Society for Linguistic Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Abstract: “Generics” such as “the lion is a friendly beast” (Lyons 1977) and “mosquitoes carry malaria” are utterances that “express general claims about kinds and categories” (Leslie 2012). They are key resources for talking about classes of things, activities, and persons. As such, they purport to identify stability in the constantly changing social and semiotic climates anthropologists tend to study.
In this panel, we suggest that understanding generics will help clarify several topics core to anthropology. Incorporating recent research from cognitive psychology (Gelman 2010; Mannheim et al. 2010; Leslie and Gelman 2012; Brandone et al. 2012) and related theory in linguistic anthropology (e.g., Koven 2016; and discussion of ‘nomic’ utterances, e.g. in Silverstein 2003; Agha 2007), we explore the usefulness of generics as an analytic for understanding social and semiotic life, and begin to specify their properties. To do this, we work through several examples and offer more general theoretical comments. Exploring gamblers’ efforts to typify and distinguish moral economic types in Laos, uses of derogatory terms for “the enemy” in the US Military, and efforts to posit and problematize essentializations in Vietnam, the papers show how generics are always pragmatically embedded in communicative events, even when they refer to kinds and classes that seem patently abstract. In concert, the panel posits that generics offer a way for anthropologists to interactionally situate typification, norm-making, and essentialization.
2007 Language and Social Relations. Studies in the Social and Cultural Foundations of Language, 24. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Brandone, Amanda C., Andrei Cimpian, Sarah-Jane Leslie, and Susan A. Gelman
2012 Do Lions Have Manes? For Children, Generics Are about Kinds Rather than Quantities. Child Development 83(2): 423–433.
Gelman, Susan A.
2010 Generics as a Window onto Young Children’s Concepts. In Kinds, Things, and Stuff: Mass Terms and Generics. Francis Jeffry Pelletier, ed. Pp. 100–120. New Directions in Cognitive Science. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press.
2016 Essentialization Strategies in the Storytellings of Young Luso-Descendant Women in France: Narrative Calibration, Voicing, and Scale. Language & Communication 46: 19–29.
2012 Generics. In Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Language. Gillian Russell and Delia Fara, eds. Pp. 355–366. Routledge.
Leslie, Sarah-Jane, and Susan A. Gelman
2012 Quantified Statements Are Recalled as Generics: Evidence from Preschool Children and Adults. Cognitive Psychology 64(3): 186–214.
1977 Semantics: 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Mannheim, Bruce, Susan A. Gelman, Carmen Escalante, Margarita Huayhua, and Rosalía Puma
2010 A Developmental Analysis of Generic Nouns in Southern Peruvian Quechua. Language Learning and Development 7(1): 1–23.
2003 Indexical Order and the Dialectics of Sociolinguistic Life. Language & Communication 23.