Semiotic Anthropology

Posted: 4 Dec 2007

See all articles by Elizabeth Mertz

Elizabeth Mertz

University of Wisconsin - Madison; American Bar Foundation


From the 1970s through the present, semiotic anthropology has grown in importance but also has shifted its emphasis, in the process helping to push forward a more general change in the subfields of linguistic and sociocultural anthropology. This article explores that change from the vantage of each of these key subfields, arguing that core concepts of semiotic anthropology have permitted a new rapprochement between sociocultural and linguistic analyzes - one which permits each to make better use of the insights of the other. It has also aided anthropologists in overcoming stale conceptual oppositions. Five specific points of contact are explored: (a) indexicality and social context; (b) metalinguistic structuring/linguistic ideology, pragmatics, and social interaction; (c) social power, history, and linguistic interaction; (d) agency, linguistic creativity, and real time; and (e) shifting sites, units of analysis, and methods.

Keywords: pragmatics, C.S. Peirce, power, indexicality, metalinguistic

Suggested Citation

Mertz, Elizabeth Ellen, Semiotic Anthropology. Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 36, October 2007. Available at SSRN:

Elizabeth Ellen Mertz (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin - Madison ( email )

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Madison, WI 53706-1481
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American Bar Foundation ( email )

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