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Language & Culture

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language communication
Language & Communication

Nepali students talk with Forest Foragers - Raute women

language and communication
Language and Communication
  • What Is Language
  • Nonhuman Communication
  • Nonverbal Communication
  • The Structure of Language
  • Language, Thought, and Culture
  • Sociolinguistics
  • Historical Linguistics
what is language
What Is Language?
  • Primary means of communication (spoken or written)
  • Transmitted through learning as part of enculturation
  • Based on symbols - arbitrary, learned associations between words and the things they represent
what is language4
What Is Language?
  • Allows humans to:
    • Conjure up elaborate images
    • Discuss the past and future
    • Share experiences with others
    • Benefit from their experiences
  • Anthropologists study language in its social and cultural context
nonhuman primate communication
Nonhuman Primate Communication
  • Automatic and cannot be combined
  • At some point in human development, ancestors began to combine calls and to understand the combinations
  • Call Systems – limited number of sounds that are produced in response to specific stimuli
nonhuman human communication
Nonhuman > Human Communication
  • Call Systems
    • Number of calls expanded, eventually becoming too great to be transmitted even partly through genes
  • Communication came to rely almost totally on learning

Traditional singer (Gaine) at center

discusses his performance.

Photo: J. Fortier

animal communication sign language
Animal Communication & Sign Language
  • More recent experiments show that apes can learn to use, if not speak, true language

Washoe, a chimpanzee, eventually acquired vocabulary of over 100 ASL signs

animal communication
Animal Communication
  • Lucy, another chimpanzee, lived in a foster family and used ASL to converse with foster parents
  • Washoe and Lucy exhibited several human traits
  • Koko, a gorilla, regularly uses 400 ASL signs and has used 700 at least once.

Dr. Roger Fouts teaching Lucy

ASL; Photo: Time Mag.

hominoid pongids orangutans
Hominoid: Pongids: Orangutans

Chantek, an orangutan, has learned more than 150 ASL words

nonhuman communication
Nonhuman Communication
  • Koko and the chimps show that apes share linguistic ability with humans
  • Cultural transmission of a communication system through learning is a fundamental attribute of language
  • Productivity – combined two or more signs to create new expressions
  • Displacement – ability to talk about things that are not present
nonhuman communication11
Nonhuman Communication
  • Experiments with ASL demonstrate that chimps and gorillas have rudimentary capacity for language

There are no known instances where chimps or gorillas in the wild have developed a comparable system of signs on their own

the origin of language
The Origin of Language
  • Language developed over 150,000y.a.+ from human ancestral call systems

Language is effective for learning; enables humans to adapt rapidly to new stimuli

Tower of Babel; courtesy

Gustave Doré's Illustrated Bible

the structure of language
The Structure of Language
  • Scientific study of spoken language involves several levels of organization
  • Phonology – study of speech sounds
  • Morphology – study of meaningful speech sounds (sound segments combining to form words)
  • Lexicon – dictionary containing all its morphemes, words, and meanings
  • Syntax – arrangement and order of words in phrases and sentences
the structure of language16
The Structure of Language
  • Speech Sounds
  • Phoneme – sound contrast that makes a difference, that differentiates meaning
  • Phonetics – study of human speech sounds
    • IPA - International Phonetic Alphabet
  • Phonemics – studies only the significant sound contrasts of given language
khoekhoegowab lesson no 1
KhoeKhoegowab Lesson No:1

The Khoekhoe language at

international phonetic alphabet
International Phonetic Alphabet
  • The Nama people’s Khoekhoe implosive sounds
  • / - dental
  • ! - Palatal
  • # - alveolar
  • // - lateral

Khoisan language speakers

language thought and culture
Language, Thought, and Culture
  • Noam Chomsky argues human brain contains limited set of rules for organizing language, so all languages have common structural basis
the sapir whorf hypothesis
The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis –
  • Grammatical categories of different languages lead their speakers to think about things in particular ways

Irvin Poleahla (Hopi) films

at Mesa Verde National Park, Colo.

hopi verb tenses
Hopi Verb Tenses
  • Hopi has 2 main verb tenses
  • Realis - present & past; things that are real
  • Irrealis - future & conditional - things not accomplished
language thought and culture23
Language, Thought, and Culture
  • Focal Vocabulary
  • Specialized sets of terms and distinctions that are particularly important to certain groups
  • Vocabulary is area of language that changes most rapidly
  • Language, culture, and thought are interrelated
  • Types of olives, terms used in a sport, etc.
language thought and culture24
Language, Thought, and Culture
  • Semantics = Meaning

Ethnosemantics – study of how speakers of particular languages use sets of terms to organize, or categorize, their experiences and perceptions

The ways people divide up the world – the contrasts they perceive as meaningful or significant – reflect their experiences

e.g. Rice (Eng.) : Arroz (Span.) : chamal, bhat (‘uncooked rice’ ‘cooked rice’ Nep.; also aluwa 'freshly husked rice')

