What Do Linguistic Anthropologists Do?

by Holly Goodman

Language is more than just the words people use to talk. It also helps define the ways we relate to each other, and how we interpret the world around us. While anthropologists with other specialties focus on ancient societies, human evolution or modern cultures, linguistic anthropologists turn their attention to language and communication. They consider the physiology of speech, how languages developed and the affect languages have on shaping cultures.

Academic Careers

Academia has long been a leading employer of anthropologists of all types, and linguistic anthropologists are no exception. Colleges and universities provide anthropologists a place to research, teach and publish their findings. Linguistic anthropologists often immerse themselves in their work, living among the people they study to collect data. They might record vanishing languages or explore the relationship between language and cultural identity, among many other things. They need to have a strong linguistic and cultural understanding of the people they research. Along with anthropology they sometimes teach linguistics, communication, speech, foreign languages and rhetoric.

Non-Academic Careers

Outside of academia, not many jobs are labeled "anthropologist," but that doesn't mean there are no linguistic anthropology jobs within the government or in the private sector. Linguistic anthropologists' deep knowledge of language, research techniques and people make them valuable in dozens of roles from foreign agents and translators for the government to writers and editors at publishing houses. They might also help develop speech recognition technology in the software industry. Private companies have turned to anthropologists to help bolster communication and productivity.

Education and Skills

Though it is sometimes possible to find entry level work with a bachelor's degree in anthropology, most anthropologists have at least a master's degrees and need doctorate degrees to teach at most universities and colleges. Plan to study English, sociology, archaeology, psychology, and foreign languages along the way. You should have strong listening and communication skills and be adept at analysis, reasoning, problem solving and critical and creative thinking.

Job Outlook and Salary

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 21 percent job growth, slightly higher than the 14 percent average job growth rate for all fields through 2020, with about 1,300 new jobs anticipated in that time. In May 2011, the median wage across all areas of anthropology was $59,040 with the top 10 percent earning more than $89,000. Government employees have the highest wages, earning a median income of $72,980, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

About the Author

Based in Portland, Ore., Holly Goodman began writing professionally in 1991. Her articles have appeared in "The Oregonian," "Dog Fancy," "High Times," First Wives World and on YouTango.com, among other publications. Her fiction has appeared in "The Journal" and at Literary Mama. Goodman has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from The Ohio State University.

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