucholtz, Mary, and Kira Hall. 2005. “Identity and Interaction: A Sociocultural Linguistic Approach.” Discourse Studies 7 (4-5): 585–614. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461445605054407.

Cameron, Deborah. 1999. “Language: (De)racialising Linguistics.” Critical Quarterly 41 (4): 52–55. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8705.00263.

Carr, E. Summerson. 2010. Scripting Addiction: The Politics of Therapeutic Talk and American Sobriety. Princeton, UNITED STATES: Princeton University Press. http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/usyd/detail.action?docID=617260.

Chumley, Lily. 2017. “Qualia and Ontology: Language, Semiotics, and Materiality; an Introduction.” Signs and Society 5 (S1): S1–20. https://doi.org/10.1086/690190.

Edwards, Terra. 2023. “The Hands as Reflex Republic.” Signs and Society 11 (2): 223–35. https://doi.org/10.1086/724180.

Errington, Joseph. 2001. “Colonial Linguistics.” Annual Review of Anthropology 30 (1): 19–39. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.anthro.30.1.19.

———. 2022a. Other Indonesians: Nationalism in an Unnative Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780197563670.001.0001.

———. 2022b. “A Valuable Paradox.” In Other Indonesians: Nationalism in an Unnative Language, edited by Joseph Errington, 1–22. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780197563670.003.0001.

Gal, Susan. 2006. “Contradictions of Standard Language in Europe: Implications for the Study of Practices and Publics*.” Social Anthropology 14 (2): 163–81. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-8676.2006.tb00032.x.

Gershon, Ilana. 2022. “Genres Are the Drive Belts of the Job Market.” Journal of Cultural Economy 15 (6): 768–81. https://doi.org/10.1080/17530350.2022.2087714.

———. 2023. “Bullshit Genres: What to Watch for When Studying the New Actant ChatGPT and Its Siblings.” Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society 47 (3): 115–31. https://doi.org/10.30676/jfas.137824.

Ghandchi, Narges. 2022. “‘We Explain’: Interaction and Becoming a Family in Migration.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 32 (3): 520–42. https://doi.org/10.1111/jola.12372.

Goodwin, Majorie Harness. 2006. “Stance and Structure in Assessment and Gossip Activity.” In The Hidden Life of Girls: Games of Stance, Status, and Exclusion., 190–209. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishing. https://public.ebookcentral.proquest.com/choice/publicfullrecord.aspx?p=293105.

Green, E. Mara. 2022. “The Eye and the Other: Language and Ethics in Deaf Nepal.” American Anthropologist 124 (1): 21–38. https://doi.org/10.1111/aman.13709.

Harkness, Nicholas. 2017. “Glossolalia and Cacophony in South Korea: Cultural Semiosis at the Limits of Language.” American Ethnologist 44 (3): 476–89. https://doi.org/10.1111/amet.12523.

Haviland, John B. 2003. “Ideologies of Language: Some Reflections on Language and U.S. Law.” American Anthropologist 105 (4): 764–74. https://doi.org/10.1525/aa.2003.105.4.764.

———. 2022. “How and When to Sign ‘Hey!’ Socialization into Grammar in Z, a 1st Generation Family Sign Language from Mexico.” Languages 7 (2): 80. https://doi.org/10.3390/languages7020080.

Hill, Jane H. 1998. “Language, Race, and White Public Space.” American Anthropologist 100 (3): 680–89. https://doi.org/10.1525/aa.1998.100.3.680.

———. 2011a. “Language in White Racism: An Overview.” In The Everyday Language of White Racism, 31–48. Malden, Mass.: John Wiley & Sons. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781444304732.

———. 2011b. “The Social Life of Slurs.” In The Everyday Language of White Racism, 49–49. Malden, Mass.: John Wiley & Sons. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781444304732.

Hoffmann-Dilloway, Erika. 2011. “Lending a Hand: Competence Through Cooperation in Nepal’s Deaf Associations.” Language in Society 40 (3): 285–306. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0047404511000194.

Hymes, Dell. 1974. “Ways of speaking.” In Explorations in the ethnography of speaking, edited by Richard Bauman and Joel Sherzer, 433–51. Cambridge University Press.

Inoue, Miyako. 2002. “Gender, Language, and Modernity: Toward an Effective History of Japanese Women’s Language.” American Ethnologist 29 (2): 392–422. https://doi.org/10.1525/ae.2002.29.2.392.

———. 2003. “The Listening Subject of Japanese Modernity and His Auditory Double: Citing, Sighting, and Siting the Modern Japanese Woman.” Cultural Anthropology 18 (2): 156–93. https://doi.org/10.1525/can.2003.18.2.156.

Irvine, Judith T. 1996. “Shadow Conversations: The Indeterminacy of Participant Roles.” In Natural Histories of Discourse, edited by Michael Silverstein and Greg Urban, 131–59. Chicago: University of Chicago Press Chicago. https://archive.org/details/naturalhistories0000unse_w1b3/page/130/mode/2up.

———. 2012. “Keeping Ethnography in the Study of Communication:” Langage Et Société, no. 139 (March): 47–66. https://doi.org/10.3917/ls.139.0047.

