New Books Network

Elise Berman

Talking Like Children

Language and the Production of Age in the Marshall Islands

Oxford University Press 2019

New Books in AnthropologyNew Books in Big IdeasNew Books in LanguageNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in PsychologyNew Books in Science & TechnologyNew Books Network March 2, 2020 Alex Golub

Since World War II, the fate of the Marshal Islands has been tied to the United States. The Marshalls were a site of military...

Since World War II, the fate of the Marshal Islands has been tied to the United States. The Marshalls were a site of military testing, host a US military base, and many Marshallese migrate to the US to pursue education and economic opportunity. Yet there are few books about Marshallese culture which are short and readable. In Talking Like Children: Language and the Production of Age in the Marshall Islands (Oxford University Press, 2019),  Elise Berman shows us the complexities of Marshallese life and reveals the way that age, a central part of Marshallese culture, is not biologically given but culturally constructed. It’s an accessible, short book that will appeal to both academic and nonacademic audiences with an interest in Marshalls or Micronesian culture more generally.

In this podcast host Alex Golub talks with Berman about being an American doing fieldwork in the Marshalls, what age is and how it is achieved through interaction, the differences between American (and broadly Western) approaches to language and power and Marshallese approaches, and how Elise turned her dissertation into a short and accessible book.

Elise Berman is a linguistic, cultural, and psychological anthropologist engaged with the interdisciplinary fields of education and communication. She has worked with the Chabad-Lubavitch, the K’iche’ Maya in Guatemala, and the Marshallese in the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI). She is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.


Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. He is the editor of a special number of Anthropological Forum on “The Politics of Order in Contemporary Papua New Guinea”.