Discovering Anthropology: week 3


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This week we are looking at linguistic diversity, the evolution of language and talking gorillas.

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Discovering Anthropology: week 3

  1. 1. Linguistic Anthropology
  2. 2. Linguistic Anthropology What is human communication and is it unique? Evolution and language Linguistic diversity Properties of language
  3. 3. Linguistic Anthropology Linguistic anthropology is the study of language and speech in both contemporary and past cultures Linguistic Anthropology is composed of four basic branches. • Historical linguistics deals with the emergence of language and how languages have changed and diverged over time. • Descriptive linguistics is the study of the sounds (phones), sound systems, grammar, syntax, and the meanings that are attached to words in specific languages. • Sociolinguistics is the study of the relationship between language and social relations. As an example, sociolinguists might study how one's social standing affects his or her language usage. • Ethnolinguistics is the examination of the relationship between culture and language and how the two interact and influence one another.
  4. 4. Primate Language Call systems Call systems consist of a limited number of sounds that are produced in response to specific stimuli (e.g. food or danger) Calls cannot be combined to produce new calls. Calls are reflexive in that they are automatic responses to specific stimuli.
  5. 5. A conversation with Koko
  6. 6. Questions from film • Is Koko really communicating with Penny? – What elements of communication are there? – Which are missing? • Why should we be sceptical about claims that Koko is really communicating? Full Koko documentary available on YouTube playlist and Pinterest
  7. 7. Humanity and Language Language and culture together are critical to the development of human individuals • Language is our primary means of communication. • Language is transmitted through learning, as part of enculturation. • Language is based on arbitrary, learned associations between words and the things they represent. • Only humans have the linguistic capacity to discuss the past and future in addition to the present. • Language has both social and cultural context.
  8. 8. Evolution of Human Language • Complex language developed between 2 million (H.Ergaster) and 100,000 years ago (early H. Sapiens) •It shaped our brain, vocal tract, ears, respiratory tract, mouth and nasal passages
  9. 9. Specific language areas of brain Broca’s = syntax – i.e. combing words into coherent, grammatically correct sentences Wernicke’s = recognising words and their meaning
  10. 10. Vocal Tract Humans have a dramatically lowered larynx. • puts the base of the tongue in the throat cavity • allows movement of the tongue to modify simultaneously the shape of the throat and mouth hence: • exquisite vowel and pitch control • But it also causes us to choke to death! • Although primates use call systems, their vocal tract is not suitable for speech.
  11. 11. Speaking in Tongues
  12. 12. Class Activity • List all the languages you can use • What other languages are there? • Try to think of a wide range • What do these languages have in common?
  13. 13. Language is a system of sounds that, when put together according to certain rules, results in meanings that are intelligible to all speakers “Cultural Anthropology” Havilland (1993)
  14. 14. Linguistic Diversity Human Languages There are about 5,000-6,000 different languages spoken in the world today. The imprecision in this estimate is largely due to the fact that some dialects are in the process of diverging and it is not clear that they have reached the stage of being separate languages. If two people find each other's speech unintelligible, they are usually thought to be speaking different languages rather than dialects.
  15. 15. What are the most commonly spoken languages? Language   Number of speakers as first language   Number of countries spoken as first language Chinese 1,197,000,000 33 Spanish 399,000,000 31 English 335,000,000 101 Hindi 260,000,000 4 Arabic 242,000,000† 60 Portuguese 203,000,000 12 Bengali 189,000,000 4 Russian 166,000,000 16 Japanese 128,000,000 2 Lahnda (punjabi) 89,000,000 6
  16. 16. Evolution of the Alphabet
  17. 17. Evolution of Languag e
  18. 18. Linguistic Anthropology Human Languages Disappearing languages… • There are around 900 native languages spoken by the 5-10 million people of New Guinea and its neighbouring islands (roughly 1/6 of all languages being spoken by far less than 1% of the world's people). • About 2,000 languages now have less than 1,000 speakers • Globally, the rate of language loss now is one every two weeks Source: O’Niel 2007
  19. 19. Globalisation Exercise pages 54-5 in reading pack make notes of your answers, as if for an essay
