2. What is Linguistic Anthropology?


February 16, 2024


Listen to Anthro.mp3

What is Linguistic Anthropology? Featuring UMass Amherst Professor Dr. Lynnette Arnold

In this episode, we introduce one of the 4 fields of Anthropology, Linguistic Anthropology! We will hear from Dr. Arnold as she goes a little more in depth about the field and her research!


  • Indiana University Bloomington, Department of Anthropology. (n.d.). Linguistic Anthropology. Retrieved from https://anthropology.indiana.edu/research/fields/linguistic-anthropology.html
  • Lynette Arnold, UMass Anthropology Professor


  • Lynette Arnold’s Website: https://blogs.umass.edu/larnold/
  • Lynette Arnold’s CV: https://www.umass.edu/anthro/sites/default/files/CV%20Arnold.pdf


Claire: Hello friends and welcome to Anthro.mp3! We’re a group of University of Massachusetts Amherst students who are passionate about anthropology and want to share this love with as great an audience as possible. Hence this podcast. This podcast is part of a larger intercollegiate collaboration for outreach and education in the field of anthropology. AnthroHub is a website full of all things Anthro, but in fun and creative formats. Make sure to check it out to look at some incredible blog posts and creative works made by students from not just UMass Amherst, but Sage Russell University and SUNY Albany as well. My name is Claire, and I’ll be one of your hosts for today’s episode. Our other host is Amber, do want to say hi?

Amber: Hi guys! It’s great to host you again on our podcast. This is Amber. Today we’re going to also be including an exclusive interview with UMass professor, Dr. Lynnette Arnold about linguistic anthropology and her specialized research within this subject. So stay tuned for that.

Claire: So you might be wondering what exactly linguistic Anthropology is and that’s something that Dr. Arnold will mostly be covering, but we’ll give you a quick intro right here. So it’s a field that examines language and its various facets. This includes things like dialect, power connected to language and its use, how languages evolve and change over time, examining ancient languages, preserving modern languages from extinction, and many other things. Language is a social construct that holds great power and importance throughout the world, making it one of if not the most immense catalysts of social action and interaction. It allows for self-identification through expression of values, gender, and sexuality and ethnic distinguishment among other items. Language itself is a tool that allows people in cultures to symbolically express themselves. This field also examines how language contributes to the development of a common cultural representation of both natural and social worlds. 

Amber: Historically, linguistic anthropology has been used in three different ways. The first focus is on documenting languages, especially those at risk of extinction, like indigenous languages in North American tribes. The second studies language in the context of communities that use it like symbolically and in culturally meaningful ways, such as through gender for example. The third incorporates an interdisciplinary approach, which bridges linguistic anthropology, with cultural anthropology, and other subfields. Much of what I’m about to say to you guys comes from the Bloomington Indiana University Department of Anthropology. Linguistic anthropologists study ways language is used to negotiate contest, and reproduce cultural forms and social relations. They explore the connections between language, culture, and society, as well as how these elements influence each other. Their work often involves the analysis of Native American languages in North and Latin America, focusing on aspects like verbal art, semiotic anthropology, and language’s role in intergenerational debates. They also engage in language documentation, preservation of languages, and education, paying particular attention to endangered languages, multilingualism, and the impact of digital media on communication and language. Linguistic anthropology offers a deep insight into the nature and evolution of culture and human society through the lens of language. It examines the complex ways in which language is intertwined with social and cultural dynamics, offering a deeper understanding of human communication, and its broader implications.

Claire: So with that quick introduction to language out of the way, let’s get right into a professional’s thoughts and knowledge on linguistic anthropology.


Claire: Today, we’re interviewing a linguistic anthropology professor here at UMass, Lynnette Arnold. She has some really interesting research on communication and care and has been kind enough to introduce us to her studies today to give us a closer look at linguistic anthropology and action. Before we get started, I just want to ask how you want to be referred to on here.

Dr. Lynnette Arnold: Thanks! Thanks for having me here. I’m really excited to be here with you all to talk about linguistic anthropology, my all-time favorite thing. And I would love to be called Professor Arnold and I thought this is an interesting moment to do a little teaching moment about language. So my approach to language is that I understand it as a way of acting in the world. So even something so small as calling somebody by their title and last name has a way of creating the world in a certain way, right? And so for me as female faculty member, it feels really important to acknowledge my role and by doing so by using title last name, which is what I do with students in my classes, ask them to address me by title last name rather than by first name. So yeah, thank you all for opening this conversation. I’m excited to talk to you about language.

Amber: Thank you so much. We wanted to know, first of all, how did you get into the field of linguistic anthropology?

