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Can the Native Know Language? Viewing Linguistic Anthropology through Signs of Difference

L’analyste, le natif et la connaissance linguistique : perspective sur l’anthropologie linguistique à la lumière de Signs of Difference
Urmila Nair
p. 113-132

Notes de l’auteur

The article offers a sketch of American linguistic anthropology, of the iteration that is characterized by the model of (meta)pragmatics. This model being somewhat esoteric, the article examines it through an “accessible translation” proffered by the recent book Signs of Difference (Gal & Irvine 2019). The article simultaneously scrutinizes the assertion (see Silverstein 1993a: 43-44) that this model gives the analyst a knowledge of language superior to any indigenous knowledge thereof.

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“Linguistic Anthropology” and its Object of Analysis
Signs of Difference: An “Accessible Translation” of (Meta)Pragmatics
On Knowing the “Humanly Experienced, Real-Time World”
On the Linguistic Symbol
Of Natives and the Total Linguistic Fact, in the Ethnographic Moment

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We now recognize that the “realities” of meaningful social practices emerge from people’s situated experience of indexical semiotic processes that constitute them.
We ought, perhaps, to resign ourselves to enjoying the fact that it’s indexicality all the way down,
that in any sociocultural phenomenon nothing is manifest beyond this indexicality
except semanticoreferential language and its further developments

Michael Silverstein (1998: 128, emphases added).

This piece offers a perspective on linguistic anthropology, specifically on the iteration that emerged in the United States around the model of (meta)pragmatics, with the charismatic figure of Michael Silverstein (1945-2020) at its heart. Context is crucial to this model. Let us begin accordingly by considering the context of this article—in France, in the present moment.

In France, the uptake of Silverstein’s writings and (meta)pragmatics more broadly has been aleatory and intermittent. Three landmarks must be cited: In 1975, Silverst...

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Urmila Nair, « Can the Native Know Language? Viewing Linguistic Anthropology through Signs of Difference »L’Homme, 245 | 2023, 113-132.

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Urmila Nair, « Can the Native Know Language? Viewing Linguistic Anthropology through Signs of Difference »L’Homme [En ligne], 245 | 2023, mis en ligne le 07 avril 2023, consulté le 07 juin 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Urmila Nair

Laboratoire Langues et civilisations à tradition orale (LACITO, UMR 7107, CNRS, Sorbonne Nouvelle, INALCO), Paris – urmila.nair[at]

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Creative Commons - Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International - CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

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