Anthropology Magazine

Unit 1 – Language and Identity

Unit 1 – Language and Identity


Language shapes the way we think about, understand, and communicate who we are individually and as members of the many intersecting groups that define us. This unit will allow students to consider how identity is demarcated and sustained by language and ways of speaking both among members of the same group and between different populations.

SAPIENS Articles:


Professor Talking Points:

  • Linguistic anthropology studies the role of language in creating, sustaining, and changing cultures and societies.
  • Linguistic anthropological work allows for a deeper understanding of how language provides a framework for making sense of who we are in relation to others and how collective identities are formed and defined in part by the languages people speak and the way they speak them.

Academic Articles:

  • Bailey, Benjamin. 2008. “The Language of Multiple Identities Among Dominican Americans.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 10 (2): 190–223.
  • Benor, Sarah Bunin. 2011. “Mensch, Bentsh, and Balagan: Variation in the American Jewish Linguistic Repertoire.” Language and Communication 31 (2): 141–154.

Student Discussion Questions:

  1. What do the four articles tell us about why language is an important keystone of identity? How do the four examples differ from one another?
  2. What kinds of power dynamics are in play where language and identity are concerned?
  3. How do people who belong to the same overarching group show that they are different from others through their use of language?
  4. What role does technology play in keeping languages alive today? What are some potential pros and cons of using apps to keep languages alive?


  • Ask the students to write a one-page essay on how their everyday language both reflects and shapes their identities.

Additional Resources:



Unit by Eshe Lewis (2020)