Dr. Lynnette Arnold: Yeah, so linguistic anthropology is basically when people ask me what I teach. I say, oh I teach language and culture. So that’s my way of explaining what the field is for people who don’t know. And I think I’ve, looking back in retrospect, at my life, I think I’ve always been someone who has been pretty aware that language and culture are connected. But to spare you all my whole childhood story, I think I’ll talk about one especially formative experience in my life. So after high school, I didn’t go right to college, like you maybe all did. But instead, I spent several years living and working in El Salvador. And there’s a long story how I ended up there. But essentially, I was working and living in a rural village in El Salvador, I knew one other person in the country who spoke English. But otherwise, I was pretty much on my own, learning the culture and learning the language at the same time. And so that experience of kind of learning what life is like in a rural Salvadoran village, even as I was learning their way of talking really helped me to think about how connected those things are. So I learned a lot of vocabulary about rural life, like words for crops and weather and things like that. I learned things like gestures that people use different gestures to measure the heights of cattle versus the height of a child. They use a different hand gesture to do that. I learned things about the gendered and generational norms like for instance, Spanish has an informal “you” and a formal “you” and El Salvador, they use “vos” for the informal “you”. Who could I use that with and who could I not use that with? So I was learning all these things about the language, the culture, identity, gender, right, all of these things at the same time as I was learning to live in that society. And so that experience, I think, really opened my eyes to the fundamental interconnections of language and culture, and that you can’t really talk about one without thinking about the other and vice versa. So I did eventually returned to the US and went to college. So that’s not something that’s tradition in my family. So it didn’t have a background of college-going relatives to look to. But I met some amazing strong women when I was living in and working in El Salvador who all kind of reinforced for me the idea that I could go to college that I was smart enough to go to college, and that it was a thing that could be part of my life. So little shout out to sister Mary Jane, who isn’t here anymore, but she was one of the people that like, encouraged me to go back to college. So I did do that eventually. And I really was wanting to better understand this connection of language, culture, and especially gender. I was struggling with my own gender identity and trying to understand like, language culture through the lens of being a young woman in the world, essentially. And so I ended up majoring in women’s studies. I went to a women’s college that was called women’s studies there. And I had minors and anthropology and linguistics. And that was the beginning of my, I guess, academic journey into linguistic anthropology

Amber: Would you say there’s a big distinction between linguistics and linguistic anthropology? 

Dr. Lynnette Arnold: Definitely. This is a big debate. I guess it depends who you ask this question to if you got a UMass linguist to ask this question to you, they might say something different. But for my perspective, mainstream linguistics is really focusing on language as kind of a grammatical system. And it’s really concerned with cognitive aspects. So essentially, how do people’s brains work such that we can learn the grammatical structures of language, which I think is really important. And I think it’s interesting to also understand like how the grammars of languages, different languages are related to one another. But I think for me, as a linguistic anthropologist, language can’t be isolated from its social context. So in fact, we can’t even understand the grammar of a language and how it came to be, and what the consequences of that are if we don’t think about the social situatedness of language. So, you know, like, why does English have subject-verb-object structure, right? And why don’t we have some other structure and what happens in languages where you do things in a different way? Right? Those kinds of questions are actually very interesting ones to ask that are grammatical questions, but I think are best answered by having more, kind of context. So for me, as a linguistic anthropologist, I think that kind of the social and cultural is, probably I don’t know, primary, but it’s kind of like I can’t do language without those things. Whereas I think sometimes linguistics, not all linguists but I think generally, the field linguistics kinds of tends to abstract away from that a little bit, in my way, in my view, a little bit too much.

Claire: Right. So you mentioned that you studied in, or you worked in El Salvador, El Salvador. On your blog, we see that you’re specialized research focuses on the relationship between communication and care. Would you mind expanding on what exactly this means and how you got into it? Did, did your work in El Salvador have a lot to do with that? 