Jakobson, Roman. 1960. “Closing Statement: Linguistics and Poetics.” In Style in Language, edited by Thomas Sebeok, 350–77. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. https://monoskop.org/images/8/84/Jakobson_Roman_1960_Closing_statement_Linguistics_and_Poetics.pdf.

———. (1957) 1984. “Shifters, Verbal Categories, and the Russian Verb.” In Russian and Slavic Grammar: Studies, 1931-1981, edited by Linda R. Waugh and Morris Halle, 41–58. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110822885.41.

Jones, Deborah A. 2021. “Writing Without Fear—or Bylines: Freedom and Frustration Among US American Ghostwriters.” In Work, Society, and the Ethical Self: Chimeras of Freedom in the Neoliberal Era, edited by Chris Hann, 1st ed., 7:258–77. New York: Berghahn Books. https://doi.org/10.1515/9781800732261-014.

“Meta AI Research Topic: No Language Left Behind.” n.d. AI at Meta: Research. Accessed January 11, 2024. https://ai.meta.com/research/no-language-left-behind/.

Moore, Robert. 2011. “‘If I Actually Talked Like That, I’d Pull a Gun on Myself’: Accent, Avoidance, and Moral Panic in Irish English.” Anthropological Quarterly 84 (1): 41–64. https://www.jstor.org/stable/41237479.

“New AI Model Translates 200 Languages, Making Technology Accessible to More People.” 2022. Meta (blog). July 6, 2022. https://about.fb.com/news/2022/07/new-meta-ai-model-translates-200-languages-making-technology-more-accessible/.

Newman, Barry. 2002. “Accent.” The American Scholar 71 (2): 59–69. https://www.jstor.org/stable/41213291.

Orellana, Marjorie Faulstich, and Shu-Sha Angie Guan. 2015. “Child Language Brokering.” In 9. Child Language Brokering, edited by Amy K. Marks and Mona M. Abo-Zena, 184–200. New York: New York University Press. https://doi.org/10.18574/nyu/9780814770948.003.0016.

Reyes, Angela. 2017a. “Ontology of Fake: Discerning the Philippine Elite.” Signs and Society 5 (S1): S100–127. https://doi.org/10.1086/690067.

———. 2017b. “Inventing Postcolonial Elites: Race, Language, Mix, Excess.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 27 (2): 210–31. https://doi.org/10.1111/jola.12156.

Rosa, Jonathan, and Nelson Flores. 2017. “Unsettling Race and Language: Toward a Raciolinguistic Perspective.” Language in Society 46 (5): 621–47. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0047404517000562.

Silverstein, Michael. 2015. “How Language Communities Intersect: Is ‘Superdiversity’ an Incremental or Transformative Condition?” Language & Communication 44 (September): 7–18. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.langcom.2014.10.015.

———. 2022. Language in Culture: Lectures on the Social Semiotics of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781009198813.

Smalls, Krystal A. 2020. “Race, Signs, and the Body: Towards a Theory of Racial Semiotics.” In The Oxford Handbook of Language and Race, edited by H. Samy Alim, Angela Reyes, and Paul V. Kroskrity, 231–60. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190845995.013.15.

Stasch, Rupert. 2014. “Powers of Incomprehension: Linguistic Otherness, Translators, and Political Structure in New Guinea Tourism Encounters.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 4 (2): 73–94. https://doi.org/10.14318/hau4.2.004.

Thorpe, David. 2015. “Who Sounds Gay?” The New York Times, June 23, 2015, sec. Opinion: Op-docs. https://www.nytimes.com/video/opinion/100000003757238/who-sounds-gay.html.

Urciuoli, Bonnie. 1991. “The Political Topography of Spanish and English: The View from a New York Puerto Rican Neighborhood.” American Ethnologist 18 (2): 295–310. https://doi.org/10.1525/ae.1991.18.2.02a00060.

Woolard, Kathryn A. 1989. “Sentences in the Language Prison: The Rhetorical Structuring of an American Language Policy Debate.” American Ethnologist 16 (2): 268–78. https://doi.org/10.1525/ae.1989.16.2.02a00050.

———. 1998. “Language Ideology as a Field of Inquiry.” In Language Ideologies: Practice and Theory, edited by Bambi B. Schieffelin, Kathryn A. Woolard, and Paul V. Kroskrity, 3–47. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Zentella, Ana Celia. 2003. “‘José, Can You See?’: Latin@ Responses to Racist Discourse.” In Bilingual Games: Some Literary Investigations, edited by Doris Sommer, 51–66. New Directions in Latino American Cultures. New York: Palgrave Macmillan US. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781403982704_4.

Zuckerman, Charles H. P. 2016. “Phatic Violence? Gambling and the Arts of Distraction in Laos.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 26 (3): 294–314. https://doi.org/10.1111/jola.12137.

This class was originally proposed by USYD anthropology department staff with a focus on political symbols, but this year will survey linguistic anthropology. In future years, it will have a more expansive title and description, and address varying foci.
Please note: This class assignment will not appear on this wiki site, but on the class Canvas site.
3621/2024/start.txt · Last modified: 2024/02/18 21:15 by Ryan Schram (admin)