Anthropology and Linguistics

Signs of Difference:

Language and Ideology in Social Life

with Judith Irvine

Cambridge University Press, 2019


Drawing on the long-term ethnographic engagement of linguistic anthropologists Susan Gal and Judith Irvine in Hungary and Senegal, Signs of Difference works through the steps of the semiotic process of differentiation – an analytic approach that the authors note “is much wider than our own ethnographies but is well illustrated by them.” The book engages questions central to today’s world, such as how difference in language and in social life is made and unmade, and why some differences serve as a basis for motivating action while other differences are ignored or erased. Their work shows how the ethnographic exploration of linguistic practices can provide not only insight into the nature of sign and sign-relations, but also “attend to relations of power, politics, and history.”


Read a recent interview with the authors on CaMP Anthropology.

2020-21 CLASSES

Linguistic Ethnography (undergraduate) 


Anthropology and History of the Present: Migration, Environment, Authoritarianism

“Systematically mapping out new theoretical and empirical ground, this field-defining book richly develops the promise of Susan Gal and Judith T. Irvine's influential approach to understanding ideologies of linguistic and social difference. In crystal-clear analyses of ethnographic and historical material from Africa, Central Europe, and the United States, they make accessible the interlocking semiotic processes through which ordinary folks and experts alike create consequential contrasts between kinds of people. This landmark study will be essential reading for scholars of social relations well beyond the borders of linguistic anthropology.”
 Kathryn A. Woolard,
University of California, San Diego

Susan Gal is the Mae and Sidney G. Metzl Distinguished Service Professor of Anthropology and Linguistics at the University of Chicago. Susan Gal is presently doing research on the political economy of language, including linguistic nationalism, language and gender, and especially the rhetorical and symbolic aspects of political transformation in contemporary eastern Europe and post socialism generally. Her work focuses as well on the construction of gender and discourses of reproduction.