Dr. Lynnette Arnold: Yeah, that’s great. And that is exactly true. So I got into working on communication and care in the same way that I got into linguistic anthropology. So after I’d finished undergraduate, I decided to continue on to graduate school. Because I was realizing that I had these questions that I wanted answers to that were going to require me to do some research of my own right? So I was like, okay, I need to go to graduate school to figure this out. And what had happened was that I had stayed during the time of being an undergrad, I had stayed in touch with families that I had met in El Salvador. And at the same time that I returned to do my undergrad, several of these families became transnational, which means that members of the family, some of them moved to the United States, while most of the family stayed in El Salvador. And so all of a sudden, I was part of these big transnational networks talking on the phone to the people that were in New Jersey, or wherever they were in the United States, and also to the people that were in El Salvador. And realizing there’s something really interesting going on here and the way that families are talking to each other, across borders, and like what is being said, but also the things that aren’t being said, like, I remember people telling me like, I’m gonna tell you this, but don’t tell so and so in El Salvador, the people in El Salvador saying like, we’re telling this, but don’t tell the people in the United States. So like, or you know, calling people on their birthdays and singing them “Las Mañanitas” which is like the birthday song in El Salvador so like, all of these different things that were happening on the phone calls were very interesting to me. And I knew that, that wasn’t research, right? There wasn’t research looking at what is happening in this family communication. There was research looking at transnational families and how they live across borders, but nothing really focused on their communication. So that then became the driving question for my dissertation was trying to understand kind of what is going on with family communication. So I did some preliminary fieldwork, where I did kind of participant observation and interviews in El Salvador, kind of really trying to see with my eyes what was happening with communication, and also talk to families about their communication practices. And that led me to realize that phone calls were the primary way that families were communicating. This, I should date this, because technology has changed really rapidly. So this was in like, I started grad school in 2009. So this was like in the 2009 to 2014 window was when I did the bulk of this research. And this was the time when everybody in El Salvador had a cell phone People. like cell phones entered the market really quickly in El Salvador. So people had cell phones, but they didn’t quite yet have smartphones. The first smartphone started to arrive in the village towards the end of that time. And it’s also the case that the US side of folks, they may have had smartphones, but they often had limited internet access, because they didn’t have Wi-Fi at home often right because of cost-related issues. And then they had data plans that were not to, you know, didn’t give them a lot of access to the internet. So these families still prefer to call one another using calling cards. And I also found that the phone calls were really accessible to everybody in the family to participate from children on up to older people. So kids who maybe weren’t literate could do phone calls. And also elderly people who probably also weren’t literate in El Salvador could also participate in phone calls. So it was a very democratic medium where everybody could talk. So I found that this sign of sort of conversations on the phone was happening a lot in my preliminary research. And then that became sort of, I’ve recorded with some families, with their collaboration, recorded some of their phone calls, to try to get a deeper dive and actually look at the recordings and look at what is happening in these recordings. What are families doing in these recordings, and how is it allowing them to stay connected to one another. And to be clear, these are families that are separated for over a decade, right. Years and years and years at a time, no visits, no possibility of getting back together in the same country. And yet, they’re insisting on doing, continuing to be a family, right. And so looking at how they’re doing that with their communication. So this is now going to be a book or it is a book that’s going to be published next year that’s called “Living Together Across Borders: Communicative Care and Separated Salvadoran Families”. And it’s this research that I did in my dissertation is now finally going to be a book. And so I situate the experiences of the families in this context of long standing Salvadoran migration to the United States since the 1980s, so for my entire lifetime. And then I also focus on specific linguistic practices that the families use. So I look at greetings and how greetings work in these phone calls. I look at requests for money. That’s one of the big things that gets negotiated in these phone calls is money. So that takes up a lot of airtime in the phone call. So I looked at how they negotiate, how money gets asked, and how people who are going to send money respond and the kind of debt really delicate, communicative negotiations around money. And then I look at how people remember together, there’s many instances of people sort of remembering together in reminiscing, kind of on, in the phone calls. So I look at that as well, and I argue that all of these are ways of doing family at a distance. So that’s kind of the book and I will say to get back to your kind of initial question about communication and care. Care, so I was thinking communication all along, right? And then care came into my research kind of as a way of better theorizing what language is doing in this instance. And I was really inspired by feminist theories of care. So this comes out of like, second-wave feminism, which was a lot about like, reclaiming women’s ways of being in the world is equally valid, right, which just seems kind of old school, right, from our perspective now, but this is sort of, was their way. And so one of the things that they talked about is, you know, women are often responsible for care and the work of care. And because women are dismissed, the work of care is often also dismissed and is not seen as valid. So feminists were really reclaiming care as something that is absolutely central to human life, like human life does not exist without care. And so care then is just the fundamental kind of day to day work that makes it possible for human beings to survive. Right? So if anthropology is about human experiences, and care is very central, right, to anthropology, and there’s been great, some great anthropological thinking on this more recently that’s built on that feminist scholarship. So for me, then I think about language and communicative practices as part of that daily labor, which you might it might not be intuitive, like you might be thinking about, like, oh, washing dishes, cooking food, clean house, changing the diapers, yeah, those are all care things, right. But language is really part of that. And so looking at the experiences of transnational families who have to do this care work via phone call, right? Lets us see the ways that language is really entangled in care. So in the book I talk about language is something that facilitates other kinds of care. So for instance, the money would not get sent if there weren’t those conversations beforehand that are requesting and offering and all those delicate negotiations, right. Language is also something that makes sense of like, what, what means what things mean. So for instance, these conversations often describe remittances as love, right, as a way of remembering your family back home. Children, migrant children will also describe to their parents, this is my kind of filial duty, my duty as a child, you raised me as a child in difficult circumstances. So one quote from the book where a son is saying to his mom, like you and my dad raised me, you found us food to eat in the middle of the war that we were raised in and, you know, it’s my duty as a good son now to, that’s what my remittances are is like repaying that debt that I owe you, right. So language is a way of doing that too. It’s kind of making meaning of things in the world. But then I also kind of take it one step further. It’s kind of pushing it the furthest, and say, well, language is actually care in its own right. And I kind of say language is a tool that people use to attend to their relationships, and to sort of keep their relationships going to nurture them to feed them, right to infuse them with life when they’re separated for so long from one another. And if those relationships flounder, everything else, flounders, right, and so when we start to see that communication is sort of the glue that holds relationships together, and those relationships are what make all the other infrastructure of transnational family life possible, then we can see that language is really integral to care, care itself.

Amber: Wow, that was such a great answer. Thank you so much for sharing what you’re working on in your book and I really am so excited to read it when it comes out. How would you say that your research applies to the world in terms of non-anthropologist use? So for the common person who isn’t pursuing this kind of information as a career?

