WHAT IS LANGUAGE,

WEEK 4:
LANGUAGE AND COMMUNICATON

MAJOR THEMES

  • LANGUAGE AND SPEECH
  • ELEMENTS OF SPEECH
  • SYMBOLS
  • Language: A system of cultural knowledge used to generate and interpret speech.
  • key medium through which we interpret, express and transmit culture
  • transmits cultural memory and maintains traditions across generations.
  • Both a medium and effect of culture.
  • Ex: racial, class and gender relations both shape and are shaped by language.
  • Reflects and facilitates social and cultural change.

WHAT IS LANGUAGE, AND WHY DO ANTHROPOLOGISTS STUDY IT?

Study of Language

Linguistics: Scientific study of language with focus on formal structures of language (such as grammar); emphasis is on the formal construction of language, not its use.

Sociolinguistics: studies linguistic variation – how language is used in different social contexts and what it tells us about social relationships.

Linguistic Anthropology: Studies language as a form of symbolic communication and carrier of cultural information and meanings. Focuses on the relations between culture, meaning and language.

Linguistics: Structural Elements of Language

  • Although their surface forms differ, all human languages are composed of the same elements.
  • Phonology: study of the categories and rules for FORMING vocal symbols.
  • Ex: No English word begins with “ng”
  • Consonants and vowels tend to alternate in English. Some sequences of consonants, such as /mktb/ are excluded in English.
  • Phoneme: the minimal category of speech sounds that serve to keep utterances apart.
  • Ex. The English sounds /t/, /d/, and /s/ are phonemes

“Emic” and “Etic” Perspectives

Linguistics:
Elements of Language Analysis

Grammar – categories and rules for combining vocal symbols.

Morphemes are basic grammatical elements consisting of vocal symbols that form the minimal units of meaning in any language.

Ex: the word /bats/ is comprised of the morphemes /bat/ and plural /s/.

Difference between phoneme and morpheme?

Sociolinguistics: Language in Context

  • Sociolinguistic rules combine meaningful utterances with social situations into appropriate messages.
  • Semantics – the categories and rules for relating vocal symbols to their referents
  • Ex: Is the glass half empty or half full?
  • What does the word “crash” mean?
  • What is a “water pill”?

Anthropology: Language and Symbolic Representation

  • Linguistic anthropology is concerned with the study of language as a system of symbolic representation and meaning making.
  • Like sociolinguists, we focus on the rules and conventions that govern language use in social interaction (linguistic variation)
  • But we study language as a symbolic system of cultural knowledge and focus on its context-specific meanings and interpretation.

Language as a symbolic system?

A symbol is anything that people can perceive with their senses that stands for something else.

It may be an object or action or sound used to represent something abstract; an emblem.

  • Ex: Letters are symbolic representations of vocal sounds.
  • Because humans assign meaning to symbols in an arbitrary fashion, there is room for an infinite range of possibilities.
  • Symbols greatly simplify the task of communication.
  • Once we learn that a word stands for something, we can communicate about that thing in all its contexts and in the absence of the thing itself

Examples of symbols

  • Underlying most adjectives used for people are the culturally constructed categories of “good” and “bad”; “normal” and “abnormal.”
  • Some examples?

Names and Adjectives
Can Be Symbolic

  • Anthropologists have typically written about “other” cultures from their own cultural positions
  • In writing ethnographies, we make choices about what to say and how to say things about the people we write about, what kind of language to use.
  • Our representations are not objective, but very much subjective. Once written, images of others are not neutral.
  • Our decisions when writing ethnographies change how the people we write about are represented to the reading public and may heavily affect their lives.

Language and Representation: the heart of the anthropological project

Random House definition of ‘savage”

  • “Fierce, ferocious, or cruel; untamed…uncivilized; barbarous…enraged or furiously angry…unpolished, rude…wild or rugged….uncultivated; growing wild…an uncivilized human being …a fierce, brutal or cruel person”

Note how this definition is used to confirm the value of its opposite: the civilized.

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Gender and Communication: Conversational Styles

  • Gender structures our:

conversation styles

the words we use and how we use them

body language

This may cause miscommunication and/or misguided evaluations and judgments.

  • Why might men be reluctant to ask directions?
  • Why might women be more comfortable asking questions in a learning environment?

