Language and Culture


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

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Language and Culture

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