Dr. Lynnette Arnold: Thank you. Yeah, I think about this a lot. As somebody who came to these concerns from real world, right, like, I didn’t start with academia. I came to academia, because I had these real world experiences in El Salvador that made me start thinking and wondering and questioning. And so I think one of the things that’s really most important to me about my work is that I think it’s very important for US citizens to understand and think about the place of our country in the world. And I didn’t understand or think about that at all until I went to El Salvador at the age of 18, and start to learn from the Salvadoran people, like my people, my age who had grown up in the Civil War in El Salvador that happened in the 80s. You know, they knew, they were like, oh, yeah, your country was sending money here to the military, and that made this war go on for longer and resulted in more people being killed. Your military taught our military some of these scorched earth tactics that destroyed my parents’ entire village. That’s why I grew up in a refugee camp. So they had this whole analysis of kind of US role visa vie El Salvador. And it really just, I remember just being dumbstruck consistently that I had gone through a pretty decent education, right, through high school at that point, and didn’t know any of this, right. And I still think now I’m a college educator, I still think that piece is often missing in our curriculum, and that tends to be to US-centered, and we don’t talk a lot about kind of what’s, the, what’s the, what’s happening with the Us? Or what is the US doing to shape the world outside? And so I think my experience, my research speaks to that in a particularly powerful way because it highlights how understanding family lives can be a window into thinking about the role of US policy, and in ways that we might not even have thought of, right. So we can see, for instance, that, like I talked about the intervention in the Civil War of the 1980s, like, led to all these people dying, but it also destroyed a lot of the infrastructure of the country. And it led to a lot of immigration. So folks who had been farmers or worked in other rural areas, like could not do that work anymore and so they migrated. And that was the beginning of kind of the, if you look at graphs of Salvadoran migration to the United States it’s very small, and then like 1980 takes off, right, and it just continues. So we can really see that very clear connection between, you know, US involvement in the war and increased migration. And that’s, you know, true of other things like, for instance, the US has continued to, we didn’t refuse, we didn’t grant refugee status to people fleeing the Salvadoran Civil War. And that has continued into this day and that we, our US immigration policy makes it impossible for your everyday Salvadoran in the street to get a visa to come to the United States. It’s very expensive. It’s very time consuming. You need a lawyer like it’s very, very difficult, right. And so people are going to come but we don’t make it possible for them to come legally, our US immigration policy. And then there’s been lots of our kind of international policy that isn’t specific to immigration, but has shaped immigration. So things like yeah, arms trafficking, the whole, like war on drugs, and our inability to deal and curtail demand for drugs in the US and all of the fallout for that for all of the Americas and kind of drug trafficking in general. All of these things have been kind of the push factors that have made it so that even though the war in El Salvador has now been over since 1992 officially. People still keep coming. Right? What are the reasons for that? I learned from Salvadorans that US policy has been kind of one of the contributing factors, unfortunately, that are forcing people to leave their homes. And then like, if we want to move a little closer to home, we can look at our US-Mexico border policy. And like what’s happening there, right, the fact that we’re continuing to build walls and easier crossing sites is pushing people to cross, where? In the desert, and so more people are dying. So like all of these things that I have learned, right, about, from Salvadorans about the involvement of the United States in their country, and their experiences have made me feel really passionately about educating people about these issues. And that’s the context in which these families are trying to live at a distance for years at a time. They’re not choosing to do that, because they don’t want to be with each other, they’re being pushed into a situation by policies, not of their own making, that are forcing them to separate from one another and then stay separated for a long period of time with no chance for visits or things like that. So in this whole, this is like a whole narrative about US immigration policy and I’m like, okay, so what does language add to this? Like, I’m a linguistic anthropologist. I’m a migration scholar. But I’m also like, a scholar of language here. So what do I have to add to this? And I think one thing that’s really important for me is that I think, a focus on families and communication is really humanizing. Right? Because all of us, especially now after COVID, have experiences of being separated from people and having to communicate with them over a distance, and try to maintain relationships with people over distance because we couldn’t be together with them. And so I think that’s just a deeply humanizing story that people regardless of their position on immigration can resonate with. And I think it’s really important in our kind of polarized political climate that we continue to do this work that puts forward migrants and their and their families as people in the world, right, and that we can think about as US citizens, how our experience resonates with them. So I think that’s really important. I think it also highlights looking at families highlights this broader impact of US immigration policy, that it’s not just impacting immigrants, right. But it’s impacting all of these people, including children and families in countries who never come to the United States and will never come to the United States, but their lives and like really fundamental, intimate parts of their lives, like how they connect with their loved ones, are being shaped by our immigration policy. So I think it’s like, important for us to kind of think about that. I also think that we can look at how language is being used in ways that is sometimes upholding this sort of separation and maybe also challenging it. So I’ve done some work. I know I talked a lot about working with families and how families talk to one another. And oftentimes, I see that that family communication as a way of challenging distance, or at least trying to make that distance feel closer, right. And surviving that distance, not negotiating that distance. But I’ve also done some work looking at kind of state policy and like how, for instance, the Salvadoran government talks about these kinds of things or how the US government talks about Salvadoran migration. And oftentimes, when you do that kind of analysis of state rhetoric, you can see a little bit more clearly how language is kind of also part of this violence and part of the conditions that set these families up to have to live separate from one another. So I think language can be useful to help us sort of see the ways that media for instance, when we talk about immigrants, there’s work that talks about immigration as metaphors for immigration and talks about immigrants as a “brown tide”. And that has to be have to quell this “brown tide” of immigrants coming into the country, right. And then we look at this kind of metaphor, and we see it over and over again, in media and political rhetoric. It helps us to see also where these ideas come from, and kind of the underlying foundation of some of our immigration policy, that it’s based in some pretty problematic ideas about who immigrants are and what immigration is. So ultimately, I think that language gives us kind of some new insights into this question of immigration. So I think it’s really useful for thinking about immigration. But I would also just say the thing that I say to all my students in my classes, which is just, we’re all language users, like literally anything you want to do in your life is going to involve language, is just because you’re human beings, right? And so gaining some awareness about what language is and how language does things in the world is going to be super helpful so that’s kind of my teaching spiel. And we talked about how language does that in many different dimensions. But if I’m talking specifically about my research, I would say yeah, immigration and family helps us kind of see those things in in new ways if we look through the lens of language.

