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Language and Culture


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Looks at kinesics, paralanguage, ethnolinguistics, historical linguistics, and cross-species communication systems.

Looks at kinesics, paralanguage, ethnolinguistics, historical linguistics, and cross-species communication systems.

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  • 1. Language and Culture Language, Communication, and Culture
  • 2. Introduction to Language, Communication, and Culture
    • How is language related to culture?
    • How is a language related to a culture?
    • Both questions are valid, and we look at the issues through several lenses:
    • Kinesics and paralanguage
    • Ethnolinguistics and code switching
    • Similarities and differences between human and animal communication.
  • 3. Nonverbal Communication
    • There are two basic types of nonverbal communication
    • Kinesics involves the all-too-familiar body language: facial expression, gestures, even eye contact
    • Paralanguage are the vocalizations that often accompany speech: slurs, tones of voice, nonmeaningful utterances including “um” and “uh”
  • 4. Kinesics: Gestures
    • Kinesics: System of analyzing postures, facial expressions, “body language”
    • See that thumbs up? This gent likes whatever you’re doing. Buying his brand of coffee, perhaps?
    • In other countries, it would mean—well, you know! (Need a hint? Think middle finger)
    • This is one example how the same gesture might mean different things in different cultures.
  • 5. Kinesics: Facial Expressions
    • Social smiles are commonplace, though women may do so more than men—a matter of expected social sensitivity
    • Frowns express frustration, sometime cynicism, as this cartoon suggests—if you smile, you’re naïve
    • Facial expressions and eye contact are the most widely used forms of kinesics; gestures are also frequent
  • 6. Gesture Call Systems: Paralanguage
    • Paralanguage consists of extralinguistic noises accompanying language
    • Voice qualities: tone, slur (cartoon), other background noises
    • Vocalizations : Identifiable noises turned on and off at short intervals—”uh,” “um,” other kinds of hesitation
  • 7. More Paralanguage
    • Vocal characteristics: Sound production such as laughing
    • Vocal qualifiers: Tone or pitch-”Get Out!”
    • Segregates: “Shh!” “Oh oh,” “hmmm!” (cartoon) among others
  • 8. Historical Linguistic Techniques
    • When tracing the history of language, linguists have no writing to rely upon
    • Several techniques have been developed to trace the probable changes
    • Glottochronology: the reconstruction of past languages on the assumption that 14% of a language changes every 1000 years
    • Core vocabulary: Comparison of words for common objects based on similarity
    • A list of words is compiled for each of two languages that refer to objects that are common everywhere: body parts, sun, rain, stones, trees, and others
    • The closer the vocabulary—cognates or similar words between two languages, the more closely related the two languages are thought to be.
  • 9. Models of Language Change
    • Language Family
    • Group of languages descended from a single ancestral language
    • Example: Indo-European is descended from Proto-Indo-European
    • Family Tree Model: a model that emphasizes the derivation of language from a common source
    • Wave Model: A model that emphasizes borrowing across contemporary languages
  • 10. Ethnolinguistics
    • Definition: Study of relationship between language and culture
    • Named after Edward Sapir (top) and Benjamin Lee Whorf (bottom), the
    • Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis states that language,
    • By providing habitual “grooves” of expression
    • Predisposes people to see world in certain ways
    • Thus guiding thinking and behavior
  • 11. Ethnolinguistics: Do Languages Structure Cultures. . .
    • Example of Sapir-Whorf hypothesis;
    • Hopi: Conception of time as processes, not discrete units
    • For example, Hopi would not divide time into seconds or hours
    • Nor would they perceive time as object, such as wasting time
  • 12. Or Do Cultures Structure Language
    • The Nuer of the Sudan are cattle herders
    • Children are named after cattle, and poetry is composed about them
    • More than 400 words are related to cattle
    • In our own culture, we have a militaristic vocabulary; we make a killing on Wall Street, we bomb the exam, we have a war on drugs, cancer, poverty, you name it
    • So we have a chicken and egg question
    • Does language condition culture
    • Or does culture condition language?
  • 13. Ethnolinguistics: Some Areas of Research
    • Kinship terms : The terms father and mother may be extended to uncles and aunts. More on this later
    • Gender-based meanings : When women say “I’m sorry,” are they taking responsibility for the problem or are they regretting the situation, as Deborah Tannen argues.
    • We have several social dialects in this country, ranging from Afro-American speech to “Spanglish” (Spanish-English word combinations) to regional dialects from the U.S. South, y’all, to Bostonian bahgains.
  • 14. Code Switching: Martin Luther King
    • We change our speech styles to fit the occasion
    • Code Switching: Switching style of speech according to occasion and audience
    • Martin Luther King, Jr., was a master in code switching, ranging from standard discourse in formal settings (Washington Monument, 1963, I Have a Dream speech upper photo)
    • To informal discourse in black settings (Here delivering a sermon at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia)
  • 15. Language Origins: Interspecies Comparison
    • When language began is anyone’s guess
    • Defining communication and comparing different communication systems is a first step
    • Chimpanzees have used American Sign Language and computer buttons to convey messages somewhat like languages
    • But speech organs have long since deteriorated, so we have at best indirect evidence.
  • 16. Language Origins: Fossil Evidence
