Linguistic Anthropology

The study of language has been part of anthropology since the discipline started in the 1ate 1870s. This site is a place for linguistic anthropologists to post their work and discuss important events and trends in the field.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Languages and Religions

Apparently, controversies over Arabic and Hebrew instruction in schools in the United States are sparking some discussion about the relationships between language instruction and religious identity. As can be expected, the New York Times is the venue for much of this discussion.
Under Fire, Arabic-Themed Schools Principal Resigns - City Room - Metro - New York Times Blog
Hebrew Charter School Spurs Dispute in Florida - New York Times

The main issue is whether or not teaching a language is directly related to affiliation with a religious group.

Though there is a clear political angle in both cases, the "language and culture" angle is worth mentioning. For instance, responses to both articles mention the usefulness of training in Latin, French, German, and Spanish. In all of these cases, there is a notion of "learning culture through language." Yet every case is quite specific, in terms of language ideology. To paraphrase what seem to be common ideas about these languages: "Latin the dead language which gives you access to Classical Culture"; "French, the language of Cuisine and Romantic Love"; "German, the Post-Greek language of Philosophy"; and "Spanish, the Major Minority Language." The connection between Latin and Roman Catholicism is quite clear for many commentators. After all, the Second Vatican Council happened during the lifetime of many of the people involved.

There are passing mentions of other languages, including Sanskrit (which would probably provide an interesting case study). There seems to be little discussion of linguistic diversity, diglossia, vehicular languages, etc.


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