Previously in Linguistic Anthropology for Fall 2017, my fellow students and I learned about the US Census and had David Kraiker, a Data Dissemination and GIS Specialist from the Census, talk to the class about what the organization does. As 2020 is fast-approaching, so does the new census to be given out to people residing in the United States. Every decade since it’s inception, the U.S. Census Bureau formulates a new questionnaire for people to answer. The purpose is to collect accurate demographic information and data that can be beneficial for policy making and record keeping. Data collected is publicly available and informs everything from the building of new schools to managing hospitals. As noted in recent news reports and blogs, they have also been used electorally to gerrymander districts. The important and daunting task of data collecting has a wide-reaching impact; what kinds of concerns are raised then when changes are made to the questions asked? A widely reported and controversial change is the addition of a question pertaining to participants’ citizenship status. The addition of the citizenship question for 2020 is now very likely as the Supreme Court is poised to allow the question into the survey.
One of the concepts learned in Linguistic Anthropology Fall 2017 was the idea of a global language which is a language spoken by many people across the world as it holds a significant weight to it in government, education, or other social areas. Currently, the global language is English, more specifically, American English, with hundreds of millions of speakers. It’s not surprising as English is a common means of communication in business and scientific journals but how did it become a global language?
A mini history lesson needs to be said here as British English was the global language for a while. The phrase “The empire on which the sun never sets” was absolutely true given the colonial reach of the British Empire on every continent. Such a global presence and vast amount of resources meant that they were not only a military power but a social power too. Through their own policies they instituted mandatory teaching of English in some parts of the Empire. Since they were also a regional power, people were in a way coerced to learn the language of those who were dominating them.
In one of our textbooks for Linguistic Anthropology, Language in Society, the author Suzanne Romaine dedicates a part of chapter 2 in exploring the topic of language death. Language death occurs when a language ceases to be spoken and used by people, rendering it non-existent in terms of communication between others.
Language death is a scary concept as it can really happen to any language. What causes this to happen has been debate by linguists, from minority communities being suppressed and overridden by majority force in society, to a phenomenon called “language shift” where a community starts off as bilingual but gradually loses their native tongue.
One of the most fascinating concepts learned in Linguistic Anthropology Fall 2017 is that of the language of the powerful and the powerless. Powerful language is characterized by being more active, assertive, and commanding while powerless language is more hesitating, unsure, and can be characterized by self-doubting. To give an example, a powerful statement would be “Let’s go to Chili’s this Tuesday” while a statement marked by powerlessness can be characterized as “Uh I guess I’m in the mood for Chili’s but I wouldn’t mind going somewhere else, what do you think?”. Notice the difference? The first sentence is more of a “I will” while the second is more doubtful but it also relates to the way it’s uttered. Tone is all too important, while going over the question part of the statement, did you imagine it being spoken in a higher tone with an unsure inflection? Those are points to be mindful of when detecting whether a person is speaking with a powerful or powerless speech.
Data is fun! Excel is a friend with wonderful shortcuts! Those words have been rarely if ever uttered in the English language but it’s actually true in a way. As the merits and cons of using Excel has been reported before in the blog, I figured it is good to carry on that tradition. Working with self-reported data in this study is an experience that I can ever forget and I believe I can say the same for my fellow student researchers’. The data that we worked with provides insight into how people come into contact with various languages through their life experiences. It’s intimate in its own way as you really get to see and understand people’s lives and shared stories.
But then comes the transcribing and coding part of research which is an interesting ride on its own. You see, Excel, our primary mode of transferring the data on flashcards, is a very handy tool but we had to make sure that ALL the data was copied over. Read more
One of the great advantages of being a part of this research is learning the amount of languages a person knows, understands, speaks, or just able to identify. You learn that your classmates are bilingual, trilingual, or even quadrilingual! The knowledge of being able to communicate in more than one language is a fascinating subject for linguists and was discussed heavily in our Anthropology class. Indeed, this whole research is based on delving into this area and obtaining more information about it.
People who are bilingual though, or others who know more than two languages, aren’t as uncommon as one expects, especially considering a person’s geographical location. The interesting part about gathering data from Seton Hall students is that the campus comprises a mixed ethnic/racial population with students coming from diverse backgrounds. Information on this shows a range of about 45%–50% of students identifying as belonging to non-white minority backgrounds! So to discover that the majority of data collected indicates that students are overwhelmingly versed in more than one language is astounding, especially given students understanding languages that aren’t as well-known as others, such as Uzbek as documented from one student.
The field of linguistics has had many different perspectives on the topic of language based on a time period’s available evidence. As it was taught in Linguistic Anthropology, this field went through many viewpoints, such as evolving from historical linguistics to descriptive linguistics.
Our knowledge of linguistics keeps evolving with time and accurate evidence. Nothing can be a more apt example of this then the debate over how language forms between two great scientists, B.F. Skinner and Noam Chomsky. To start off with, Skinner is more widely known in the field of Psychology as one of the pioneers of Behaviorism but as mentioned previously, he also theorized about language development. He spoke on how children learn language from the environment around them, mainly in a behaviorist framework. Basically, as a child learns new language skills, social influences will use reinforcement to help their learning move along, such as a child saying the word “book” and their teacher nods and rewards them for saying the right word and identifying the right object being focused on.