Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies

371 Varner Hall
Varner Hall Room 217
Rochester, MI 48309-4485
(location map)
(248) 370-2154

Dr. Joe Shively
Interim Director, BALS Program
Associate Dean, College of Arts and Sciences

Linguistic Anthropology

Linguistics + Anthropology

‘Linguistic anthropology’ is an interdisciplinary field dedicated to the study of language as a cultural resource and speaking as a cultural practice. It assumes that the human language faculty is a cognitive and a social achievement that provides the intellectual tools for thinking and acting in the world. Its study must be done by detailed documentation of what speakers say as they engage in daily social activities. This documentation relies on participant observation and other methods, including audiovisual recording, annotated transcription, and interviews with participants.

As an interdisciplinary field, linguistic anthropology has often drawn from and participated in the development of other theoretical paradigms. Some of its own history is reflected in the oscillation often found among a number of terms that are not always synonyms: linguistic anthropology, anthropological linguistics, ethnolinguistics, and sociolinguistics. Its main areas of interest have changed over the years, from an almost exclusive interest in the documentation of the grammars of aboriginal languages to the analysis of the uses of talk in everyday interaction and throughout the life span (Duranti 1997, Foley 1997).


Linguistic Anthropologist Career Information

Job Description

Linguistic anthropologists study the nature of language and how humans use it in their everyday life. As social scientists, they study data, analyze previously collected data, read historical documents and make interpretations. They study the history of language, the way languages change over time and across cultures, and how languages shape human behavior and social life.

Job Duties

Linguistic anthropologists plan, direct and conduct research. They use individual and group interviews, focus groups, consultants and observation to obtain data. To do this, they use established techniques or create new techniques. Computer programs may be used to help them record and analyze their findings. Professors of linguistic anthropology may divide their time between teaching and research.

Anthropologists write papers based on their research findings and present them to anthropological societies, such as the American Anthropological Association, or to general audiences. Some linguistic anthropologists may act as consultants to governmental bodies or other organizations.


The skills needed to be a linguistic anthropologist include active listening, speaking, reading comprehension, writing, complex problem-solving and social perceptiveness. Knowledge of the scientific method, deductive and inductive reasoning, and creative thinking are all required for interpreting research.

Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average yearly salary for anthropologists varies by industry, and the highest-paid social scientists are those who work for the U.S. government. They earned an average of $71,400 in May 2009. Those in scientific development and research services averaged $51,620, and those who worked for state and local governments earned $50,290 and $55,500 respectively. The average salary for college and university professors and professional school instructors of anthropology was $46,890.

Career Outlook

The BLS expects much faster growth rate for anthropologist jobs then other professions. Between 2008 and 2018, careers for anthropologists are projected to increase by 28%. The best job prospects are expected to come from management, and scientific and technical consulting.

Linguistic Anthropologist Requirements

While some entry-level positions, such as research assistant, may require a bachelor's degree, most anthropologists have a master's or doctoral degree. Social scientists are typically trained in statistics. Anthropologists often take courses in sociology, English, history, archeology, psychology, geography, philosophy and theology. Linguistic anthropologists may also need to study and learn foreign languages.

Research Careers

Those working in linguistic anthropology may work in research, for a government or private agency. They may work overseas with a particular group of people studying their language, or study a culture from a past time period through its preserved writings. Some anthropological linguists work with displaced groups of people, helping them hold onto and preserve their culture by studying and documenting their language or writings. Cultures like certain Native American groups, whose languages have nearly disappeared, are of special interest to linguistic anthropologists. These professionals work to document and maintain the almost lost languages. An anthropologist working for an educational institution, may have responsibilities for publishing findings, or perhaps teaching a set number of credit hours per academic term as well.

Agencies and Corporations

Linguistic anthropologists may be employed by nonprofit agencies or corporations. They may work as consultants, or work with computer programmers to develop improved speech recognition programs. Other job opportunities can include publishing, where linguistic anthropologists may work on dictionaries, histories or culture studies either as writers, editors or expert consultants. Museums may hire linguistic anthropologists as researchers or consultants. They may work on museum publications as well. They may find work at archives, translating or working on research related to documents. Some testing corporations may employ linguistic anthropologists to research the language of testing documents, to check for any biases or problematic areas.

Government Positions

Linguistic anthropologists often work for the government. They may work with historic sites or trusts, as translators for different agencies, with refugee or immigrant populations or programs, or work for international government sites translating or researching language and people groups. Some linguistic anthropologists are employed to teach English overseas, or teach English in the United States to different groups. Working in diplomatic posts, some linguistic anthropologists may have special insights into different populations and be proficient speakers of the local languages.