My research has been guided by an interest in the relation between language and the ethnographic description of social life, particularly authority and its various institutional forms: ceremonies, clinics, classrooms, and courtrooms. Drawing on extensive audio and videotaped recordings collected as part of ethnographic and linguistic fieldwork, and analyzed in their social, cultural and historical context, I ask the following questions: how can we describe how people use language to represent their social lives to one another? Specifically, how do they use language and its various media to construct authoritative representations in ceremonial, educational, legal and medical settings? How have these representations changed over time? Why and with what consequences?