Anthropology Essay

2577 words - 11 pages

Anthropology is the study of the origin and development of human societies and cultures. Culture is the learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods. Anthropologists study these characteristics of past and present human communities through a variety of techniques. In doing so, they investigate and describe how different peoples of our world lived throughout history. Anthropologists aim to study and present their human subjects in a clear and unbiased way. They achieve this by observing and describing subjects in their local environment, a process known as ethnography. By participating in the everyday life of their ...view middle of the document...

Cultural anthropologists base their work in ethnography, a research method that uses field work and participant-observation to study individual cultures and customs. Elizabeth Kapu'uwailani Lindsey is a National Geographic Fellow in anthropology. As a doctoral student, she documented rare and nearly lost traditions of the palu, Micronesian navigators who don't use maps or instruments. Among the traditions she studied were the chants and practices of the Satawalese, a tiny cultural group native to a single coral atoll in the Federated States of Micronesia. Cultural anthropologists who analyze and compare different cultures are known as ethnologists. Ethnologists may observe how specific customs develop differently in different cultures and interpret why these differences exist. National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Wade Davis is an ethnobotanist. He spent more than three years in Latin America, collecting and studying plants that different indigenous groups use in their daily lives. His work compares how these groups understand and use plants as food, medicine, and in religious ceremonies. Linguistic Anthropology Linguistic anthropology is the study of how language influences social life. Linguistic anthropologists say language provides people with the intellectual tools for thinking and acting in the world. Linguistic anthropologists focus on how language shapes societies and their social networks, cultural beliefs, and understanding of themselves and their environments. To understand how people use language for social and cultural purposes, linguistic anthropologists closely document what people say as they engage in daily social activities. This documentation relies on participant-observation and other methods, including audiovisual recording and interviews with participants. Lera Boroditsky, a cognitive scientist, studies forms of communication among the Pormpuraaw, an Aboriginal community in Australia. Boroditsky found that almost all daily activities and conversations were placed within the context of cardinal directions. For example, when greeting someone in Pormpuraaw, one asks, "Where are you going?" A response may be: "A long way to the south-southwest." A person might warn another that "There is a snake near your northwest foot." This language enables the Pormpuraaw to locate and navigate themselves in landscapes with extreme precision, but makes communication nearly impossible for those without an absolute knowledge of cardinal directions. Linguistic anthropologists may document native languages that are in danger of extinction. The Enduring Voices Project at National Geographic aims to prevent language extinction by embarking on expeditions that create textual, visual, and auditory records of threatened languages. The project also assists indigenous communities in their efforts to revitalize and maintain their languages. Enduring Voices has documented the Chipaya language of Bolivia, the Yshyr Chamacoco language of Paraguay, and...

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