    • Did Neanderthals have language? A humanlike hyoid bone, which anchors the tongue, was found in Kebara Cave, Israel
    • Endocasts indicating size of cerebrum and possible Broca’s area have been found among Homo habilis remains
    • Another indication is the flat surface at the skull base, suggesting the larynx was too high to enable language; nonhuman primates also have a flat skull base and high larynxes
    • Basic conclusion: no one really knows when language got its start
  • 17. Features of Language Shared with Other Species
    • Nevertheless, language does share some features with the communication systems of other animals.
    • We look at some examples, such as gibbons, stickleback courtship, and bee dances indicating the location of a nectar source
  • 18. Common Features of Language and Nonhuman Communication
    • Arbitrariness
    • Productivity
    • Interchangeability
    • Displacement
    • Specialization
    • Cultural Transmission
  • 19. Arbitrariness
    • Definition: Absence of intrinsic relation between communication element (speech sound) and thing or event to which it refers (referent)
    • Iconic Relationship: Existence of such a relationship between element (e.g. gesture) and its referent
    • Importance: Utterance is not “married” to meaning, such as this gibbon’s warning call
  • 20. Arbitrariness (Examples)
    • Example [k], [æ], and [t] are not meaningful in and of themselves
    • Meaning emerges when sounds are combined:
    • [kæt] “cat” has one meaning (feline, the one who caught a mouse)
    • [tæk] “tack” has another (small nail)
    • [ækt] “act” has a third (dog and pony show)
    • Even then, this string is language specific (English), not intrinsic
  • 21. Arbitrariness (Across Languages)
    • Evidence of Arbitrariness: Diverse Languages
    • “ Cat” has different pronunciations in different languages
    • Similarities are the product of common roots and/or diffusion from one language to another
  • 22. Productivity (Definition)
    • Productivity is the capacity for elements of communication system to be combined to form new meanings which the speaker and listener may never have learned before, yet understands perfectly
    • Try this exercise: the top figure is a wug
    • Now here are two of them
    • There are two ____
    • If your response was [w əgz] you produced an entirely new—and correct--utterance
  • 23. Productivity: Jabberwocky Riddle
    • From Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll (see illustration}
    • ‘ Twas brillig and the sllthy toves
    • Did gyre and gimble in the wabe
    • Identify:
    • The nouns
    • The verbs
    • The adjectives
  • 24. Productivity: The Answers
    • The nouns: surely the article the is a dead giveaway for toves and wabe
    • The verbs: ‘ twas is poetic English for “ it was,” and the helping verb did uncovers gyre and gimble
    • The adjectives: Doesn’t the –y ending of slithy suggest an adjective, similar to slimy ? And ’twas suggests brillig to be another one.
  • 25. Productivity: Language Learning
    • Language drills use the principle of productivity
    • English: I am, you are. . .
    • Spanish: Yo soy, tu eres. .
    • Productivity simply involves taking a few elements (phonemes, morphemes, even syntax) and generate unlimited combinations of expressions
  • 26. Productivity Among Other Species: Bee Dance
    • When a scout bee has discovered a flower or other nectar source, she returns and tell the other bees where it is with a dance
    • Their figure-eight tell the other bees the direction and distance of the pollen source
    • The waggle of the tail also indicates the direction
    • Amount of pollen brought back indicates pollen available there
    • Productivity involves variations of speed of the dance, the amount brought back, and the waggle.
  • 27. Interchangeability
    • Definition: Use of same communication system to send and receive messages
    • Illustrative Counterexample : Three-spined stickleback fish courtship (see diagram)
    • Female elicits male response by presenting distended belly
    • Male performs zigzag dance around female
    • She follow him to nest
    • Male point to nest on arrival
    • Female enters nest, male rubs abdomen,
    • She discharges eggs, and male fertilizes them with sperm
  • 28. Displacement (Definition)
    • Ability to refer to things and events not present, nonvisible, intangible, or nonexistent
    • Not present: Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco
    • Not visible: Termites in sealed mound
    • Intangible: math equations, square roots
    • Nonexistent: dragons, unicorns
  • 29. Displacement (Importance)
    • Ability to represent unseen parts of world
    • Part of toolmaking ability : to conceive a design (above)
    • Bee Dance
    • Scouting bee gives information on non-present blossoms
    • Direction of dance relative to sun: indicates direction of source
    • Length of tail waggle: distance of source
    • Other bees act on this information even though they cannot see the flower or blossom
  • 30. Cultural Transmission
    • Learning of an element of communication (speech sound, gestures)
    • Bees and stickleback acquire behavior genetically
    • Dogs learn by conditioning, do not pass learning on
    • Chimpanzees do learn by imitation and pass it on: e.g., termite fishing.
  • 31. Specialization
    • Definition: Ability to transmit message with minimal physical effort
    • Language is the most specialized of all communication systems
    • Examples of unspecialized communication
    • Chimpanzee displays
    • Bee dance
    • Stickleback courtship
  • 32. Conclusion
    • Language is the basis of culture
    • Knowledge of linguistics is prerequisite to knowing how cultures function
    • We have looked at the following:
    • Descriptive Linguistics
    • Language, Culture, and Society
    • Comparative Human-nonhuman Communication
    • One question remains: does culture condition language, or does language condition culture: the old chicken-egg question.
    • There are many similarities between human and animal communication