Amber: How would you describe the concept of a border? And how does a border impact language and vice versa?

Dr. Lynnette Arnold: Great. So I talk about this in my class, we actually have a week on migration that I’ve put into my general intro class because it’s so central to my thinking about language. Oftentimes, we think about borders as just geopolitical markers, right? Like this is where one country starts and another one stops, right. Like, that’s what we think borders are and that’s true, in a sense. But it’s also true that these borders are maintained through language. So who decides that that is where one country starts, and another one stops, right, that international policies that regulate, that establish and then regulate geopolitical borders? Those are language, right. And they are established through diplomacy and other kinds of governmental channels that is also language, right. So all of the kinds of legal mechanisms around borders, that’s all linguistic, even though we don’t often think in those terms, like, that’s language right there. And I have a colleague, Hilary Parsons Dick, who does really amazing work that looks at immigration polic, and is thinking about kind of how, how, how it works, language and how you can see, oh, this policy and this year, and this place is echoed by this policy over here or they really got this from over here. And you can really start to trace these sorts of ways that borders are kind of produced legally through language. We can take a little step, kind of maybe slightly more distance from the border to look at media coverage and media coverage of border-related issues. And that is another way that language is producing borders by talking about the border in particular way. So there’s a major narrative about our US-Mexico border, that that is a threat to our country and it’s a source of weakness, and it’s a gap through which this “brown tide” rising. So I’m citing here, Otto, Otto Santa Ana and Leo Chavez’s work. They’re the folks who’ve done this work documenting these media metaphors. But we don’t have that same discourse about our border, our northern border, the US border with Canada, right, so we can just look even very straightforwardly at our two land borders that we have as a country and see discursively that they’re treated very, very differently, right. And that is a good example of how the media creates an idea of what the border is, through how it’s talked about. And that’s also true about political rhetoric, right? If you look at how politicians talk about the border, they’re often playing into and using some of those mean media narratives, right, to get elected. And all of that, when we start to think about it in that way, then we can be like, oh, wow, actually, maintaining geopolitical borders, like the US-Mexico border, requires discursively mobilizing many other kinds of borders. So the “brown tide” rising discourse that Otto Santa Ana and Leo Chavez talk about is tied to race, very clearly tied to race in their work, right. And this vision of the, you know, the threatening immigrant as a brown person from the global south who’s trying to get into our country, and that’s also tied to visioning the United States in a particular way, right. So most fundamentally, this kind of work is relying on this kind of us versus them that’s just, that’s created in these discourses that is often tied to categories like race, but can also be tied to things like what language someone speaks. So for instance, Spanish often gets tagged as an immigrant language and treated as an immigrant language and in fact, people have been stopped by border, brown people, not light skinned people like myself have been stopped by ICE. This is like the Border Patrol folks for speaking Spanish, right? And be like, show me your documents, you’re speaking Spanish, right? So we see again, how this border is moving, right. And this is another thing, when we start to think about how language is tied to the border, we can see that the border is being enforced and put onto people’s bodies and made meaningful far beyond the actual border itself, right. It’s something that is used in our country in general, to put people into us versus them categories constantly. And so I think once you start to see that piece, right, and see how language is always producing borders, we get this question of like, who’s belonging and who’s not belonging, and what is language doing in that equation, so that even these seemingly small linguistic practices can have these really, really far reaching effects. So I think, in terms of understanding the border and thinking through language, it gives us a whole new lens to really understand how it matters in people’s lives, like all the time and not just at the actual geopolitical line of the border.

Claire: Right, there’s, there’s this idea of media just weaponizing the way they use language to have this fear factor to create these walls to create these borders. 

Dr. Lynnette Arnold: Exactly.

Claire: And it’s, it’s, it’s heartbreaking.

Dr. Lynnette Arnold: Yeah. And it’s exactly along the lines, right, like we’d see in post-9/11, like, people on, getting pulled off planes for speaking Arabic on the phone to the mom, or even like writing quadratic equations that use Arabic cause their friends, there’s someone sitting next to them on the plane was like, oh, this person is writing something in Arabic, must be a terrorist. Right? So exactly the same kind of phenomenon happening. Right?

Claire: Right. And it’s, but on the flip side of that, as, as we’re talking about the book that you’re coming out with soon on communication and care. Language can also sort of be a healing factor, can be a connection and that’s, it’s so intense, how language can really go to one side or the other. And to sort of just work off of that idea of your, your book coming out on communication and care and transnational families, I do hear that you are currently working on a textbook about language and health. Would you mind just telling me a little bit more about that?