  • Investigates relationships between social and linguistic variation, or language in its social context

Sociolinguists focus on features that vary systematically with social position and situation

Scene from film “Himalaya”

diversity sociolinguistics
Diversity & Sociolinguistics
  • StyleShifts – varying speech in different contexts
  • Diglossia – regular style shifts between “high” and “low” variants of the same language
    • We rank certain speech patterns as better or worse because we recognize they are used by groups that we also rank
    • Politicians speak w/ Southern drawl in the South/Northern accent in the North
gender speech contrasts
Gender Speech Contrasts

Men and women have differences in phonology, grammar, and vocabulary, as well as in the body stances and movements that accompany speech

*swear words

*tag questions

*tonal shifts

*In non-English langs, sometimes diff vocab &


gender language
Gender & Language
  • Deborah Tannen found women esp. use language and body movements to build rapport, social connections with others; men deliver more reported speech


language and status position
Language and Status Position
  • Honorifics – terms used with people to “honor” them

Americans tend to be less formal than other nationalities, although they include honorifics

British have a more developed set of honorifics

Japanese language has several honorifics

Kin terms can be associated with gradations in rank and familiarity

  • Use and evaluate speech in context of extralinguistic forces – social, political, and economic
  • Our speech habits help determine our access to employment and other material resources
  • Pierre Bourdieu views linguistic practices as symbolic capital that properly trained people may convert into economic and social capital
  • Linguistic forms take on the power of the groups they symbolize
  • Linguistic insecurity often felt by lower-class and minority speakers result of symbolic domination
pronunciation of r in nyc stores
Pronunciation of ‘r’ in NYC Stores

Researcher Q: “Excuse me, where are the women's shoes?” from

‪The social stratification of English in New York City‬ By William Labov

when languages collide
When Languages Collide
  • Pidgin - speaking the dominant colonizer’s language
  • Creole - regular grammatical rules that combine 2 languages

Tok Pigin spoken

in New Guinea

french creoles
French Creoles
  • Louisiana Creole is a combination of French,West African,and the Spanish language
  • Creoles combine grammar of subordinate language with words of dominant language

Herb Metoyer.

english creoles gullah sea island creole from south carolina island region
English Creoles: Gullah, Sea Island Creole from South Carolina Island Region
  • Gullah is a creole form of English, indigenous to the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia

Annie Scott weaves a sweetgrass basket Saturday afternoon at the Gullah Flea Market on Hilton Head Island.

Photo: J. Dyer

when languages collide36
When languages collide...
  • Codeswitching - speaking with regularized rules using 2 languages
  • Dialect - a noticeably different way of speaking a language; mutually intelligible with the standard dialect
black english vernacular b e v
Black English Vernacular (B.E.V.)
  • Linguists view B.E.V. as a dialect of English rather than a separate language

William Labov writes B.E.V. is “relatively uniform dialect spoken by the majority of black youth in most parts of the U.S. today . . . ”

black english vernacular b e v38
Black English Vernacular (B.E.V.)
    • B.E.V. speakers less likely to pronounce r than Standard English (SE) speakers
    • B.E.V. speakers use copula deletion to eliminate the verb to be from their speech
    • th --> d-
    • Omit possessives “That’s the child’s doll --> “Dat da child’ doll”
    • Use more contractions: Doesn’t --> Don’t “It doesn’t matter --> It don’t matter”
  • Standard English not superior in terms of ability to communicate ideas, but it is the prestige dialect
historical linguistics
Historical Linguistics
  • Long-term variation of speech by studying protolanguages and daughter languages
  • Historical linguists reconstruct many features of past languages by studying contemporary daughter languages
  • Written forms vs. reconstruction based on oral languages
historical linguistics40
Historical Linguistics
  • Daughter Languages – languages that descend from same parent language and that have been changing separately for hundreds or even thousands of years

Protolanguage – original language from which daughter languages descend

Subgroups – languages within a taxonomy of related languages that are most closely related

chaucer the canterbury tales
Chaucer - The Canterbury Tales
  • A Frere ther was, a wantowne and a merye, A lymytour, a ful solempne man. In alle the ordres foure is noon that kan so muche of dalianune and fair language.
  • A Friar there was, wanton and merry, A limiter [limited to certain districts], a full solemn [very important] man. In all the order four there in none that knows so much of dalliance [flirting] and fair [engaging] language.
pie family tree
PIE Family Tree

The Indo-European languages. Traceable to a protolanguage, Proto-Indo-European (PIE),

*PIE spoken more than 6,000 years ago.

*PIE split into separate languages

*Identify relations using cognates

indo eur numerals in ipa
Indo-Eur. Numerals in IPA*

IPA=International phonetic alphabet