- How do you think modern communication technologies like cell phones and computers are changing how people communicate? Is the change positive or negative?
- How is language related to social and economic inequality? Do you think that attitudes about language varieties have affected you and/or your family?
- How has the use of specific terms in the news helped to shape public opinion? For example, what are the different implications of the terms terrorist versus freedom fighter? Downsizing versus firing staff at a company? Euphemistic terms used in reference to war include friendly fire, pacification, collateral damage? Can you think of other examples?
- Think about the different styles you use when speaking to your siblings and parents, your friends, your significant other, your professors, your grandparents. What are some of the specific differences among these styles? What do these differences indicate about the power relationships between you and others?
Arbitrariness: the relationship between a symbol and its referent (meaning), in which there is no obvious connection between them.
Closed communication system: a form of communication that cannot create new meanings or messages; it can only convey pre-programmed (innate) messages.
Code-switching: using two or more language varieties in a particular interaction.
Creole: a language that develops from a pidgin when the pidgin becomes so widely used that children acquire it as one of their first languages.
Critical Age Range Hypothesis: research suggesting that a child will gradually lose the ability to acquire language naturally and without effort if he or she is not exposed to other people speaking a language until past the age of puberty. This applies to the acquisition of a second language as well.
Cultural transmission: the need for some aspects of the system to be learned; a feature of some species’communication systems.
Descriptive linguistics: the study of the structure of language.
Dialect: a variety of speech. The term is often applied to a subordinate variety of a language. Speakers of two dialects of the same language do not necessarily always understand each other.
Discreteness: a feature of human speech that they can be isolated from others.
Displacement: the ability to communicate about things that are outside of the here and now.
Gesture-call system: a system of non-verbal communication using varying combinations of sound, body language, scent, facial expression, and touch, typical of great apes and other primates, as well as humans.
Historical linguistics: the study of how languages change.
Interchangeability: the ability of all individuals of the species to both send and receive messages; a feature of some species’ communication systems.
Kinesics: the study of all forms of human body language.
Language: an idealized form of speech, usually referred to as the standard variety.
Language death: the total extinction of a language.
Language shift: when a community stops using their old language and adopts a new one.
Language universals: characteristics shared by all languages.
Lexicon: the vocabulary of a language.
Linguistic relativity: the idea that the structures and words of a language influence how its speakers think, how they behave, and ultimately the culture itself (also known as the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis).
Morphemes: the basic meaningful units in a language.
Open communication system: a form of communication that can create an infinite number of new messages; a feature of human language only.
Oralist approach: an approach to the education of deaf children that emphasizes lip-reading and speaking orally while discouraging the use of signed language.
Paralanguage: those characteristics of speech beyond the actual words spoken, such as pitch, loudness, tempo.
Phonemes: the basic meaningless sounds of a language.
Pidgin: a simplified language that springs up out of a situation in which people who do not share a language must spend extended amounts of time together.
Pragmatic Function: all signs serve a useful purpose in the life of the users, from survival functions to influencing others’ behavior.
Pragmatics: how social context contributes to meaning in an interaction.
Productivity/creativity: the ability to produce and understand messages that have never been expressed before.
Proxemics: the study of the social use of space, including the amount of space an individual tries to maintain around himself in his interactions with others.
Register: a style of speech that varies depending on who is speaking to whom and in what context.
Semanticity: signs carry meaning for users
Semantics: how meaning is conveyed at the word and phrase level.
Standard language: the variant of any language that has been given special prestige in the community.
Syntax: the rules by which a language combines morphemes into larger units.
Taxonomies: a system of classification.
Universal grammar (UG): a theory developed by linguist Noam Chomsky suggesting that a basic template for all human languages is embedded in our genes.
Vernaculars: non-standard varieties of a language, which are usually distinguished from the standard by their inclusion of stigmatized forms.
"Language" by Linda Light, California State University. In Perspectives: An Open Invitation to Cultural Anthropology, 2nd Edition, Society for Anthropology in Community Colleges, 2020, under CC BY-NC 4.0.