GSE Faculty Research

Document Type

Book Chapter

Date of this Version

January 2008


Linguistic anthropologists investigate how language use both presupposes and creates social relations in cultural context (Silverstein, 1985; Duranti, 1997; Agha, 2006). Theories and methods from linguistic anthropology have been productively applied in educational research for the past 40 years. This chapter describes key aspects of a linguistic anthropological approach, reviews research in which these have been used to study educational phenomena, and illustrates how researchers can analyze educational data from this perspective. Readers should also consult Chapter 28, "Language Socialization," by Kathleen Riley, later in this volume, for a discussion of linguistic anthropological research in the language socialization tradition.

The linguistic and paralinguistic signs that compose educational language use communicate both referential and relational messages. When educators and learners speak and write, they communicate not only about the subject matter they are learning but also about their affiliations with social groups both inside and outside the speech event. These affiliations, some of which are created in educational events and institutions themselves, can shape students' life trajectories and influence how they learn subject matter. For both theoretical and practical reasons, then, educational researchers need to understand how language use both creates and presupposes social relations during educational activities.


Postprint version. Published in The Handbook of Educational Linguistics, edited by B. Spolsky and F. Hult (Oxford: Blackwell, 2008), pages 83-97.



Date Posted: 16 May 2008