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Linguistic Anthropology Language and Culture
Culture • In 1952, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn, published a book containing 164 definitions of culture taken from the published work of anthropologists. • Still no universally accepted definition • One widely used definition (thanks to Max Weber and Clifford Geertz): Culture is a web of meaning which human beings weave and in which we are suspended.
The emic vs. etic distinction • From Phonetics vs Phonemics • Two equally valid perspectives from which to view human behavior, activities, values, etc. • Emic—subjectively relevant, internally verifiable • Etic—objectively identifiable, externally observable
Etic and Emic – an example • Etic data—things that are observable – 110° F water into mug, water swirled in mug, water poured into the sink, drink poured into mug • Emic data—the meaning of the action for the actor – He warms his coffee mug so that the coffee tastes better » Or – She tries to kill all the germs and bacteria that have accumulated in the coffee mug since its last washing
Ethnosemantics • 1950 s and 60 s • Frake, Goodenough, Conklin • Alternate names: – Ethnoscience, Cognitive Anthropology • Vocabulary indicates – “native” categories – Culturally important distinctions • Psychological reality or formal account?
Cultural emphases – What IS subjectively relevant? • Cultural emphases reflect activities, meet needs • Some universal patterns appear to exist, however • Color terms – Stages 1 -7 • Color terms and focal points (Berlin & Kay) – Codability—how easy is it to name a color chip – Availability—how easy is it to find a given chip in a group of other chips
Standardized Color Chart
Color terms – Stages 1 -7 • Stage 1: black & white • Stage 2: black, white & red • Stage 3: black, white, red & green or yellow • Stage 4: black, white, red, green & yellow • Stage 5: black, white, red, green, yellow & blue • Stage 6: black, white, red, green, yellow, blue & brown • Stage 7: black, white, red, green, yellow, blue, brown & purple, pink, orange, and/or gray
Getting at the Emic – Doing ethnosemantic research • Creating a taxonomy – Asking questions about relationships: • Is X a kind of Y? • What other kinds of Y are there? • Are there other kinds of X? – Taxonomy about relationships • Componential analysis – Discovering key differences
Sapir-Whorf or Whorfian hypothesis: two versions • Strong Whorf—language determines thought, you think within the structure of your language – Agar—language as prison • Weaker Whorf—language provides habitual patterns of seeing, thinking and talking – Agar—Language as a familiar room; you know where everything is in it • Both forms of linguistic determinism
Linguistic Determinism • Origins – “Human beings. . . are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression for their society. ” (Sapir 1929) – “we cannot talk at all except by subscribing to the organization and classification of data” (Whorf 1940)
Examples of Linguistic Determinism: Standard American English (SAE) • time = matter • units of time = objects • passage of time = endless line of identical objects
Examples of Linguistic Determinism: Hopi • time = a process • units of time = cycles • passage of time = endless repetition of same cycle
Experiments in Linguistic Determinism • Yucatec – Grammar stresses material • Connects words for wood, tree, table – Individuals group cardboard items together • English – Grammar stresses shape • Different words for wood, tree, table – Individuals group boxes together
Experiencing Linguistic Determinism • Temporary transfer of control – English—lend/borrow – Shinzwani—kopa • Telling time – English—it is half past nine – Czech—it is half of ten • Relative vs. absolute space – English—deictic system – Guugu-Yimidhirr—absolute system
Experience and imagination • Metaphor—a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance • Metonymy—a figure of speech that consists of the use of the name of one object or concept for that of another to which it is related, or of which it is a part • Frame—a system of expectations which influences experience
Metaphors in SAE – a set of examples • Anger as Body heat – I have a hot temper. • Body as container of emotions – I am just about up to here! – He was filled with grief. • Body as container for emotions plus Anger as heat = – Heating fluid in a container • He was boiling mad. • She was fuming. • I was steamed. – Dealt with by cooling or containing • A good workout always helps her cool her temper. • I keep my anger bottled up. – Potential for explosion, in which things go up • I blew my top. • She hit the ceiling. • He went right through the roof.
Metonyms in SAE – some examples • Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears. • Yesterday, the White House announced… • Wall Street reacted badly to the news from Europe. • My knee is killing me. • If you like it then you should-a put a ring on it.
Frames – structures of expectation we use to make sense of the world • Frames make use of, and make sense of, metaphors and metonyms • Frames trump facts (Lakoff); they make it difficult to absorb things that don’t fit • Examples: – The restaurant – The classroom
The significance of frames • “gay marriage” or “same-sex marriage” • “looting” or “finding” • “the rich” or “job creators” • “quiz” or “assessment” • “date” or “hook-up”
Coping with differences • Using the one you are in is easier than trying to translate concepts • Translation, if it requires completely identical meanings, is frequently not possible • The system you are in will shape your perceptions, however • Human beings construct the systems of meaning which shape our perceptions • You are ALWAYS in a system of meaning, but you are not trapped in any particular system of meaning
Summary • Language is a window into culture (Boas) • Language is a cultural map (Conklin, Frake…) • Language is a guide to social reality (Sapir/Whorf) – Linguistic relativity: grammar influences thought • A well-accepted idea – Linguistic determinism: grammar determines world view • Still controversial • Language is a framing device (Lakoff) – Helps us to organize and frame our experience of the world – And to express our experience of the world