Daniel Lefkowitz headshot

Daniel S. Lefkowitz

Associate Professor
Unit: College of Arts and Sciences
Department: Department of Anthropology
Office location and address
Brooks Hall, 203
1702 University Ave
Charlottesville, Virginia 22904
Ph.D. Unversity of Texas 1995

I am a linguistic anthropologist interested in the points of overlap between emotion, identity, and social power. I look at how people express emotion (linguistically), how these emotional expressions pattern along lines of cultural identity (gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, etc), and how these patterns fit into a society’s social hierarchy. My approach is to look at discourse – how people get and give messages, whether talking face-to-face, or viewing a film, or engaging with the internet – to try to understand how social structures are created, reinforced, and/or opposed and transformed.

My interest in anthropology - and linguistic anthropology in particular – stems from my family’s stay in Vienna, Austria, when I was 13 years old. When I went to Vienna I spoke no language other than English, but while there I developed a fascination with languages and with how people use them. I saw firsthand, for example, how ‘native Austrians’ used language style to make (then) Yugoslavian guest-workers (“Gastarbeiter”) feel their foreign-ness in Vienna. When I returned home, I suddenly saw that kids in my suburban Cleveland high school engaged in the very same sorts of identity marking, as white and black students collaborated to construct maximally separate linguistic identities.

Israel was the site of my first formal research project. I spent two years living in Haifa observing Jewish and Palestinian Israelis as they used language (talking, reading, listening to TV/ radio, etc.) to negotiate what it meant to be “Israeli.” I was particularly drawn to how Israelis used intonation (the patterned rise and fall of pitch in speech) while speaking Hebrew. In my book Words and Stones I describe how members of the two subordinate ethnic/class groups in Israel, Mizrahi Jews and Palestinian Arabs used non-standard pitch patterns (or tunes, and especially the tunes that ended phrases) to contest, or symbolically resist the dominance of mainstream ideas of ‘Israeliness’. Intonation was especially interesting because people (in Israel, as elsewhere) use it so much to express emotion.

I am currently writing a book about language (i.e., character speech) in Hollywood movies. This project stems from a general interest in the relationship between how people speak, how peoples’ speech is represented (eg, in media), and how people react to the images of speech they encounter. So it’s about what we call “language ideologies.” The book looks at the culturally meaningful varieties of English that movie characters are given to speak – and what these usages come to mean as components of the films’ messages about identity.

My interest in intonation has led now to research on what linguists call “stance” and “voice quality.” Specifically, the phenomenon of “creaky voice.” (All speakers tend to trail off a bit as they near the end of a phrase or utterance, and when they do so their voice begins to sound creaky. The phenomenon I’m interested in is the spread of this effect to other parts of an utterance.) This research aims to answer questions like: ‘How do people (really) communicate to others what they feel about what they’re talking about (what linguists call “stance”). While we THINK (and are generally taught to think) that we do this with the words we choose – in fact this project argues that we’re deeply mistaken about that, relegating the significant communication to such marginalized and troublesome domains of language as intonation, prosody, creaky voice (my focus to date), etc.

So, my research interests could be stated as: Social Dialectology (or how significant segments of society actually use language); Language Ideology (or how we’re taught to evaluate how people use language and the power/status/identity consequences of those evaluations); and Mediation (or how representations of languages and their speakers are structured).

I have always maintained an interest in the practical applications of linguistic anthropological research, and in the coming years I hope to return to my original interest: the role of language and identity in American schooling.

