The Journal of Anthropological Research hosts its 54th Distinguished Lecture with American linguist and psychologist John A. Lucy from the University of Chicago, who will address The Influence of Language Structure and Function on Thought: A Comparison of Yucatec Maya and American English.

The lecture is Thursday, April 27, at 7:30 p.m. in the Anthropology lecture hall 163, followed Friday, April 28, at noon with Lessons for Anthropological Fieldwork from Research on Linguistic Relativity.

John A. Lucy

Within anthropology, three types of influence of language on thought have been important in the discipline: the semiotic, the impact of having a symbolic language at all (for example, in studies of human ontogeny and phylogeny); the structural, the impact of using particular lexical and grammatical structures (such as in studies of cognitive and cultural variability); and the functional, the impact of developing specialized uses of language such as literacy, standardization, ritual (for example, in studies of education and language revitalization).

These three issues are often treated as distinct and taken up by separate groups of scholars. This talk by Lucy will make the case for the intrinsic interconnectedness of these three areas via a review of how they intertwine in his own research.

An initial set of studies comparing Yucatec Maya and American English speakers shows how the specific number marking structures of the two languages influence speakers’ patterns of thought. A second set of studies identifies middle childhood as the period when these structural influences emerge in both language groups and draws out the implications for cognitive development, first language development, second language acquisition, and human evolution. A third, more recent line of research explores efforts to cultivate the key structural features of language emerging in middle childhood in the service of social institutional practices such as literacy, education, standardization, etc., and poses questions about the impact of these efforts on individual thought, cultural reproduction, social inequality, language preservation, and the scientific enterprise itself.

Lessons for Anthropological Fieldwork from Research on Linguistic Relativity on Friday, April 28, will be held in Anthropology room 248. This seminar will revisit some classic methodological challenges in anthropological fieldwork by emphasizing how work on linguistic relativity complicates those issues.

Various challenges to translation and interpretation cannot easily be resolved by appeal to our understanding of an independent reality since the issue at stake is how the reality itself is constructed in different communities. The balance of the discussion will center on presenting several approaches that can help attenuate these issues including how to tackle the analysis of local meanings, both structural and functional, and how to leverage various comparative methods, both areal and typological. For each approach, examples will be given of my own experiences coping with specific problems of language analysis, drawing out in each case the broader methodological and conceptual lessons for cultural analysis more generally.

Both events are free and wheelchair accessible. Attendees who don’t have a UNM permit can park in a metered space along Redondo Road or Las Lomas to avoid a fine. 

The Journal of Anthropological Research has been published quarterly by the University of New Mexico since 1945. 

Pexel photo by Israel Humberto