Gender, Communication, and Language

  • Women are taught to:
  • ask questions
  • encourage responses from other speakers
  • make positive minimal responses
  • allow interruptions into their speaking turns.
  • Men are socialized to:
  • interrupt
  • make minimal negative responses
  • challenge or ignore other speakers
  • introduce new topics and control them
  • make direct assertions.

These are not rules but culturally informed patterns.

(Learned, Shared, Symbolic, Naturalized, Dynamic)

We may observe aspects of these patterns in ourselves or others, but of course they do not apply to all men or women.

Examples of Gender Bias in Language

  • Pair orders: Men tend to precede women in naturalized versions of common constructions.
  • Ex: his and hers, male and female, husband and wife.
  • The pairing for good and bad, rich and poor likewise puts the most valued of the pair first.
  • Maiden name and terms of address (Mr. Smith and his wife);

The practice of naming speaks volumes about our values.

Mr. vs. Miss/Mrs./Ms.

  • Adjectives: Men & women “yell,” but women “screech” or “shriek”; men & women talk, but women “gossip;” men & women laugh but women “giggle” – all of these are used to denigrate or trivialize women. And what about men who “shriek,” “giggle,” or swish?

The Anthropology of Language

Language is more than a tool of communication

Not neutral, not natural; but reflective and loaded

Guides our perception: of ourselves, others, and the world

Reflects and reenacts social hierarchy, identity and difference

Thus, it offers a key means of understanding and interpreting the culture(s) in which it operates.

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The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis: Are Humans Trapped by their Language?

  • Does language affect our thought and perception of outside reality? Or, is it a passive symbolic system that merely describes outside reality, a transparent tool for the transmission of thought?
  • Two American linguists at the fore of this discussion of how language can limit, not expand, our knowledge of the world: Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf, Sapir’s student.

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Anthropology of Language

  • Edward Sapir: languages are more than a tool of communication — they guide our perceptions.
  • Benjamin Lee Whorf: language provides a frame of reference that orders our view of the world and shapes our perception of reality.

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Sapir was a student of the famous American anthropologist Franz Boas, who studied the languages of certain NW coast Native Americans. Boas discovered that there was a sound in this language between ch and sh but that linguists couldn’t hear it cuz it was not in their phonology.

Safir-Whorf Hypothesis

Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf suggest that language helps us determine how we see and think about the world.  They believe that language restricts the thought of people who use it and the limits of one’s language become the limits of one’s world. Example Edward Sapir: 1884 – 1939

In 1921 published his only book — Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech

Later contributed to the theory of meaning — developing what some eventually called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, primarily developed by his student Benjamin Lee Whorf

Sapir stated: “Human beings do not live in the objective world alone but are very much at the mercy of their particular language. The worlds in which different societies live are distinct worlds, not merely the same world with different labels attached.”

Whorf’s best known claim was that “standard average European” cultures are in a mental straight-jacket in which events are packaged in boxes, such as days, hours, minutes: a length of time, he argued, “is envisioned as a row of similar units, like a row of bottles.”

Humans create their own limited mental pictures of the world. The word “week” is often quoted. A week has no concrete reality in the external world. Yet most native speakers of English have a mental model of a sequence of seven days, which is divided into two chunks, five working days followed by two rest-days, the “weekend” – or sometimes six working days followed by one rest day. They have this idealized notion of a week, even though they may organize their own working life quite differently, and may know that technically the week begins on a Sunday. In contrast, an Inca week had 10 days, nine working days followed by market day, on which the king changed wives.

Whorf looked at the Hopi indians. He noted that they have a cyclical view of the world. They don’t refer to the days of the week in same way Westerners do.

Whorf never said you could not think about your language! He never said you can’t step out of your habitual thought.

The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

Examples

Inuit – many words for snow

Malayalam – same word for snow, dew, mist

Hanunoo of Philippine Islands- 92 varieties of rice

Looking at the sunlight refracted through a prism, English speakers identify at least 6 colors (purple, blue, green, yellow, orange and red)

Bassa speakers in Liberia identify 3 colors

Shona speakers in Rhodesia identify 2 colors.

