Foundations of Anthropology at the University of California   Seal of The University of California
Section 5 composite

Section 5 Composite
McCown, Mohave music, Waterman

Linguistic Anthropology

inguistic anthropology is the study of the history, evolution, and internal structure of human languages. By studying sounds, vocabulary, and the structure of languages, linguistic anthropologists explore links between groups in the recent or distant past, the relationship of people to their environments, and connections between language and behavior. At the founding of the Department, such work was deemed particularly critical in California (and of higher priority than archaeology) given the pressure on native peoples to abandon their traditional languages and life. It was also critical to the effort of classifying cultures and suggesting historical relationships. Much of this information was meticulously recorded phonetically in notebooks.

Recording devices such as the portable graphophone were also important tools facilitating such work. The words, stories, and songs were recorded on wax cylinders in the field. Back at the University, transcriptions and translations could be prepared and different sounds, words, and grammars compared to identify similarities and differences. As the Department grew, linguistic research broadened to encompass other geographic areas and consider more general issues of human communication.

A.L. Kroeber: Sheet Music of Mohave Song

Alfred Louis Kroeber

Sheet Music of Mohave Song


Kroeber recorded a wealth of music and lyrics in the field and with native informants visiting the Department. Here is a transcription of a Mohave song recorded by Kroeber.

BANC MSS C-B 925 Ctn 10:39

Samuel Alfred Barrett: Notebook of Vocabularies

Samuel Alfred Barrett

Notebook of Vocabularies

Ca. 1906

Basic words for objects, geography, and kinship were often recorded, facilitating distinctions between different linguistic groups. In this notebook, Barrett provides short vocabulary lists from various Yokuts, Washoe, and Paiute informants.

CU-23.1 #9

Thomas Talbot Waterman: Notebook Translation of the Yana Story of Wood Duck

Thomas Talbot Waterman


Translation of the Yana Story of Wood Duck

Ca. 1914

Narrative texts provided more detail on language structure and communication than limited vocabularies. Such narratives were difficult to document, however, without the use of recording devices. Ishi provided several Yana myths in this way, and Waterman later translated them.

CU-23.1 #35.1