Dr. Lynnette Arnold: Yeah sure! Thanks for that. You actually, like captured in a nutshell, one of the main things that I teach. I know you haven’t taken my Anthro, my big general Anthro class, but Ling Anthro class, that’s the main thing is language does things, right, and it can do things that are very, very harmful. And it can also do things that are liberatory. And like, to me, that’s sort of that, what keeps me going and study of languages is to be able to see both of those things. Because otherwise, it’s just really depressing all the time so I kind of need the like, hopeful and healing piece and that, that kind of potentiality of language is really important to me. Okay, yeah so to that gets me to answer your question about my other books. So this is a really exciting project I’m working on it with several colleagues, Emily Avera, Anna Corwin, and Jennifer Guzman, and we are all people who teach, in our teaching, we’re linguistic anthropologists, but we also teach about language and health. And we just kept encountering each other in the hallways at conferences and being like, oh, my gosh, I’m trying to teach this, I tried teaching this reading, and the students didn’t get it, it was way too complicated. It requires you to have a background in linguistic anthropology but our students don’t have that background. But they’re really interested in this topic. So we kept having a conversation. Finally, we were like, let’s just do something about this. And so we are. We are developing a book that is at this intersection, that’s about language and health, but it’s aimed at an undergraduate audience with no previous background in linguistic anthropology. So it’s essentially teaching some linguistic anthropology concepts and ways of thinking about language through the lens of health and we anticipate that this will also be something that will be interesting to people working in health and public health, and all kinds of other health related fields who don’t have the language or linguistic anthropology background. So we’re really excited about it. The book brings together, we’ve got 16 different authors writing their contributions and we’ve got areas like, the book starts with a section on clinical interaction, which looks at interactions between doctors and patients, and goes beyond a Western medicine context to also look at traditional Korean medicine so like acupuncture, and the kind of interactions that happen between acupuncture practitioners and their patients, which is really cool. The next section looks at language access and interpretation so basically, essentially how people, multilingual people get access to health care and the work really important work of interpreters, both in the United States and also beyond. We have a really cool chapter from the Chilean context, looking at what their, what are called intercultural brokers in the Chilean context who mediate between medical practitioners and Indigenous committee, members of Indigenous communities.

Amber: That’s really interesting because I actually have a diploma for medical interpretation in Spanish and a couple years ago, I was reading a book about rabies, pandemics in Latin America and Ecuador and things like that. And I remember learning that a lot of Indigenous people who have health issues sometimes don’t have interpreters that speak their language so that’s like a big problem that can create like barriers between people and getting access to care. Oftentimes, it’s like language, language barriers.

Dr. Lynnette Arnold: Yeah. Fantastic. Yeah. And that’s why we have that section in there because we know that such a major issue in many places in the world, right, not just the United States, but many places, ways for multilingual people to get care. And it’s interesting to think about, like, part of the problem is that our, our practitioners, our medical practitioners are not multilingual themselves, like if we did a better job of creating a multilingual populace in general in this country, and then also in medical school, making sure that our practitioners had language and cultural skills like this would go a long way to fixing the problem, right? So there’s, it’s really interesting to think about the solution so that and the Chilean case is really interesting because the intercultural brokers do interpretation, but they do it also in the context of a cultural framework. So they’re also doing kind of cultural mediation and cultural brokering, which is very interesting. So it’s cool to learn about that, in connection to sort of maybe more familiar US contexts for some students. We also have a section on health communication that’s looking at kind of the role of the media and like policy language and actually defining what counts as a health issue. We saw that, obviously, in a huge way under COVID. That’ll be more about that, those kinds of things. Interestingly, we have a section on language and the environment in health. So that’s looking at things like medicinal plants, and the role of language in kind of attending to medicinal plants and how they got to become medicine in different ways. Water and contamination and how language is kind of involved in understanding if water is contaminated or not and then health consequences that fall from that. Things like environmental racism, right? And then the final section of the book appropriately is language and healing, which looks at things like language in recovery from drug addiction, and also birth and dying like we have a chapter on birth and a chapter on dying in this very last section. So it’s very broad. There’s chapters from around the world different kinds of medicinal and health-related practices. But it’s just a shout out to for this, this spring, I’ll be teaching this class for the first time, and students in the class are going to be testing out the book. So really excited to teach with it, the spring and beyond.

Claire: Congratulations. That’s, that’s really exciting. Are you planning on including any more of your, your blogs or your publications, as well as this textbook in that, or…?

Dr. Lynnette Arnold: In the class? 

Claire: Yes.

Dr. Lynnette Arnold: The class is going to be essentially piloting the textbook. And one thing we’re going to be doing in the class is having students, where the assignment is going to be for students to find like a documentary film or a podcast or some other kind of multimedia, something that is topically related to the topics of different chapters. So there are going to be helping to build out some of the learn more materials that are going to be included in a website that’s associated with the textbook so students will be reading the book. We’ll be taking their feedback on like, how understandable are these chapters? What didn’t, what made sense? What was confusing? But also contributing that kind of multimedia multimedia, rich content that’s going to be associated with the book.

Claire: That’s amazing. 

Dr. Lynnette Arnold: Exciting.

