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anthropological linguistics

The anthropological study of languages


A discipline that studies humans, focusing on the study of differences and similarities, both biological and cultural, in human populations. Anthropology is concerned with typical biological and cultural characteristics of human populations in all period and in all parts of the world.

applied (practicing) anthropology

The branch of anthropology that concerns itself with applying anthropological knowledge to achieve practical goals, usually in the service of an agency outside the traditional academic setting.


The branch of anthropology that seeks to reconstruct the daily life and customs of peoples who lived in the past and to trace and explain cultural changes. Often lacking written records for study, archaeologists must try to reconstruct history from the material remains of human cultures.

biological (physical) anthropology

The study of humans as biological organisms, dealing with the emergence and evolution of of humans and with contemporary biological variations among human populations.

cross-cultural researcher

An ethnologist who uses ethnographic data about many societies to test possible explanations of cultural variation to discover general patterns about cultural traits- what is universal, what is variable, why traits vary, and what the consequences of the variability might be.

cultural anthropology

The study of cultural variation and universals in the past and present.

descriptive (structural) linguistics

The study of how languages are constructed.


A person who spends some time living with, interviewing, and observing a group of people to describe their customs.


A description of society's customary behaviors and ideas.


An ethnologist who uses historical documents to study how a particular culture has changed over time.


The study of how and why recent cultures differ and are similar.


The hardened remains or impressions of plants and animals that lived in the past.

historical archaeology

A specialty within archaeology that studies the material remains of recent peoples who left written records.

historical linguistics

The study of how languages change over time.


Refers to an approach that studies many aspects of a multifaceted system.

homo sapiens

All living people belong to one biological species, Homo sapiens, which means that all human populations on earth can successfully interbreed. The first Homo sapiens may have emerged 200,000 years ago.

human paleontology

The study of the emergence of humans and their later physical evolution.

human variation

The study of how and why contemporary human populations vary biologically.


*See human paleontology


The time before written records


A member of the mammalian order Primates, divided into the two suborders of prosimians and anthropoids.


People who study primates.


The study of cultural and subcultural patterns of speaking in different social contexts.


The process of extensive borrowing of aspects of culture in the context of superordinate-subordinate relations between societies; usually occurs as the result of external pressure.

adaptive customs

Cultural traits that enhance survival and reproductive success in a particular environment.

cultural relativism

The attitude that a society's customs and ideas should be viewed within the context of that society's problems and opportunities.


The set of learned behaviors and ideas (including beliefs, attitudes, values, and ideals) that are characteristic of a particular society or population.


The borrowing by one society of a cultural trait belonging to another society as the result of contact between the two societies.


Refers to judgment of other cultures solely in therms of one's own culture.


The attitude that other societies' customs and ideas can be judged in the context of one's own culture.


The process of the creation of a new culture.


The ongoing spread of goods, people, information, and capital around the world.

maladaptive customs

Cultural traits that diminish the chances of survival and reproduction in a particular environment.


Standards or rules about what is acceptable behavior.


A usually violent replacement of a society's rulers.


A group of people who occupy a particular territory and speak a common language not generally understood by neighboring peoples. By this definition, societies do not necessarily correspond to nations.


The shared customs of a subgroup within a society.

behavioral ecology

Typically tries to understand contemporary human behavior using evolutionary principles. In addition to the principle of individual selection, behavioral ecologists point to the importance of analyzing economic tradeoffs because individuals have limited time and resources.

cultural ecology

The analysis of the relationship between a culture and its environment.

dual-inheritance theory

In contrast to other evolutionary ecological perspectives, this theory gives much more importance to culture as part of the evolutionary process. Dual inheritance refers to both genes and culture playing different, but nonetheless important and interactive roles in transmitting traits to future generations.


An approach that attempts to derive rules of thought from the logical analysis of ethnographic data.


Selectively breeding humans with desirable characteristics and preventing those with undesirable ones from having offspring.

evolutionary psychology

A type of evolutionary ecological approach that is particularly interested in universal human psychology. It is argued that human psychology was primarily adapted to the environment that characterized most of human history- the hunting-gathering way of life.


