Linguistic anthropology research

What is linguistic anthropology?

Linguistic anthropology examines the relationship between language and nonlinguistic aspects of culture, focusing on the social and cognitive processes by which language affects and is affected by human behavior.

Language is the means by which culture is learned and the means by which ethnographers acquire knowledge of culture and so the systematic examination of language is crucial to students in cultural, medical and business anthropology. The written forms of language, no less significant than spoken ones, are highly relevant to our understanding of the past, and so linguistic anthropology is vital to archaeologists as well. The evolved capacity for language and the relationship between language and brain function are important subjects of study in biological anthropology.

Core faculty

Stephen Chrisomalis, who is also a member of the linguistics program on campus, leads the linguistic anthropology core. Dr. Chrisomalis' research focuses on the anthropology of numbers and mathematics, and on the cross-cultural and cognitive analysis of language and thought.

Dr. Chrisomalis also does research and supervises projects on written language and literacy, bilingualism and language ideology in Canada, psychological and developmental anthropology, and the prehistory and evolution of language. Other faculty in cultural anthropology who have special knowledge, skills and interest in linguistic anthropology include Barry Lyons.

Current research

Dr. Chrisomalis is currently leading the following ongoing research projects in linguistic anthropology.

Exploring mathematical cultures at Math Corps

A multi-year ethnographic study of the Math Corps program at Wayne State University using methods from cognitive anthropology, discourse analysis, and conceptual metaphor theory. This NSF-funded project aims to understand how linguistic features of the community of practice at the Math Corps contribute to student confidence and improved mathematical outcomes.

Trends and transformations in English numerals

A text and corpus-based sociolinguistic and historical analysis of changes in the English number system relating to technological, educational, and linguistic changes in modern English (1800 present). In contrast to traditional views that regard numerals as a conservative aspect of the lexicon, this study aims to demonstrate how changes in number systems reflect their social and historical context.

Learn more about studying linguistic anthropology