Anthropological linguistics is the study of language through human genetics and human development. This strongly overlaps the field of linguistic anthropology, which is the branch of anthropology that studies humans through the languages that they use.
Whatever one calls it, this field has had a major impact in the studies of visual perception (especially colour) and bioregional democracy, both of which are concerned with distinctions that are made in languages about perceptions of the surroundings.
Conventional linguistic anthropology also has implications for sociology and self-organization of peoples. Study of the Penan people, for instance, reveals that they have six different and distinct words for "we" — which may imply a more detailed understanding of co-operation, consensus and consensus decision-making than English. Anthropological linguistics studies these distinctions, and relates them to lifeways and to actual bodily adaptation to the senses, much as it studies distinctions made in languages regarding the colours of the rainbow: seeing the tendency to increase the diversity of terms, as evidence that there are distinctions that bodies in this environment must make, leading to situated knowledge and perhaps a situated ethics, whose final evidence is the differentiated set of terms used to denote "we".
Anthropological linguistics is concerned with
- Descriptive (or synchronic) linguistics Describing dialects (forms of a language used by a specific speech community). this study includes phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and grammar.
- Historical (or diachronic) linguistics Describing changes in dialects and languages over time. This study includes the study of linguistic divergence and language families, comparative linguistics, etymology, and philology.
- Ethnolinguistics Analyzing the relationship between culture, thought, and language.
- Sociolinguistics Analyzing the social functions of language and the social, political, and economic relationships among and between members of speech communities.
Mark Fettes, in Steps Towards an Ecology of Language (1996), sought "a theory of language ecology which can integrate naturalist and critical traditions"; and in An Ecological Approach to Language Renewal (1997), sought to approach a transformative ecology via a more active, perhaps designed, set of tools in language. This may cross a line between science and activism, but is within the anthropological tradition of study by the participant-observer. Related to problems in critical philosophy (for instance, the question who's we, and the subject-object problem).