Judith T. Irvine is an anthropologist recognized for her work on language and communication in social, cultural, and historical context, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. She is known particularly for her studies of linguistic practices that both shape and reflect social hierarchy, inequality, and ideology. Born Judith Temkin in Baltimore, she was educated at Harvard University, the École Pratique des Hautes Études, and the University of Pennsylvania (PhD in Anthropology, 1973). She began her teaching career in 1972 as a member of the faculty in Anthropology at Brandeis University. In 1999 she joined the faculty at the University of Michigan, where she was appointed Edward Sapir Collegiate Professor of Linguistic Anthropology in 2006. She has been president of the Society for Linguistic Anthropology – a section of the American Anthropological Association – and editor of the Journal of Linguistic Anthropology. She is a member of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences.

Research Interests

Judith T. Irvine's research interests range among linguistic, sociolinguistic, ethnographic, and historical topics. One theme is the role of language in political economy; another theme is the differentiation of styles of speaking, in social context; and a third is theories of language's relation to ethnicity and other forms of social identity. An Africanist, she has done intensive field research in Senegal, mainly in a rural Wolof community, focusing mainly on linguistic practice and social hierarchy. She has also done research on languages spoken in other parts of the African continent, with an emphasis on honorific constructions and the performance of deference, recently in collaborative work in South Africa on Zulu. An ongoing project focuses on the history of Africanist linguistics and anthropology, especially during the early colonial era. Another major current project concerns ideologies of language and the making - and sometimes erasing - of social difference.

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Section 51: Anthropology