  20. 20. Globalisation of English Official language in 52 countries as well as many small colonies and territories. 1/4 to 1/3 of the people in the world understand and speak English to some degree. Language of international diplomacy. Dominant language in electronic communication. About 75% of the world's mail, telexes, and cables are in English. Approximately 60% of the world's radio programs are in English. About 90% of all Internet traffic is as well.
  21. 21. Break Time
  22. 22. Complex Language Humans language is hugely more complex Concrete things –People –places –Etc Abstraction –Truth –Evil –God –Masculinity –Space
  23. 23. Social Learning Enculturation and knowledge transmission Children acquire culture Experience is stored and transmitted Reality encoded in language
  24. 24. Precise communication Detailed, precise transmission • Past, present and future • Speculation • Interpretation • Efficient transmission
  25. 25. Properties of language Transmission of thought Multimedia potential Discreteness Arbitrariness Productivity Displacement
  26. 26. Properties of language Multimedia potential Human language can be reproduced in forms that make transmission viable, effective and efficient • Writing • Speech • Gestures • Internet • TV
  27. 27. Properties of language Discreteness Units of language with infinite combination • Units of language (e.g.. alphabet) • Rules for combining units Father – Warden – Assume – Nature • Units only convey meaning when combined in recognised, conventional codes (e.g.. words)
  28. 28. Properties of language Arbitrariness Words are symbols (semiotics) • Words have associated meanings • Coded references to –Objects –People –Sensory experiences –Qualities –Actions –Emotions –Etc. • I love you = Te amo = J t’aime = Wo ai ni – the meaning is the same
  29. 29. Properties of language Productivity Creation of novel sentences (and their understanding) • Turning a finite number of words into infinite meaning • Requires shared understanding of components and rules • Most people have no conscious awareness of these rules
  30. 30. Properties of language Displacement Ability to discuss things remote in time and space • The symbolic nature of language provides an abstraction from reality • An object does not have to be present to talk about it • We have symbols for space, time, possibility, etc. • Language allows imagination
  31. 31. Language and culture Classification of reality • Categories of the natural and social world – Objects – People – Other life forms – Events • Based on similarities and differences • What is considered significant
  32. 32. Language and culture Classification of reality North American Livestock Farmers Classification of Animals Cattle Horses Swine Description Cow Mare Sow Female Bull Stallion Boar Male Steer Gelding Barrow Male - Mature - Neutered Calf Foal Piglet Newborn – Regardless of sex Heifer calf Filly Gilt Female - Immature Bull calf Colt shoat Male - Immature
  33. 33. Language and culture Classification of reality • Labels are given to objects, qualities, and actions that we see as most important • This makes it easier for us to communicate complex information about these subjects
  34. 34. Grammar •Grammar refers to all the knowledge shared by those who are able to speak and understand a given language” (Peoples and Bailey) •Linguistically there is no such thing as bad grammar (e.g. apostrophe’s) –This does not mean that it is not important culturally!
  35. 35. Dialect and accent •Variations in grammar due to geographical region, class or subculture are called dialects –E.g. Geordie, Cockney, ‘Street’ –Queen’s English –Professional dialects (legal, medical) •Accent is the way words are pronounced •Both lead to symbolic capital My Fair Lady (Bourdieu)
  36. 36. Language and culture Language as a reflection of culture • Vocabularies and language use carry information in their own right •Language acts to create identity – to denote same and different
  37. 37. Language and culture Language as a reflection of culture • Even ‘Natural Domains’ are culturally relative • Kinship – divided differently by different cultures –UK = Aunts & uncles and nieces & cousins (but not divided by father’s or mother’s side) e.g. In some cultures maternal uncle’s daughters are ‘mother’, whilst paternal uncle’s daughters are ‘sisters’.
  38. 38. Language and culture Language as a reflection of culture “Cultures divide up the world differently, forming categories and classifications of natural and social reality out of the objective properties of things. These differences are reflected in the language of the bearers of the culture.” (Peoples & Bailey, 2003, p.55)
  39. 39. Question How do new technologies affect language?
  40. 40. Non-verbal language Group work Describe different hand signals that are used Where and when are they used? Who uses them? Why are they used instead of language?
  41. 41. Next week… Archaeological Anthropology (Elvet Hill House and Oriental Museum)