Anthropological linguistics asks questions central to both disciplines: What is human language? Why is a person's or an ethnic group's particular language or language variety often such an important part of their identity? When a particular language becomes "lost" or "threatened," what happens to the semantic worlds (not just the words, but the linked insights and wisdom) that used to be encoded in those now no longer heard or spoken phrases and styles of discourse?

In nations with purportedly "one unifying language," mastery of, for example, "Mandarin" Chinese, Russian, Hindi, or certain dialects of English and Spanish are often seen, especially by "gatekeepers" in those societies, as necessary for upward social mobility. How does this impact the life-chances of the native speakers of those other languages or languages varieties (indigenous languages, dialects, creoles, pidgins) spoken there which are less valorized? Conversely, when speakers of "small," "endangered" languages (e.g. Yiddish, Gullah, Basque, Lushootseed, Welsh) organize to revitalize their linguistic heritage, how might "success" here best be judged? How does anthropological linguistics try to explore such questions? How might such concerns about language policies impact the domains of education, the juridical system, and popular imagination? This course will address these and other such issues vital to efforts to keep heritage languages vibrantly alive while also sustaining linguistic pluralism, linguistic rights, and linguistic justice.

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Heritage Languages and Language Policies