Claire: That’s really thrilling. Well, again, congratulations. And then just to move on and take a look at a couple of your other publications. For example, the 2019 article, “Accompanying as Accomplices”, love the title, by the way, also talk about the role of language in advancing social justice. So I’m just curious, what roadblocks do you think loom the largest in our path for justice through language?

Dr. Lynnette Arnold: Thanks for this question. That’s interesting. This article is one of my most widely read articles and I think that that title grabs people. And I should say, I think we’d be talking about the title as a way into this. So accompanying is something “acompañamiento” in Spanish, it’s something I learned about in El Salvador, as, it’s a way of working collectively towards social change, where people from really different backgrounds are working together, and kind of building on one of those strengths to work for social change. And so that article is kind of putting that out there as a way of doing academic work, which is sort of challenging the hierarchies that are often maintained in academic spaces. So I think a lot about the importance of language and I also am someone who’s very committed to social justice. I did activist work before I became an academic and I continue to be really active in activist work specifically related to migration. So in thinking about this, I define social justice as something that is an aspiration and a goal. It’s kind of like something that how will we ever get there, even as I actively want us to get there, if that makes sense. And I think part of my thinking about it is that injustice is like so integral to the current construction of our societies, that we have to think in radically new ways to be able to even understand like, what justice might look like. We really have to kind of shift our frameworks and kind of challenged ways so it’s this like kind of radical reimagination of alternative worlds, right. And I think that language is really central to that, that struggle, right? Language is something that can help us to name and see injustice, like we just talked about, right? It’s a tool that can help us even to see forms of injustice that otherwise we might not have noticed. But it’s also something that can create space for more inclusive conversations and I think actually, it can inspire our imagination, like I don’t know about you, but I read a lot of sci-fi because it like helps me to see the world in a different way. I read a lot of ethnography of people who live in very different cultures from any that I have ever experience because it helps me to see the world in a really different way. I think that’s maybe the power of anthropology, right is that we can encourage people to step outside of our cultural comfort zones and see the world in a new way and maybe think about ways we could change the way the world is right now. So I think in the end language is useful tool but ultimately, it can’t solve these problems. These are problems that are not ultimately resolvable by language. So I think that’s a tension that I hold as someone who’s very invested in language, but also invested in social justice. It’s just recognizing, like, when language is useful, and when it stops being useful, I guess, I think in the end, we need to rebuild our global society from the ground up, right. I am an abolitionist and I, you know, I think it’s very important to get rid of a lot of the systemic inequality exists in our society today. So we have to really rebuild from the ground up and we need models of better ways of living together, with each other and with our world, right. And then ultimately, we need to like start implementing that and we need people to get on board and act, and act. So I think there’s a limit right language helps us imagine and reimagine and connect with other people as I show in my work but ultimately, we need people to do the work. We need people to be willing to show up and sacrifice right, to make change happen. So I think the biggest challenge if you’re asking me, like what I think the biggest roadblock is, I think, inertia, right, like the inertia of our lives. The fact that our, our system maintains itself by keeping us all super busy all the time and worried about stuff that is maybe not actually all that important in the grand scheme of things and that keeps us, that keeps us like inactive and not working for change as powerfully as we might if we were able to liberate our imaginations individually and collectively. So I think that’s, I’m like answering is like language is important but also we need more. I think that’s where I have come down to on this on this question. And I think, yeah, it’s just something that I keep struggling with, and I love talking to people about this question too.

Amber: No, you bring up very important points. A lot of the time people, you know, people will say that conversations are, are sometimes helpful, but they’re not gonna always solve big problems and sometimes you need bigger action and words are not always enough. Although words are very helpful in, you know, decolonizing, and restructuring different ideologies and ways of thinking for sure. What would you say you love the most about your job?

Dr. Lynnette Arnold: People, I mean, it’s funny, because I’m an introvert, but I was thinking about this question. I’m like, what are the best parts of my job, it’s where I get to connect with people. So I love teaching. I love talking to students. I love having office hours and getting to talk about people, you know, someone comes into my office hours like, I want to talk to you about this paper that I read, and we just dig into, like the details of it, or someone’s like, oh, I had this interview, and this thing happened. And what are we going to, you know, that I just, I just love working with students talking to students about their work. And I also do sometimes love working with my colleagues. I actually just came here, from a meeting with the Transformative Justice Coalition here at UMass that I’ve been involved in since we got started last year and it’s this big group of like faculty and staff and students, undergrad, and grad students. So it’s people that I wouldn’t necessarily talk to. they’re across campus outside of my department but we come together to try to work for a more just environment here on campus. And I was super inspired by that meeting today, just like I usually am, that I am fortunate enough to be in a place where there are people like this, who are trying to like, each do what we can to make our campus environment better and more just and more inclusive. So I think that just being in a place where I have the great privilege to like, talk ideas with people, and talk real world issues with people. And both of those things, doing them in collaboration with others is just a beautiful thing. So I think that’s, that’s the best part of my job is other people and talking to other people.

