Eve Danziger headshot

Eve Danziger

Unit: College of Arts and Sciences
Department: Department of Anthropology
Office location and address
rooks Hall, 200
1702 University Ave
Charlottesville, Virginia 22904
Ph.D. University of Pennsylvania 1991

Hello and welcome, from Eve Danziger, Professor of linguistic anthropology at the University of Virginia.  You can access a fuller list of my publications, my CV, and other materials at my professional website. Also, please visit the programs that I am affiliated with: Cognitive Science Program, and the Linguistics Program. You may contact me directly by email (danziger@virginia.edu).

Although I have lived and worked most of my life in Europe and North America, the very first languages that I spoke were Indonesian and Javanese.  Unfortunately I don't speak those languages now -- we left Indonesia when I was still very young. But I've always wondered whether speaking them into adulthood would have made the world seem like a different place to me.  I took that question into my working life, and became a linguistic anthropologist who studies, writes and teaches about the principle of linguistic relativity. This principle starts from the obvious facts that (1) there is usually more than one way to think about any problem, and (2) the particular approach that a person takes depends on his or her past experience. Linguistic relativity proposes that speaking a particular language is one of the kinds of experience that is relevant to selecting strategies in problem-solving. For example, if your language obliges you to state the cardinal direction (north south east west) every time you talk about something that moves, you might be particularly good at solving spatial problems. Speaking a particular language could make some kinds of strategies and solutions seem more natural than others, even on an unconscious level.  This would mean that we could learn about alternative ways of approaching the external world by studying and learning other languages. My publications in the field of linguistic relativity make use of methods from linguistics, cognitive science and ethnography, and include studies of kinship, spatial representation, and spontaneous gesture.

My interest in linguistic relativity has prompted me to learn as much as I can about a language that is very different from the languages of Europe: the Mopan Maya language and its relatives in the Mayan language family. These are living Native American languages spoken in Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. Today's speakers are descendants of the famous Ancient Maya who left their pyramids and hieroglyphic inscriptions all over the same territory. I have an ongoing interest in the primary grammatical description of Mopan and its relatives, and I am also active in exploring the contribution that linguistics can make to the reconstruction of Mesoamerican prehistory. 

One of the most interesting things that I have learned from traditional Mopan speakers is that, for them, speech has a direct effect on the cosmos, regardless of what the speaker may think, intend or ‘mean’ as he or she speaks. Profound questions about the nature of representation, and about the cultural universality of its mechanisms, arise from this fact. The comparative study of cultural philosophies of language becomes another way in to discovering the effects of culture on the human mind.  Once we know that mentalism is not a necessary component for a cultural philosophy of language, for example, we can ask what are the historical factors (Christianity? literacy? social mobility?) that have led to the development of mentalist philosophies where they do exist.  We can also ask how people in different parts of the world deal with the ambivalent possibilities for well-intentioned falsehood in all sorts of artistic and social domains.  We can in the end, and returning to the question of linguistic relativity from a new perspective, investigate the possibility that different philosophies of language and/ or mind may have consequences for the psychological development of individuals.  These and related questions constitute one of the most active areas of my current research. 

AS-ANTH Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant for Alison Broach
Source: U.S. NSF - Directorate Soc., Behav. & Eco. Science
June 01, 2015 – May 31, 2016
ANTH 2375: Disaster
Credits: 3
Sociocultural perspectives on disaster, including analysis of the manufacture of disaster, debates on societal collapse, apocalyptic thought, disaster management discourse, how disasters mobilize affect, disaster movies, and disasters as political allegory. Students work through a series of case studies from different societies that cover "natural," industrial, and chronic disasters, as well as doomsday scenarios.
ANTH 2559: New Course in Anthropology
Credits: 1–4
New course in the subject of anthropology.
ANTH 3480: Language and Prehistory
Credits: 3
This course covers the basic principles of diachronic linguistics and discusses the uses of linguistic data in the reconstruction of prehistory.
ANTH 3490: Language and Thought
Credits: 3
Language and Thought
ANTH 3590: Social and Cultural Anthropology
Credits: 3
Topics to be announced prior to each semester, dealing with social and cultural anthropology.
ANTH 4591: Majors Seminar
Credits: 3
The majors seminars in anthropology offer majors and minors an opportunity to engage deeply with a topic of anthropological concern. Through these courses anthropology students gain experience in doing an independent research project on a topic they care about and produce a significant paper or other major work. Enrollment for majors and minors is preferred.
ANTH 4993: Independent Study in Anthropology
Credits: 1–6
Independent study conducted by the student under the supervision of an instructor of his or her choice.
LING 4994: Linguistics Internship
Credits: 1–3
In this course students will work closely with a professor on an ongoing research project.
LING 4998: Distinguished Major Thesis
A two-semester course in which the student prepares a thesis under the supervision of a Linguistics faculty member. Prerequisite: Participants in the Distinguished Majors Program in Linguistics.
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 7480: Language and Prehistory
Credits: 3
This course covers the basic principles of diachronic linguistics (the study of how languages change over time) and the uses of linguistic data in the reconstruction of prehistory. Considered is the use of linguistic evidence in tracing prehistoric population movements in demonstrating contact among prehistoric groups and in the reconstruction of daily life. To the extent that the literature permits, examples and case studies will be drawn from the Mayan language area of Central America, and will include discussion of the pre-Columbian Mayan writing system and its ongoing decipherment. Fulfills the comparative-historical requirement for Linguistics graduate students.
ANTH 7590: Topics in Social and Cultural Anthropology
Credits: 3
Topics to be announced prior to each semester, dealing with social and cultural anthropology.
ANTH 8998: Non-Topical Research, Preparation for Research
Credits: 1–12
For master's research, taken before a thesis director has been selected.
LING 8998: Non-Topical Research
Credits: 1–12
Preparation for Master's Research, no thesis director.
ANTH 8999: Non-Topical Research
Credits: 1–12
For master's thesis, taken under the supervision of a thesis director.
LING 9010: Directed Research
Credits: 3
Special Areas Students should choose electives in one or more of the following areas: anthropology, Asian and Middle Eastern languages and Cultures, comparative Latin and Greek, English language study, Germanic linguistics, Indic linguistics, philosophy, psychology, Romance linguistics, Slavic linguistics.
ANTH 9020: Directed Readings
Credits: 1–12
Directed Readings
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.