Language and Material Culture

| University of Mississippi
ISBN 9789027218803 | EUR 95.00 | USD 143.00
ISBN 9789027267948 | EUR 95.00 | USD 143.00
This innovative and provocative work introduces complexity theory and its application to both the study of language and the study of material culture. The book begins with a wide-ranging theoretical background, covering the areas of dialect geography, the anthropological study of material culture, and a general introduction to the study of complex adaptive systems. Following this general introduction, the principles of complexity theory are demonstrated in data drawn from linguistics and material culture studies. Language and Material Culture further highlights the principles of complexity through a series of case studies, using data from the Linguistic Atlas, colonial American inventories and the Historic American Building Survey. LMC shows that language and material culture are intertwined as they interact within the same cultural complex system. The book is designed for students in courses that focus on language variation, American English and material culture, in addition to general courses on applications of complex systems.
[IMPACT: Studies in Language, Culture and Society, 38]  2015.  xvii, 192 pp.
Publishing status: Available
Table of Contents
List of figures
List of tables
1. Introduction: Words for things
2. A dual history
3. Complex adaptive systems
4. Material culture as a complex system
5. Case study: Pantry
6. Case study: Estate inventories
7. Case study: Historic American building survey
8. Conclusion: On artifacts
Appendix A. Complete data sets from Chapter 1
Appendix B. Complete data sets from Chapter 3
Appendix C. Complete data set from Chapter 4
Appendix D. Complete data sets from Chapter 5
Appendix E. Complete data sets from Chapter 6
Appendix F. Complete data sets from Chapter 7
“‘People are annoyingly casual about the application of names’, the great dialect lexicographer Frederic G. Cassidy once tellingly observed. Carefully unfolding the science of complex systems and applying it to well-chosen examples of untidy lexical and material culture variation, Burkette replaces annoyance with enlightenment in the most erudite and entertaining way. Firmly grounded in the data of the mighty American Linguistic Atlas Project, this work is essential reading for all those who know, or who suspect, that the ‘not neat’ of language is the norm, and who seek the means by which to embrace it.”
Language and Material Culture is brilliantly creative, making the connection between language with both historical culture and complexity science. It bridges linguistics and anthropology in a fundamentally new way, using complex systems to explain words and things in culture. Burkette shows how distributional patterns emerge in our words for things, as we all interact to create our culture, and that the study of culture creation involves getting to know the history and contexts for our household and community circumstances, as for pantries and building styles, so that we can understand our houses as part of broad movements in complex systems.”
“As Allison Burkette reminds us, the study of objects and words has a long shared theoretical history. Over the past half century, trends in archaeology and linguistics have moved from exploring the hard and fast rules of structuralism to accounting for the dynamic interaction between agents and objects in complexity theory. Along the way, we have seen structuralist verities picked apart and left behind in favor of the flexibility inherent in the concept of complex systems where identities, meanings, and uses of objects and words are shaped and transformed by their engagement with a variety of agents within a specific cultural environment.

Language and Material Culture explores the continuing dependence of historians of material culture on linguistic theory. Burkette’s description of complexity theory reveals how closely it is akin to the manner in which many architectural historians in recent decades have approached the interpretation of buildings. Architecture gives physical shape to the way people perceive their place in the world and how they interact with others. The arrangement of spaces and the naming of those places reveal much about patterns of behavior. The historical landscape communicated a variety of meanings that sometimes changed over time or were transformed by new ideas and attitudes. More often the significance of a building was implied by its positions in a landscape, its materials, level of finish, or plan. However, these meanings were not static but dynamic and could be interpreted in a variety of ways or contested by different members of society. The author carefully picks apart many of these issues in chapters that address the nature of data found in estate inventories, Historic American Buildings Survey drawings and photographs, and in the naming patterns of building types.

With parallels drawn from the examination of the use of words, Burkette demonstrates why questions that have taxed architectural historians concerning the nature of regionalism and its boundaries are hard to define and difficult to map. So too, the relationship between a metropolitan core and the hinterland or periphery, which defies precision because it is contingent on so many shifting influences. In this well-written study, Burkette has provided a very useful framework for thinking about material culture theory.”
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Burkette, Allison
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2017. To Start a Fire. American Speech 92:3  pp. 321 ff. Crossref logo

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Terminology & Lexicography

BIC Subject: CFB – Sociolinguistics
BISAC Subject: LAN009000 – LANGUAGE ARTS & DISCIPLINES / Linguistics / General
U.S. Library of Congress Control Number:  2015026593