|An example of nonverbal communication in|
modern American culture. What do you think
the chief petty officer (in khaki) is communicating
non-verbally to the sailor in this scene?
Linguistic anthropologists study the human communication process. They focus their research on understanding such phenomena as the physiology of speech, the structure and function of languages, social and cultural influences on speech and writing, nonverbal communication, how languages developed over time, and how they differ from each other. This is very different from what goes on in an English or a foreign language class. Linguists are not language teachers or professional translators.
Most anthropological linguistic research has been focused on unwritten, non-European languages. Linguists usually begin their study of such a language by learning first hand from native speakers what its rules are for making sounds and meaning from those sounds, including the rules for sentence construction. Linguists also learn about different regional and social dialects as well as the social conventions of speaking the language in different situations.
A hotly debated question in linguistic anthropology since the early 20th century centers on whether or not our languages predispose us to see the environment in specific ways. In other words, are languages filters for reality? For instance, if a language does not have a word for the color orange, can its speakers distinguish orange from red and yellow? The answer to this question is not as simple as it initially seems.