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Grammar

  • Example: Conception of Time
  • English — Past – Present – Future

The effect of such a concept on Western people: diaries, records, annals, histories, clocks, calendars, timetables, salaries and wages specified in terms of limited time units, etc.

  • Hopi – The objective (things that exist now) and the subjective (things that can be thought about and therefore are in the process of becoming)

Euphemism

Roundabout language that is intended to conceal something embarrassing or unpleasant. Often used in political speech or for “bathroom words” why?

Some examples:

Collateral damage

Pacification

Restroom

Bacon or Pork

Beef or Steak

Can you think of others?

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Metaphors

  • Take language from one semantic domain of experience and apply it to another domain.
  • Ex: “foot of the mountain”: use of body organ to speak about landscape features; “tax burden” links taxes to the physical experience of carrying a heavy load.
  • Metaphors not only extend language from one domain to the other, but also extend meaning.

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Examples for Metaphors

  • Jenni is a fox.
  • Jim is a snake.
  • Charlie is a pig.
  • The shoulder of the road.
  • Your point is right on target.
  • Your claims are indefensible.
  • She shot down my position.
  • She attacked my argument.

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Metaphors: Illness

  • We fight a cold
  • We fight disease
  • We strengthen our defenses
  • We wage war on cancer
  • We have heart attacks
  • We are struck down with a given illness
  • Headline: Hillary Clinton battles pneumonia

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Metaphors: Time as economy

  • Time is money.
  • You’re wasting time.
  • That flat tire cost me an hour.
  • He’s living on borrowed time.

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Time is seen as a valuable commodity to be bought or sold or borrowed; won or lost

Time is seen as a scarce resource that we quantify, invest and spend

American Tongues:
A Film by Louis Alvarez and Andrew Kolker

  • Peabody Award-winning look at American accents and their social implications.
  • Looks at the way we judge people by the way they talk.
  • A survey of American linguistic prejudice; racial; regional; class-based.
  • “Southerners talk too slowly. New Yorkers are rude. New Englanders don’t say much at all.”

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PROBLEM: WE ASCRIBE VALUES TO LANGUAGE: Intelligence: When northerners hear southerners we think that they are slow, not just that they talk slow. Slowness of speech equals slowness of mind.

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Sapir was a student of the famous American anthropologist Franz Boas, who studied the languages of certain NW coast Native Americans. Boas discovered that there was a sound in this language between ch and sh but that linguists couldn’t hear it cuz it was not in their phonology.

Safir-Whorf Hypothesis

Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf suggest that language helps us determine how we see and think about the world.  They believe that language restricts the thought of people who use it and the limits of one’s language become the limits of one’s world. Example Edward Sapir: 1884 – 1939

In 1921 published his only book — Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech

Later contributed to the theory of meaning — developing what some eventually called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, primarily developed by his student Benjamin Lee Whorf

Sapir stated: “Human beings do not live in the objective world alone but are very much at the mercy of their particular language. The worlds in which different societies live are distinct worlds, not merely the same world with different labels attached.”

Whorf’s best known claim was that “standard average European” cultures are in a mental straight-jacket in which events are packaged in boxes, such as days, hours, minutes: a length of time, he argued, “is envisioned as a row of similar units, like a row of bottles.”

Humans create their own limited mental pictures of the world. The word “week” is often quoted. A week has no concrete reality in the external world. Yet most native speakers of English have a mental model of a sequence of seven days, which is divided into two chunks, five working days followed by two rest-days, the “weekend” – or sometimes six working days followed by one rest day. They have this idealized notion of a week, even though they may organize their own working life quite differently, and may know that technically the week begins on a Sunday. In contrast, an Inca week had 10 days, nine working days followed by market day, on which the king changed wives.

Whorf looked at the Hopi indians. He noted that they have a cyclical view of the world. They don’t refer to the days of the week in same way Westerners do.

Whorf never said you could not think about your language! He never said you can’t step out of your habitual thought.

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Time is seen as a valuable commodity to be bought or sold or borrowed; won or lost

Time is seen as a scarce resource that we quantify, invest and spend

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PROBLEM: WE ASCRIBE VALUES TO LANGUAGE: Intelligence: When northerners hear southerners we think that they are slow, not just that they talk slow. Slowness of speech equals slowness of mind.

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