Ethnography of communication

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication (Name of Journal)

Encyclopedia of language and education: Research methods in language and education


Institute for Educational Development, Pakistan


The ethnography of communication is an approach to language research which has its origin in the development of a view in anthropology that culture to a large extent is expressed through language and of the view in linguistics that language is a system of cultural behaviors (Hymes, 1974; Geertz, 1973; Hymes, 1968). Hymes argued that the study of language must concern itself with describing and analyzing the ability of the native speakers to use language for communication in real situations (communicative competence) rather than limiting itself to describing the potential ability of the ideal speaker/listener to produce grammatically correct sentences (linguistic competence). Speakers of a language in particular communities are able to communicate with each other in a manner which is not only correct but also appropriate to the socio-cultural context. This ability involves a shared knowledge of the linguistic code as well as of the socio-cultural rules, norms and values which guide the conduct and interpretation of speech and other channels of communication in a community. The ethnography of speaking or the ethnography of communication, as it was later referred to, is concerned with the questions of what a person knows about appropriate patterns of language use in his or her community and how he or she learns about it.