The theoretical orientation that looks for the part (function) that some aspect of culture or social life plays in maintaining a cultural system.

general evolution

The notion that higher forms of culture arise from and generally supersede lower forms.


A group of related species.

group selection

Natural selection of group characteristics.


The study of meaning.

individual selection

Natural selection of individual characteristics.

political economy

The study of how external forces, particularly powerful state societies, explain the way a society changes and adapts.


Systematic study of the biological causes of human behavior.

specific evolution

The particular sequence of change and adaption of a society in a given environment.


The theoretical orientation that human culture is a surface represented of the underlying structure of the human mind.

theoretical orientation

A general attitude about the phenomena are to be explained.


An answer to a why question. In science, researchers try to achieve two kinds of explanations: associations and theories.


Showing that a theory seems to be wrong y finding that implications or predictions derivable from it are not consistent with objectively collected data.


Firsthand experience with the people being studied and the usual means by which anthropological information is obtained. Regardless of other methods that anthropologists may use (e.g., censuses, surveys), fieldwork usually involves participant- observation for an extended period of time, often a year or more.


Predictions, which may be derived from theories, about how variables are related.


Associations or relationships that almost all scientists accept.


To describe how something compares with other things on some scale of variation.

operational definition

A description of the procedure that is followed in measuring a variable.

participant- observation

Living among the people being studied- observing, questioning, and (when possible) taking part in the important events of the group. Writing or other wise recording notes on observations, questions asked and answered, and things to check out later are parts of participant-observation.

probability value (p-value)

The likelihood that an observed result could have occurred by chance.

sampling universe

The list of cases to be sampled from.

statistical association

A relationship or correlation between two or more variables that is unlikely to be due to chance.

statistically significant

Refers to a result that would occur very rarely by chance. The result (and stronger ones) would occur fewer than 5 times out of 100 by chance.

theoretical construct

Something that cannot be observed or verified directly.


Explanations of associations or laws.


A thing or quantity that varies.


Differences in pronunciation characteristic of a group.


Using more than one language in the course of conversing.


Words or morphs that belong to different languages but have similar sounds and meanings.

core vocabulary

Nonspecialist vocabulary.


A variety of language spoken in a particular area or by a particular social group.

historical linguistics

The study of how languages change over time.


The study of communication by nonvocal meanings, including posture, mannerisms, body movement, facial expressions, and signs and genstures.

lexical content

Vocabulary or lexicon.


The words and morphs, and their meanings, of a language; approximated by a dictionary.


The smallest unit of a language that has a meaning.


One or more morphs with the same meaning.


The study of how sound sequences convey meaning.


Refers to all the optional vocal features or silences apart from the language itself that communicate meaning.


A sound or set of sounds that makes a difference in meaning to the speakers of the language.


A speech sound in a language.


The study of the sounds in a language and how they are used.


A hypothesized ancestral language from which two or more languages seem to have derived.


The ways in which words are arranged to form phrases and sentences.

symbolic communication

An arbitrary (not obviously meaningful) gesture, call, word, or sentence that has meaning even when its referent is not present.

cash crops

A cultivated commodity raised for sale rather than for personal consumption by the cultivator.


The increasing dependence on buying and selling, with money usually as the medium of exchange.

extensive (shifting) cultivation

A type of horticulture in which the land is worked for short periods and then left to regenerate for some years before being sued again. (also called shifting cultivation)

food production

The form of subsistence technology in which food-getting is dependent on the cultivation and the domestication of plants and animals.


May be generally defined as a food-getting strategy that obtains wild plant and animal resources through gathering, hunting, scavenging, or fishing.


Plant cultivation carried out with relatively simple tools and methods; nature is allowed to replace nutrients in the soil, in the absence of permanently cultivated fields.


People who collect food from naturally occurring resources, that is, wild plants, animals, and fish.

intensive agriculture

Food production characterized by the permanent cultivation of fields and made possible by the use of the plow, draft animals or machines, fertilizers, irrigation, water-storage techniques, and other complex agricultural techniques.


A form of subsistence technology in which food-getting is based directly or indirectly on the maintenance of domesticated animals.


Grassland with a high grass cover.


Tropical grassland.


A form of shifting cultivation in which the natural vegetation is cut down and burned off. The cleared ground is used for a short time and then left to regenerate.


