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Language and Culture

Language and Culture

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Language and Culture

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  1. Language and Culture Chapter 2

  2. Part I

  3. Language Reflects Culture • Language tends to reflect the larger culture • Example: • Inuit have many words for snow and seal, whereas English does not (pg.18) • Inuit language is an agglutinating language that strings ideas into long words • English is an isolating language that puts separate ideas into separate words

  4. Language Reflects Culture • The Inuit deal much more with seals and snow than most English-speakers do, so this should make sense • This is called cultural emphasis: • Languages have areas of linguistic emphasis for aspects they deem important

  5. Cultural Emphasis • In Shinzwani (Comoro Islands off the coast of Africa) • There is one word (mama) that means ‘mother’ and ‘aunt’ • In this culture, both women help raise the children and therefore there is not a distinction • In English, we have two words, but only one word for ‘cousin,’ though other languages make a distinction between male/female cousins or cousins on mother’s/father’s side of family

  6. English

  7. Hawaiian/Iroquois

  8. Cultural Emphasis • In Marshall Islands (Pacific) • There were traditionally only two words for birthing troubles or birth defects • After nuclear tests in the 40s and 50s, there are now many words to describe different birth defects because so many more exist • The language changed as the culture/environment changed

  9. Language Change • History of English language •

  10. Ethnosemantics • After studying cultural emphasis, the next step is to try to understand how speakers see their world through understanding their language • Try to understand how they categorize things • This is ethnosemantics: identify how words people use reveal underlying meanings and perceptions • Different from ethnography, which is a detailed study of a culture because it focuses on language

  11. Ethnosemantics • 1. Identify the way people divide language into cultural emphasis; this is called semantic domain • 2. Determine the categorization system and use this as a model to understand the speaker’s mental map • 3. Use this to create an ethnoscientific model that shows the scientific categorization of the speaker’s world

  12. Ethnosemantics • You can use this in the field to learn a new language from the native perspective • The goal is to try to get from the etic (outside) perspective to the emic (inside) perspective • Create a semantic domain • Collect as many words for each domain as possible • Create a taxonomy • Conduct a componential analysis to find culturally important aspects of the language

  13. Prototype Theory • Developed in the 70s and 80s to help explain complications between categories in different languages • This theory says we categorize by prototypes, or the best examples of things, and then use these examples as a way to determine what words go into which categories

  14. Prototype Theory • Example: “bird”

  15. Different Meanings • Let’s go through some words that have different meanings in different languages • Can you see how it is easy to have linguistic misunderstandings?

  16. Linguistic Relativity • Different languages have different semantic domains • These seem arbitrary, meaning there is not really an obvious reason in the physical world that something is categorized in a certain way • Example: • Sun/Moon • In French, moon/night/woman are connected and sun/day/man are connected • Why are these seen as male or female?

  17. Linguistic Relativity • The answer is worldview • Linguistic Relativity: languages are different, they use arbitrary categories, and knowing one language does not allow you to predict another • Example: Rainbow • ROY G BIV • Do we really use indigo as a basic color term? • Most English speakers use six colors

  18. Linguistic Relativity • Let’s look more at color • Some languages combine color categories (blue/green) and some divide color categories into more specific colors (light blue/dark blue) • The semantic domain of color is not experience exactly the same in all humans

  19. Are There Universals? • Linguists want to know if there are universals that are the same across all languages • In 1969 Berlin and Kay tried to find a universal pattern with colors • They compared focal points (main categories) of color across languages and stated that all languages had a common system to name colors • They also said that those with fewer categories were less advanced than those with many categories

  20. Are There Universals? • Stage I: Dark-cool and light-warm (this covers a larger set of colors than English "black" and "white".) • Stage II: Red • Stage III: Either green or yellow • Stage IV: Both green and yellow • Stage V: Blue • Stage VI: Brown • Stage VII: Purple, pink, orange, or gray (English goes here)

  21. Are There Universals? • They showed that societies with few categories (I, II, III) were technologically simpler than those with more categories • Also that modern industrialized societies were the only ones to reach stage VII • What are some problems with these results?

  22. Are There Universals? • It ranks (puts values) on cultures! • It is ethnocentric because English is in the most advanced category • It used categories with multiple meanings (orange is a color and a fruit) • It stated it would not use borrowed words, but “blue” is from French and therefore English should only be in stage IV

  23. Assignment • Video Log: Linguistic Relativity ( ) • Give a definition (in your own words) for this term • Are some languages better than others? Explain • Article: Linguistic Relativity • HW: Do You Speak American?

  24. Article • 1. How does language affect people’s perception of space? • 2. What about the perception of time? • 3. Shapes/substances? • 4. Objects (specifically grammatical gender)? • 5. Is it possible to understand another person’s perspective on the world? Explain

  25. Part II

  26. Review • Remember from last lecture that language and culture are interconnected • Linguistic Relativity: languages are different, they use arbitrary categories, and knowing one language does not allow you to predict another • In this view, your culture determines how you perceive the world, and therefore influences your language

  27. Linguistic Determinism • A second view is linguistic determinism • Language influences and can determine people’s ability to perceive the world around them • Proposed by Sapir and Whorf • Sapir (student of Boaz) analyzed the “tyrannical hold that the linguistic form has upon our orientation of the world” • Whorf (student of Sapir) studied how words influenced actions

  28. Sapir and Whorf • Whorf created his principle of linguistic relativity • Different languages have different grammatical structures and rules • These grammatical categories direct how speakers think and see the world • Example is Hopi Language (pg. 33) • Single-action vs. Repeated-action verbs • English speakers would not understand these categories