Claire: That’s, that’s really gorgeous. I think you put that really well. I very much understand where you’re coming from with the whole idea of being an introvert, but you love this, this opportunity to interact and learn and just connect with other people and I think that’s so beautiful, because one of the reasons why I’m so interested in anthropology is because I think it’s just such a gorgeous study of how humans are innately interactive creatures. We need each other. We care about each other at our core and I think that your, your work is really essential to getting us to this point where we can all sort of understand that we need to connect and we need to support each other. And we need to have this, this layer of equality that we don’t really have right now. So I like all of your ideas about building from the ground up because I really I don’t think it’s possible to necessarily 100% fix something that’s, that’s broken. We need to work together to sort of rebuild a just society and I think that’s really beautiful. Just to finish up, are there any other things that you want people to know about your work, your field, or you personally? Are there any websites or blogs outside of the UMass Anthropology website that you think we should visit?

Dr. Lynnette Arnold: I think I’ve said so much about my work so I don’t want to bore people with more about my work, but I will give you some some shout outs to cool linguistics, blogs, and podcasts if that’s okay. So, the blog has this really cool blog called “Language Log”, check it out. They’re always writing about language and like current political issues so it’s a really interesting way to get an update on what’s going on with like language and linguistic scholarship but also how it’s connected to current issues. So I love that blog. Other blogs that are, or podcasts that are similar to that are “Lingthusiasm”, a funny word. “Lingthusiasm” is another blog that’s hosted by linguists, and it’s all things linguistics. And “Vocal Fries” is another one that’s hosted by two feminist scholars and that’s kind of more language and social life kinds of content. Very funny. I love that podcast. And then I do have to give out a shout out to my favorite Spanish language blog, podcast of all times, which is “Radio Ambulante”. It tells stories from all over Latin America and I love it because I learn about stuff from Latin America that I would never have heard about. But I also love it as a linguist, because you get to hear all kinds of different kinds of Spanish on that blog, on that podcast and I think it’s really cool. So those are my top top picks of like, my all time favorite places to learn more about language.

Amber: That’s amazing. I’m definitely going to check it out. 

Dr. Lynnette Arnold: Check it out, it’s so rad. 

Amber: Thank you so much for sharing them and thank you, Professor Arnold for coming and joining us today and for chatting about linguistic anthropology with us. If you want to learn more about Professor Arnold’s wonderful specialization, we’ll link all of her websites and everything else in our show notes. So thank you so much, once again. This was a great interview.

Dr. Lynnette Arnold: Thank you so much for having me.

Amber: This was really fascinating. Claire, what was the thing that interested you the most in regards to linguistic anthropology or two topics that Professor Arnold touched on?

Claire: So, to be so honest with you, Amber, I’m not as well versed in linguistic anthropology as I’d like to be. So far in my time at school, I’ve mostly focused on cultural and archaeological anthropology. So quite honestly, everything here was interesting to me because a lot of it was new information. This was a really helpful and interesting introduction to the field for me, that was really in depth, since like I said, I’ve never taken a class in it before. Learning about interaction and care between families is something that really strikes a chord for me since my parents were long distance for a while before they got married. So for me, I really enjoyed hearing about the evolution of long-distance communication between loved ones and what that means for research and deeper study. What about you?

Amber: Wow, that’s crazy, because that’s also the part that interested me as well. Because I’ve been living in a different country from, like my mother and my family, who are kind of all over in France, Algeria, China so I never really thought about it but it is worth studying. And there is a lot to look at in terms of how digital changes and technologies are affecting the way that families communicate. She was talking mostly about immigration and families who are communicating across borders, but I’m thinking of it in terms of college and a lot of college students at UMass are international or living away from their families, right? So I think we can apply the research she’s doing to a lot of us who have long distance family relationships.

Claire: Yeah, that’s, that’s really interesting and I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for you to be away from your family so. so much. It was it was really eye opening for me last year, because, you know, it was my freshman year in college. I’m an only child and I was living five hours away from my parents so for me, I was like, oh, this is really tough. And then I was living in one of the International dorms and I was seeing all these people who you know, spent Thanksgiving break and such away from their families and it’s so impressive. And I love that communication has evolved so much to have, you know, things like FaceTime, where you can see each other and interact in real time, which is really nice.

Amber: Even WhatsApp I think is kind of like iconic for people who have families kind of all over the world. A lot of people have been using technology to stay in touch. And I think it’s really cool that she’s doing this type of research on language because we don’t really think of language in that way, often.

Claire: Yeah, we think about it, you know, two people talking face to face and having a conversation about whatever and we don’t really take the time to dive into it as much. And I’m really glad that we could do that today. So we are just so incredibly lucky to have been able to meet with Dr. Arnold today and to learn more about her specialized field. So as we continue with this podcast, we do hope to include many more examples of linguistic anthropology and the fascinating work these specialized anthropologists do. We hope you enjoyed it. And thank you all for tuning into our show today. Another thanks to our team members and our collaborators with AnthroHub, especially our tech crew. To stay connected. You can find us on Instagram as @anthro.mp3. You can also find our sources, transcripts of each episode, and more in our AnthroHub show notes. I was one of your hosts today, Claire, joined by our other host Amber and our tech crew, Phuong. Make sure to tune in next time to further explore the field of anthropology with us again. If you enjoyed this episode, you’ll love our next one, an introduction to biological anthropology with another exclusive interview. Keep an eye out on our Instagram for future updates on shows, specials, and events. Catch us next time and have a great day friends.

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