COLA 1500: College Advising Seminars
Credits: 1
COLA courses are 1-credit seminars capped at 18 first-year students, all of whom are assigned to the instructor as advisees. They are topically focused on an area identified by the faculty member; they also include a significant advising component centered on undergraduate issues (e.g., choosing a major, study abroad opportunities, undergraduate research, etc.). For detailed descriptions see http://college.as.virginia.edu/COLA
ANTH 2410: Sociolinguistics
Credits: 3
Reviews key findings in the study of language variation. Explores the use of language to express identity and social difference.
ANTH 2440: Language and Cinema
Credits: 3
Looks historically at speech and language in Hollywood movies, including the technological challenges and artistic theories and controversies attending the transition from silent to sound films. Focuses on the ways that gender, racial, ethnic, and national identities are constructed through the representation of speech, dialect, and accent. Introduces semiotics but requires no knowledge of linguistics, or film studies.
MEST 2450: Languages of Nationhood: Sociolinguistics in Israel
Credits: 3
This course looks at the social life of languages in Israel. Beginning historically with the philosophical debates about language, identity, and nationhood swirling around the 19th century European Jewish communities, we examine how the revival of Hebrew contributed to the establishment of the Israeli state in the 20th century, and how processes of language change have influenced political and aesthetic life in Israel today.
MEST 2470: Reflections of Exile: Jewish Languages and their Communities
Credits: 3
Covers Jewish languages Yiddish, Judeo-Arabic, Ladino, and Hebrew from historical, linguistic, and literary perspectives. Explores the relations between communities and languages, the nature of diaspora, and the death and revival of languages. No prior knowledge of these languages is required. This course is cross-listed with ANTH 2470.
MEST 2559: New Course in Middle Eastern Studies
Credits: 3
New Course in Middle Eastern Studies
MEST 3470: Language and Culture in the Middle East
Credits: 3
Introduction to peoples, languages, cultures and histories of the Middle East. Focuses on Israel/Palestine as a microcosm of important social processes-such as colonialism, nationalism, religious fundamentalism, and modernization-that affect the region as a whole. This course is cross-listed with ANTH 3470. Prerequisite: Prior coursework in anthropology, middle east studies, or linguistics, or permission of the instructor.
LING 4994: Linguistics Internship
Credits: 1–3
In this course students will work closely with a professor on an ongoing research project.
ANTH 4998: Distinguished Majors Thesis Research
Credits: 3
Independent research, under the supervision of the faculty DMP thesis readers, toward the DMP thesis. Prerequisite: Admission to the Distinguished Majors Program in Anthropology.
ANTH 4999: Distinguished Majors Thesis Writing
Credits: 3
Writing of a thesis of approximately 50 pages, under the supervision of the faculty DMP thesis readers. Prerequisite: ANTH 4998.
ANTH 5470: Language and Identity
Credits: 3
In anthropology, where identity has become a central concern, language is seen as an important site for the construction of, and negotiation over social identities. In linguistics, reference to categories of social identity helps to explain language structure and change. This seminar explores the overlap between these converging trends by focusing on the notion of discourse as a nexus of cultural and linguistic processes.
ANTH 5485: Discourse Analysis
Credits: 3
Discourse analysis looks at the patterns in language and language-use above the level of sentence grammar and seeks to apply the micro-level analysis of communicative interactions to understanding the macro-level processes of social and cultural reproduction. Topics include: symbolic interactionism, conversation analysis, critical discourse analysis, interactional sociolinguistics, discourse prosody, and digital analysis techniques.
ANTH 5490: Speech Play and Verbal Art
Credits: 3
This graduate-level seminar seeks to understand variation in language (and its significance for social relations and social hierarchies) by focusing on forms of language that are aesthetically valued (whether as powerful or as poetic) in particular communities. The course assumes some familiarity both with technical analysis of language and anthropological perspectives on social formations.
ANTH 7400: Linguistic Anthropology
Credits: 3
An advanced introduction to the study of language from an anthropological point of view. No prior coursework in linguistics is expected, but the course is aimed at graduate students who will use what they learn in their own anthropologically-oriented research. Topics include an introduction to such basic concepts in linguistic anthropology as language in world-view, the nature of symbolic meaning, language and nationalism, universals and particulars in language, language in history and prehistory, the ethnography of speaking, the nature of everyday conversation, and the study of poetic language. The course is required for all Anthropology graduate students. It also counts toward the Theory requirement for the M.A. in Linguistics.
ANTH 7470: Language and Culture in the Middle East
Credits: 3
Language and Culture in the Middle East
ANTH 8998: Non-Topical Research, Preparation for Research
Credits: 1–12
For master's research, taken before a thesis director has been selected.
ANTH 8999: Non-Topical Research
Credits: 1–12
For master's thesis, taken under the supervision of a thesis director.
LING 8999: MA Thesis Research
Credits: 3
For Master's thesis, taken under the supervision of a thesis director.
ANTH 9010: Directed Readings
Credits: 1–12
Directed Readings
ANTH 9020: Directed Readings
Credits: 1–12
Directed Readings
ANTH 9050: Research Practicum
Credits: 1
Research Practicum
ANTH 9998: Non-Topical Research, Preparation for Doctoral Research
Credits: 1–12
For doctoral research, taken before a dissertation director has been selected.
ANTH 9999: Non-Topical Research
Credits: 1–12
For doctoral dissertation, taken under the supervision of a dissertation director.