  29. Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis • Another name for linguistic determinism • Two forms: • Strong Whorf: language is a prison from which you cannot escape • Weaker Whorf: language is a room that gives a specific perspective, but lets you leave or go to other rooms

  30. Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis • Cannot test the Strong Whorf form • Since we can learn and understand other languages, the Weaker Whorf form seems more correct • Example: • Comparing English with Yucatec language • Yucatec group items by material (everything made of wood goes into one category) • English group items by shape (a table has a specific shape but could be wood, metal, plastic)

  31. Space • The way we describe space uses deictic concepts, or those that name space around our bodies • These are egocentric, or always relating back to your own body (to the right of, above, in front of…). This creates relative systems of space • The description between the two pictures would be different because of the position of the bodies

  32. Space • Some languages use absolute reckoning systems, such as cardinal directions, that are not dependent upon where the body is • North will always remain north, even, if you move • This is geographically based, not biologically based • How might this cause speakers from these different languages to see the world differently? • How can this be influenced by the physical environment?

  33. Los Angeles

  34. New York

  35. Experiencing LD • To fully experience language determination, you must be aware that to use a new language comfortably, you must understand its concepts • This includes rules that are different from your native language • In English, if I give money, I lend it; if I get money, I borrow it • In Shinzwani (Comoros Islands), there is no distinction; money is just transferred (kopa)

  36. Experiencing LD • In the Ukraine, there are two types of love • Liubov (general love) • Kokhannia(romantic love) • For time: • Czech: 9:15 is a quarter of ten • English: 9:15 is a quarter past nine (pg. 39) • The goal is to be able to think in these terms and switch back and forth

  37. Language, Culture, and Thought • Video: Steven Pinker: Linguistics as a Window to Understanding the Brain. • Min 1-13 • How do we understand or remember language? • What did Sapir and Whorf contribute to this?

  38. Language, Culture, and Thought • So research on color, shapes, time, and space has shown that language does affect how we see the world • Then there is the language that is symbolic and not straightforward • Example: Time • English: a straight line with equal units (hour, day, week, year, century, etc.) • Hopi: cyclical, remembering and connecting to past events • Non-observable things have only the present tense, so ‘two days’ is ‘one day and another day” • ‘Five years from now’ would be ‘this year and the next year, and the year after that…’

  39. Language, Culture, and Thought • The culture of American English is very time-oriented • We have many metaphors to show how valuable it is: • Time is money • Wasting time • Running out of time • Other cultures don’t have this • Africa Time

  40. Metaphors and Frames • We see the world and speak about the world through frames • These help us understand the cultural meaning behind something • Are attached to ideology, or ideas about how things should be • Robert Levy analyzed hypocognition, or the lack of frames • He suggested that high suicide rates in Tahiti were influenced by the language not having words to express grief

  41. Metaphors and Frames • If something does not fit your frame, it is easy to dismiss • The media can also persuade your opinion by the frames they use to present information

  42. Native vs. Borrowed • What is a native word? • What is a borrowed one? • Does English borrow from other languages or do other languages only borrow from English? • “West to the Rest” fallacy • We will discuss this more in chapter 9

  43. Guess which words are native or foreign • Admiral • Nippy • Squash • Coffee • Syrup • Fahrenheit • Cliché • Futon • Floor Moose Bandage Elixir Bathroom Delicatessen Bonkers Capital Garage Lemon Skunk Tapioca Llama Handbag Typhoon Stone Canoe

  44. Guess which words are native or foreign • Admiral • Nippy • Squash • Coffee • Syrup • Fahrenheit • Cliché • Futon • Floor Moose Bandage Elixir Bathroom Delicatessen Bonkers Capital Garage Lemon Skunk Tapioca Llama Handbag Typhoon Stone Canoe

  45. Guess which words are native or foreign • Admiral (Arabic) • Nippy • Squash (NA Indian) • Coffee (Arabic) • Syrup (Arabic) • Fahrenheit (Ger) • Cliché (Fr) • Futon (Japanese) • Floor Moose (NA) Bandage Elixir (Greek) Bathroom Delicatessen (Ger) Bonkers Capital Garage (Fr) Lemon (Persian) Skunk (NA) Tapioca (SA Indian) Llama (SA Quechua) Handbag Typhoon (Chi) Stone Canoe (NA Indian)

  46. Globalization Estimated that up to 9,000 languages have disappeared Half the remaining 6,900 languages are endangered Globalization affects this because it promotes the success of few languages that can be used widely More people now speak English as their second language (350 million) than as their first language (320 million) This is closely tied to national and ethnic identities so preservation is important Why don’t we want to lose these languages?

  47. Assignment • Article “Does English Still Borrow Words” and questions • Video Log: Endangered Languages ( • Why is it important to document languages spoken by small groups? • How can this help us understand other languages (“decoder ring”)?

  48. HW #3 • “Lost for Words” • Questions (also on class webpage): • 1. Everett argues “that the Piraha’s peculiar language is shaped not by some innante language instinct,… but by their extraordinary culture.” Do you agree with this? How does this connect to Whorf and linguistic relativity? • 2. Describe how the Piraha have a “practical” view of their spiritual world. Give examples. • 3. How does their culture prevent them from using numbers or counting? • 4. How does this language provide evidence against universal grammar? • 5. The Piraha language has very few phonemes (sounds). Is it a simple or ‘less-evolved’ language?