Michael Silverstein

Faculty Photo
Charles F. Grey Distinguished Service Professor, Departments of Anthropology, Linguistics, and Psychology
Haskell Hall 313
Office Hours: Wednesdays 1:30pm-3:00pm
(773) 702-7713
Ph.D., Harvard University, 1972
Teaching at UChicago since 1970
Research Interests: Linguistic Anthropology, Sociolinguistics, Typology, Semiotics

Dr. Michael Silverstein is currently Charles F. Grey Distinguished Service Professor of Anthropology, Linguistics, and Psychology, and Director of the Center for the Study of Communication and Society at the University of Chicago. He completed his undergraduate and graduate studies at Harvard University (A.B., 1965, Linguistics & Romance Languages; Ph.D., 1972, Linguistics), and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi. He was a Junior Fellow of Harvard’s Society of Fellows (’69 -’72 in Anthropology & Linguistics), and has held Guggenheim (1978) and MacArthur Prize (1982) Fellowships, as well as a wide variety of resident fellowships and visiting faculty appointments in the U.S., Australia, Europe, and Japan. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1991), a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2011), and a Resident Member of the American Philosophical Society (2008). He received the 2014 Franz Boas Prize of the American Anthropological Association for “exemplary service to anthropology.” Silverstein’s research, writing, and teaching have ranged across language structure and function, the anthropology of language use, sociolinguistics, semiotics, language and cognition, language ideology, language history and prehistory, and the history of the social sciences.

His research centers on language-in-use as social and cultural practice and as a product of human cognitive processes. He has done linguistic and ethnographic fieldwork with speakers of North American Native languages (in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S.), and among Australian Aboriginal groups (Worora and related Northern Kimberley groups in Western Australia). Silverstein’s recent work has addressed the transformation of local speech communities by forces of globalization, nationalism, and mass-mediatization, powerful social institutions shaping – and shaped by – language and its use in every society’s discursive universe. A nontechnical product of the latter is the short book, Talking Politics: The Substance of Style from Abe to “W”, freely downloadable (No. 6) at http://www.prickly-paradigm.com/ and, more recently Creatures of Politics: Media, Message, and the American Presidency (Indiana University Press, 2012), co-authored with Michael Lempert.

Recent Publications

Selected Articles/Chapters:

  • 2017, "Message, Myopia, Dystopia. HAU post-election forum," ed. K. Hall & D. Goldstein. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 7(1).407-13.
  • 2017, "Forty years of speaking (of) the same (object) language – sans le savoir." Special double issue: Langues, langages, et discourse en sociétés: La revue a 40 ans. Langage et Société nos. 160-161.93-110 (2017).
  • 2017, "Boas—Sapir—Bloomfield: The synchronicization of phonology in American Linguistics." Chapter in: B. Elan Dresher and Harry van der Hulst, eds., Oxford handbook of The history of phonology.
  • 2017, "Lexicography." Encyclopedia of Linguistic Anthropology (Malden, MA: WileyBlackwell)
  • 2017, "Chomskian generative grammar in linguistic anthropology." Encyclopedia of Linguistic Anthropology (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell)
  • 2017, "Denotation." Encyclopedia of Linguistic Anthropology (Malden, MA: WileyBlackwell)

Recent Courses

Language in Culture-1 (LING 31100/ANTH 37201)

Among topics discussed in the first half of the sequence are the formal structure of semiotic systems, the ethnographically crucial incorporation of linguistic forms into cultural systems, and the methods for empirical investigation of "functional" semiotic structure and history.

Langauge in Culture-2 (LING 31200/ANTH 37202)

The second half of the sequence takes up basic concepts in sociolinguistics and their critique.

LingAnth Seminar: Voiced Revelations on "Fieldwork" on Languages and Cultures (LING 57727/ANTH 57727)

The recent publication (2019) and prominent popular reviews of Don Kulick's A Death in the Rainforest is at the leading edge of a long and distinguished line of publishing "the straight dope" on what it is like to engage in systematic empirical study of languages, particularly as denotational structures, and of cultures, particularly as the frameworks of value for the experiences in the field that envelop "natives" and the researcher. We take up the problem of how - and for whom - to 'voice' a kind of informal and revelatory retrospection of the fieldwork experience, using as examples writings by Bronislaw Malinowski, Hortense Powdermaker, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Margaret Mead, Robert M. W. Dixon, Don Kulick, and others - especially those suggested by members of the seminar.

Introductions to Linguistic Anthropology (LING 57724/ANTH 57724)

The plethora of handbooks, encyclopedias, companions, etc. (not to mention journals and book series) for what is captioned "linguistic anthropology" - notably overlapping with what is termed "sociolinguistics," though not of the variationist coloration - has now been joined by a number of teaching texts, most recently one from Cambridge University Press.  What, actually, are these texts introducing to undergraduates in the way of a presumed (sub)discipline that has reached a clarity for codification as an area of study?  What topics are "in"; which possible others are overlooked or neglected, perhaps the subject matter for other pedagogies?  Do these treatments each cohere in some discernible conceptual framework from which derives a narrative about the sociocultural life - and meta-life - of language?  Is there an intellectual periodization revealed in the longer intellectual trajectories of what have become related and intersecting/diverging self-conscious "disciplines" dealing with language-culture-social formations-mind-etc.?  What seems to become of "linguistic anthropology" when this area of research and publication is turned into the focus of an elementary teaching text?