Society for Linguistic Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Recent work in linguistics, philosophy, and psychology suggests that the distinction between generic and specific (singular) reference is foundational to concept formation, and hence of special interest to anthropologists—linguistic and cultural (Carlson, Prasada, Gelman, Leslie). Generics are not generalizations from experience. Generics (and closely related “characterizing utterances”) are abstract; point to semantic types rather than semantic individuals; point to core properties of the category being described, as enduring, timeless, inherent (not accidental); are normative, and potentially regiment meaning (and ontology). As a consequence, generics are social replicators (mechanisms by which social knowledge spreads across communities), and underwrite social essentialism and stereotypes (especially with respect to "race," ethnicity, and gender). And distinguishing generics from specifics in a consistent way is critical to ethnographic interpretation.