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Commission on:
Linguistic Anthropology (COLA)


Dr. Anita Sujoldzic
Department of Linguistic and Sociocultural Anthropology
Institute for Anthropological Research
University of Zagreb

Dr. Alexandre Duchene
University of Fribourg, Switzerland

This commission was founded in Florence, Italy, 2003, and the chairpersons are Dr. Anita Sujoldzic and Dr. Alexandre Duchene.

Over the last century linguistic anthropology has been developing its distinctiveness as an interdisciplinary field based on the fact that in three main domains of human existence – biological, socio-cultural and psychological, language plays one of the crucial roles in establishing human identity. Drawing from the intellectual heritage and methods of both linguistics and anthropology its goal however is continuity between these domains separately studied within independently established disciplines. Such a broad perspective of language as a central characteristic of human behavior and experience enables the study of various cross-disciplinary topics through the prism of language as related to biology and evolution on one hand, and society and culture on the other recognizing both universality and diversity of this unique human capacity.

In addition to always intriguing questions of the origin of language and its evolution in the context of homo sapiens, the role of language in cultural identity as well as the preservation of linguistic diversity along with that of species and cultures due to the global processes of cultural and environmental disruption, have become a major concern to many researchers of various backgrounds. Some forecasts indicate that more than half of the six thousand languages spoken today could disappear during this century. It is increasingly evident that the adoption of an integrated scientific perspective is needed to address these problems. Anthropology lends itself naturally to this kind of work because of its holistic and multidisciplinary perspective, which helps us to recognize interrelationships when they exist. Linguistic anthropologists have never considered language in isolation from the real world but have focused on the multifaceted relationships between language and both its natural and social environment, as well as the interaction of the various languages in contact situations.

A broad understanding of language as an open system affected by outside forces allows interdisciplinary approaches to the exploration of the socio-cultural correlates of language dynamics and change as well as the definition of factors that sustain the vitality and maintenance of languages in their environment in the most diverse situations and regions. Current vital issues such as the biological and socio-cultural functions of linguistic diversity and other relevant themes of language ecology including language policies and linguistic rights, require the interaction between disciplinary boundaries and the abandonment of an atomistic, fragmented conception of specialized disciplines.

The statement of purpose

During the last 10 years we have often heard expressed, and indeed, many among us have voiced ourselves, the need for more active inclusion of linguistic dimension of anthropology into the work of IUAES, which in spite of its unquestionable importance to anthropological science due to interdependencies between language and all other aspects of human existence has somehow disappeared from its congress symposia. As a matter of fact, the last IUAES linguistic symposium took place 15 years ago during the 12th ICAES held in Zagreb, Croatia in 1988. It was, in addition, a highly successful symposium on languages in contact organized by late Professor Filipovic and attended by almost fifty participants from all over the world. Based on this tradition and with firm belief that anthropology as a holistic science makes a natural framework for the research of complex linguistic problems we have decided to propose the establishment of the IUAES Commission on Linguistic Anthropology as an international body that could gather again researchers aware of the need for interdisciplinary efforts in the research related to language as a unique and ubiquitous faculty of man. We believe the Commission on Linguistic Anthropology can play a useful role in providing the forum for linguistically minded anthropologists and/or linguistically informed linguists as well as scientists from other academic backgrounds, where vital language questions approached from different disciplines could be shared and discussed.

The main purpose of this Scientific Commission is to promote the further consolidation of linguistic anthropology as an interdisciplinary field and to establish effective liaisons not only between linguistic anthropologists and other branches of anthropology but also with linguists in general, with firm belief that such scientific communication can make significant contributions to the science of anthropology as a whole and to a more coherent and comprehensive understanding of language in general.

Specific aims

The initial specific aims of the Commission are as follows:

The first meeting of the Commission is to be held during the XV ICAES in Florence, July 2003. The scientific session organized by the members of the Steering Committee on this occasion on Language dynamics and change - linguistic diversity in anthropological perspective will bring together a large number of scholars of human language from different disciplines and from all over the world who will take part in the foundation of the Commission and ensure its expertise and truly international membership. Also, in terms of the organizational structure in addition to the Chair and Executive Secretary an international steering committee is proposed to share in the decision-making and responsibilities of the Scientific Commission.

Steering Committee Members:

Brunetto Chiarelli (Italy), Tjeerd de Graaf (The Netherlands), Joseph J. Errington (USA), Olga A. Kazakevitch (Russia), Lachhman Khubchandani (India), Angéline Martel (Canada), Patrick McConvell (Australia), Vesna Muhvic-Dimanovski (Croatia), Peter Nelde (Belgium), Naz Rassool (UK), Anita Sujoldzic (Croatia), Qingsheng Zhou (China).