Language Diversity

Using the textbook Essentials of Cultural Anthropology, this class built on a previous discussion of the characteristics of Language from an anthropological perspective. This class concentrated on the question of language diversity. To what extent has anthropology’s emphasis on the diversity and richness of human language been successful?

We watched Lera Boroditsky’s How language shapes the way we think.

Boroditsky does amazing work with the empirical details of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, as well as making a plea to understand the beauty and preserve language diversity. For comments, I asked students to focus on two questions:

  1. Does Boroditsky completely convince us of the value of other languages? Or is there any lingering sense that some languages might not be up to the task of navigating the modern world?
  2. Given the celebration of language diversity, why has there been so much linguistic discrimination and English-only legislation? Is it that anthropology simply needs to reach and educate more people? Or is the anthropological message flawed?

There was not a taped lecture for this class. Student comments are below.