linguistic anthropology

Another reason we hope there are tapes

Guest blogger Joshua Raclaw is a linguist and conversation analyst who works on the use of language in meetings and everyday conversation.


As a linguist who specializes in discourse analysis, my research forces me to pay attention to some of the smallest details of how language unfolds during our everyday conversations. I lovingly obsess over every like and um, every pause and silence, and all of the intricate ways that our speech aligns with how we gesture or laugh or shrug our shoulders, because all of these small pieces of the interaction fit together to help give meaning to language. And so I am one hundred percent with former FBI director James Comey when he says, “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.” Continue reading

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linguistic anthropology

On “hope” and indirection

A few days ago, about 20 million people watched James Comey testify in front of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The questioning leaned heavily on why, precisely, Comey interpreted the president’s words the way he did. Since linguistic anthropologists study language in social context, seeing this much explicit discussion about how language works was both a dream come true — and a frustration, since so many people insisted on getting it so terribly wrong.

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inclusive language, linguistic anthropology

The double bind of correcting unconscious demotions

Just last week, a study came out showing that women are much more likely to use men’s professional titles in introductions than the other way around. And an earlier study shows the clear importance of using professional titles in the same context, so this is hardly a trivial concern.

How should we respond when someone doesn’t use a title for us, or uses the wrong one? It’s more challenging than it seems. When it happens to me, I don’t want to seem uptight or like I care overmuch about titles and formalities — but I also don’t want to condone a pattern that contributes to persistent inequality.

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linguistic anthropology

Linguistics and “the smell test”

In the last few days, the President of the United States fired the sitting Director of the FBI, who was in the middle of an active investigation against him. And lots of folks are saying this firing “doesn’t pass the smell test.” And a linguistic analysis can help us understand why: taking a close look at the President’s letter reveals his logic.

Note: in the day or so between I started writing this post and finished it, it’s already obsolete from a news perspective, since the President has shifted his rationale. Among the things that have happened since then: the press secretary hid in the bushes “stood alongside tall hedges in the darkness.” But from the perspective of learning about language, it’s still kind of fun.

 

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