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An Anthropology of Language

“The Anthropology of Language” by Ottenheimer and Pine examines the peculiarities of the many African Scam Letters circulated nowadays. Because of how the perpetrators of these scams utilize language to gain the confidence of their victims, the authors speculate that Africans are to blame for them. On the other hand, the authors draw attention to the fact that some frauds include adopting a “Mock African” persona. It implies that they use racist language and have negative prejudices about persons of African heritage. This article initially examines the authors’ viewpoints before evaluating their linguistic choices.

Ottenheimer and Pine (2018) claim that the African Scam Letter is a kind of scam in which the con artist deceives the victim into believing they would provide them with anything in exchange for their personal or financial information. These frauds are mainly carried out by email; most of their victims are Americans. According to the authors, widespread poverty and high unemployment rates in Africa are to blame for the rise in fraudulent schemes. According to scientists, the issue is due to widespread poverty and a lack of work possibilities throughout Africa. In order to gain the confidence of potential victims before stealing their money, con artists use various linguistic techniques, as the writers highlight the importance of language in these scams.

In order to lure their intended victim to them, con artists often offer them some reward. When someone is forced to pay money upfront, it is said to be a “scam” that is known as an “advance fee scam,” according to Ottenheimer and Pine (2018), page 207. Additionally, con artists could pretend to have access to vast quantities of money and offer to split it with their victims. The goal of this fraud is the same as that of the alleged “Nigerian 419 scam” (Ottenheimer & Pine, 2018, page 207).

Con artists will often employ friendly language to lure their victims in. Known as a “romance scam,” this tactic relies on the victim developing feelings for the con artist (Ottenheimer and Pine, 2018, p. 209). Con artists will often utilize fictitious identities and photos to gain the confidence of their victims. Using specific terms, they may also try to make the target feel comfortable and familiar.

However, the authors also note that some frauds use a “Mock African” persona. It implies they make hostile generalizations about Africans and utilize racist rhetoric. Scammers intentionally adopt this persona because it gives them a sense of superiority over their victims (Ottenheimer and Pine 2018, p. 209). The authors claim that criminals not originally from Africa often exploit this stereotype. A few different outcomes exist when you use a “Mock African” character. It perpetuates and reinforces harmful generalizations and prejudices about African people. Second, it makes potential victims feel suspicious and untrusting, making it more difficult for legitimate companies and individuals in Africa to connect and gain trust with others. Lastly, actual Africans experience embarrassment and humiliation due to the fraudsters’ conduct being falsely attributed to them (Ottenheimer and Pine, 2018, p. 210).

In conclusion, the prevalence of African Scam Letters in today’s culture is a complicated problem caused by various causes, such as poverty, unemployment, and the use of language strategies. Although the writers imply that African individuals are responsible for most of these cons, they also point out that some con artists create a “Mock African” character to take advantage of unfavorable prejudices of Africa and the people who live there. Adopting this persona has many repercussions, including the continuation of racism, the generation of mistrust and suspicion, and the induction of feelings of shame and disgrace. It is essential to be aware of these linguistic strategies and to make efforts toward developing a more positive and inclusive language.

Reference list

Ottenheimer, H.J. and Pine, J.M.S. (2018). The Anthropology of Language: An Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology. [online] Google Books. Cengage Learning. Available at: [Accessed 8 May 2023].


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