Grassland with a dry, low grass cover.

subsistence economies

Economies in which almost all able-bodied adults are largely engaged in getting good for themselves and their families.

balanced reciprocity

Giving with the expectation of a straightforward immediate or limited-time trade.


A system of required labor.

generalized reciprocity

Gift giving without any immediate or planned return.

general-purpose money

A universally accepted medium of exchange.

market or commercial exchange

Transactions in which the "prices" are subject to supply and demand, whether or not the transactions occur in a marketplace.

optimal foraging theory

The theory that individuals seek to maximize the returns (in calories and nutrients) on their labor in deciding which animals and plants they will go after.


Rural people who produce food for their own subsistence but who must also contribute or sell their surpluses to others (in towns or cities) who do not produce their own food.


A feast among Pacific Northwest Native Americans at which great quantities of food and goods are given to the guests in order to gain prestige for the host(s).


Giving and taking (not politically arranged) without the use of money.


The accumulation of goods (or labor) by a particular person or in a particular place and their subsequent distribution.

special-purpose money

Objects of value for which only some goods and services can be exchanged.


A ranked group, often associated with a certain occupation, in which membership is determined at birth and marriage is restricted to members of one's own caste.


A category of people who have about the same opportunity to obtain economic resources, power, and prestige.

class societies

Societies containing social groups that have unequal access to economic resources, power, and prestige.

economic resources

Things that have value in a culture, including land, tools, and other technology, goods and money.

egalitarian societies

Societies in which all people of a given age-sex category have equal access to economic resources, and power, and prestige.


The process of defining ethnicity usually involves a group of people emphasizing common origins and language, shared history, and selected aspects of cultural difference such as a difference in religion. Because different groups are doing the perceiving, ethnic identities often vary with whether one is inside or outside the group.


The granting of freedom to a slave.


The ability to make others do what they do not want to do or influence based on the threat of force.


Being accorded particular respect or honor.


The belief, without scientific basis, that some "races" are inferior to others.

rank societies

Societies that do not have any unequal access to economic resources or power but with social groups that have unequal access to status positions and prestige.


A class of people who do not own their own labor of the products thereof.

gender differences

Differences between females and males that reflect cultural expectations and experiences.

gender roles

Roles that are culturally assigned to genders.

gender stratification

The degree of unequal access by the different genders to prestige, authority, power, rights, and economic resources.

primary subsistence activities

The food-getting activities: gathering, hunting, fishing, herding, and agriculture.

secondary subsistence activities

Activities that involve the preparation and processing of food either to make it edible or to store it.

sex differences

The typical differences between females and males that are most likely due to biological differences.

sexually dimorphic

A marked difference in size and appearance between males and females of a species.

bride price (or bride wealth)

A substantial gift of goods or money given to the bride's kin by the groom or his kin at or before the marriage.

bride service

Work performed by the groom for his bride's family for a variable length of time either before or after the marriage.


Children of siblings of the opposite sex.


A substantial transfer of goods or money from the bride's family to the bride.


The rule specifying marriage to a person within one's own group (kin, caste, community).


The rule specifying marriage to a person from outside one's own group (kin or community).

extended family

A family consisting of two or more single parent, monogamous, polygynous, or polyandrous families linked by a blood tie.


A social and economic unit consisting minimally of a parent and a child.

fraternal polyandry

The marriage of a woman to two or more brothers at the same time.

group marriage

Marriage in which more than one man is married to more than one woman at the same time; not customary in any known society.

incest taboo

Prohibition of sexual intercourse or marriage between mother and son, father and daughter, and brother and sister; often extends to other relatives.

independent family

A family unit consisting of one monogamous (nuclear) family, or one polygynous or one polyandrous family.

indirect dowry

Goods given by the groom's kin to the bride (or her father, who passes most of them to her) at or before her marriage.


A custom whereby a man is obliged to marry his brother's widow.


A socially approved sexual and economic union, usually between a man and a woman, that is presumed by both the couple and others to be more or less permanent, and that subsumes reciprocal rights and obligations between the two spouses and between spouses and their future children.


Marriage between only one man and only one woman at a time.

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