Linguistics and Anthropology

Andrea Zuvich

March 3, 2008

Claude Lévi-Strauss’s Linguistics and Anthropology

In his work entitled, “Linguistics and Anthropology,” Claude Lévi-Strauss argues that there is a relation between language and culture, but that there isn’t a full relation between both entities. He also states that everything has to be connected to each other; else “the human mind is a kind of jumble[1].” In truth, I found Lévi-Strauss to be a bit confusing, and this may possibly be attributed to the translation. I would have preferred to read it in the original French – perhaps that would have made more sense. Speaking of language, Lévi-Strauss does not agree with some anthropologists that language must be used indiscriminantly nor does he seem to agree with those who espouse the idea that there is a relationship between language and culture.[2]

I think it incredibly important to learn the language of the peoples you intend to study. For example, how can I truly understand a culture when I am just using translated texts instead of actually going out and communicating with the people myself? It is like I decided to study the social classes of Argentina, and went over there and did not speak any Castilian, how valid would my work be? This can, of course, be argued to be just my opinion, but what also comes to mind is anthropologists like Marvin Harris who wrote about the Indian culture and wrote that he had never gone there. I find this type of research absurd, for how can anyone analyze a culture, and publish their “findings” without learning the language, or even observing the people first-hand? I don’t think we can truly be good anthropologists without learning the language, as Franz Boas stated or involving oneself in participant observation like Malinowski.

I digress. Lévi-Strauss agrees that language is “part of and reflects, culture,[3]” and this must be true. Do we know of any culture that does not speak or write or engage in any type of communication? No, for if that were possible, we wouldn’t necessarily call it a culture. A culture consists of a certain organization, no matter what kind it is, but it must have a way for people to live by certain ideas or rules.


[1] Lévi-Strauss, Claude. Linguistics and Anthropology. Anthropological Theory, 337.

[2] Lévi-Strauss, Claude. Linguistics and Anthropology. Anthropological Theory, 326.

[3] Lévi-Strauss, Claude. Linguistics and Anthropology. Anthropological Theory. 327.

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