ethnography of speaking

Ethnography of communication

The Ethnography of communication (EOC) is a method of discourse analysis in linguistics, which draws on the anthropological field of ethnography. Unlike ethnography proper, though, it takes both language and culture to be constitutive as well as constructive. According to Deborah Cameron (2001), EOC can be thought of as the application of ethnographic methods to the communication patterns of a group. Littlejohn & Foss (2005) recall that Dell Hymes suggests that “cultures communicate in different ways, but all forms of communication require a shared code, communicators who know and use the code, a channel, a setting, a message form, a topic, and an event created by transmission of the message (p. 312).”

So, EOC can be used as a means by which to study the interactions among members of various cultures: being able to discern which communication acts and/or codes are important to different groups, what types of meanings groups apply to different communication events, and how group members learn these codes provides insight into particular communities. This additional insight may be used to enhance communication with group members, make sense of group members’ decisions, and distinguish groups from one another, among other things.


Originally coined "Ethnography of speaking" in Dell Hymes eponymous 1962 paper, it was redefined in his 1964 paper, Introduction: Toward Ethnographies of Communication to accommodate for the non-vocal and non-verbal characteristics of communication.

Notable studies

Several research studies have used ethnography of communication as a methodological tool when conducting empirical research. Examples of this work include Philipsen’s (1975) study, which examined the ways in which blue-collar men living near Chicago communicated or did not communicate based on communication context, and Katriel’s (1990) study of Israeli communication acts involving griping and joking about national and public problems. These studies not only identify communication acts, codes, rules, functions, and norms, but they also offer different ways in which the method can be applied. Joel Sherzer's (1983) Kuna Ways of Speaking investigates the ways of speaking among the Kuna of Panama. This is a landmark study that focuses on curing ways, everyday speaking, puberty rites, and gathering house speech-making. It was the first monograph that explicitly took an ethnography of speaking perspective to the whole range of verbal practices among a group of people.


* *

  • Hymes, D.H. (1962). "The ethnography of speaking". T. Gladwin and W. C. Sturtevant (eds) Anthropology and Human Behaviour. Washington, D. C.: Anthropology Society of Washington.
  • * * *
  • Katriel, T. (1990). ‘Griping’ as a verbal ritual in some Israeli discourse. In D. Carbaugh (Ed.), Cultural Communication and Intercultural Contact. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 99-114.
  • Lindlof, T. R, & Taylor, B. C. (2002). Qualitative Communication Research Methods 2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, pp. 44-47.
  • Littlejohn, S. W., & Foss, K. A. (2005). Theories of human communication (8th ed.). USA: Thompson Wadsworth, pp. 312-315.
  • Philipsen, G. (1975). Speaking “like a man” in Teamsterville: Culture patterns of role enactment in an urban neighborhood. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 61, 13-22.
  • *
  • Sherzer, Joel. (1983). Kuna Ways of Speaking: An Ethnographic Perspective. Austin: The University of Texas Press.

Search another word or see ethnography of speakingon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature