Language and Culture Language and Culture How Language Reflects

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					Language and Culture
How Language Reflects Culture

      How Language Reflects Culture 1
•   Learning a language means learning how the cultural group organizes ideas
    into words, phrases, and sentences
•   A language enables it speakers:
      – to relate to the natural and social environments,
      – Describe and identify things and events,
      – To organize and coordinate their activities
•   No language is an exact and perfect copy of the real world.
      – The words we use are generalizations -- they lump together an unlimited
         number of individual specimens on the basis of selected characteristics.
      – These generalizations differ across cultures because each group selects
         the characteristics to use for classification.
•   There are problems comparing across cultures:
      – There are so many differences in the characteristics used, it is often hard
         to translate across languages
      – If the categories are not discrete (apples, birds) but continuous or
         unlimited areas of experience it is even more difficult. Examples:
           • Wholes are broken into parts (body parts)
           • Time and space are segmented into counting units
           • Sensory experiences are like sounds, taste, colors are groups and
      – These verbal maps can be very different across cultures.
        How Language Reflects Culture 2
• While not labeled as such, this is the chapter in which we will
  discuss ethnolinguistics.
   – Ethnolinguistics is the focus of linguists interested the
      relationships of language to culture.
   – Different languages appear to encapsulate different worldviews.
• This is something Franz Boas noted in his fieldwork among the Inuit
   – In particular, he determined that there were a relatively large
      number of words for such things as snow, ice, and seals.
   – If you look at the list of words on p. 18, you will note that the
      words for seals (and same for snow) are different and do not
      share a „core‟ part for seal words
   – Also, while there is a single Inuit for something to do with the
      seal, English uses several words
        • In languages like English, that separate ideas into separate
          words, are called isolating languages.
        • Languages, such as Inuit, that put strings of ideas into long
          words, are called agglutinating languages
        How Language Reflects Culture 3
• When Franz Boas recorded the Inuit words for snow and
  seals, his experiences as a native speaker of German (which
  agglutinates more than English, but less than Inuit) he was
  able to recognize this pattern
• This has been a long-term misunderstanding of Boas‟ work
  with Inuit words for snow -- today we call this the Great
  Eskimo (Western word for Inuit) Snow Hoax
   – It is often stated that Boas said there were 100 words for
      snow among the Eskimo languages like Yupik (spoken
      primarily in Alaska) or Inuktitut (spoken primarily in North
      Central Canada).
   – Anthropologists spread the word, in an effort to promote
      cultural uniqueness.
• I heard in a movie about the 400 Eskimo words for snow
  (can‟t remember the movie‟s name)
                  Cultural Emphasis
• The idea that language reflects the culture of its speakers
  suggests that the areas of linguistic emphasis (for example,
  snow and seals) reflects areas of cultural emphasis.
   – Linguistic emphasis is this creation of a large vocabulary
      • Elaboration of vocabulary in those areas of the world
         that have more vocabulary are likely to be of greater
         importance to a cultural group (the what is talked
      • Finer distinctions between items also reflect greater
         importance (the number of words used to talk about it)
   – Cultural emphasis is the idea that something is an
     important area of a culture.
• For anthropologists, the idea that vocabulary reflects cultural
  emphasis is pretty much a given (an axiom) and we spend
  time in the field learning how people divide the world
Body Parts (English, Arawak & O/odham)
             How Language Reflects Culture 4
•   Ottenheimer also gives the example of naming parts of the arm, but she talks
    about English in comparison to Russian
     –   In Russian it is ruka (arm + hand)
      – This suggest these culture groups put different levels of importance to
        these body parts
•   The Marshallese (the site of nuclear bombs, including the one that took out
    Bikini) have developed an elaborate radiation language to describe their
    experiences with the tests
      – Prior to the bombs, it looks like two words for birth problems (jibun and ko,
        which both are about the concept of a stillborn child)
      – After, many more words came in such as kiraap (grape) for a fetus that
        looks like a cluster of grapes
      – Local words for jellyfish, marlin, turtle, octopus are now used to define
        children with deformities
•   Linguistic reflection of cultural emphasis is seen in varieties of a same
      – In NYC, author‟s knowledge of subways and buses was needed, after
        going to KC this was no longer useful
      – Once she learned to sail, using the term sailboat was not enough, had to
        learn a new set of terms.
       How Language Reflects Culture 5
• Perhaps the classis example of them all is the found
  among the Nuer of the Sudan
   – Them have more than 400 words to describe cattle.
     Each word indicates differences in color, size, body
     shape and the configuration of horns.
   – There are 10 principle colors used to describe solid-
     colored cattle, 27 for various combinations, and rare
     terms for cattle with more than two colors
   – The location of the color on different parts of the body
     all have different terms
   – There are lists of metaphorical terms associated with
     cattle with different spots (i.e.; leopard or python) or a
     dark cow may be called „charcoal burning. These were
     called fancy terms by anthropologist Evans-Pritchard
• The horns configurations are indicated by 6 terms, in
       How Language Reflects Culture 6
• What do these Nuer terms tell us?
• Nuer are pastoralists and depend on cattle for their
   – Social relationships are referred to in terms of cattle
       • When a man marries he must provide the bride's family with cattle.
       • Each son has a right to cattle from the family herd
       • The Nuer are patrilineal (descend from father‟s side) and patrilocal
         (sons live in father‟s corral for life)
       • The history of each cow is known
   – Social use also included the sacrifice of cattle to the ghosts of
     the dead. Other ceremonies for contacting the dead exist,
     include rubbing ashes on the back of a cow
   – Herds provide „calendar‟ and „clock‟
   – Cattle terms are used in names and titles of address
       • Personal name, one or more praise-names, and most important, the
         ox-name is given to boys as they move into manhood
       • Adult men may take on additional ox-names
       • Girls can have ox-names, married women cow-names
          How Language Reflects Culture 7
•   From Cultural Emphasis to Ethnosemantics
     – Once we agree that different cultural emphases are reflected in
         different degrees of specificity if vocabularies, the next step is to
         note these vocabularies might reflect something deeper than
         differences in cultural emphases.
     – The idea is that different degrees of specificity might reflect
         something about how they carve up the world
     – This means we might get at the ways they perceive and categorize
         the world around them
•   In the 1950s and 1960s anthropologists began to really look at these
     – The attempts to see how the words that people used for describing
         specific areas of experience revealed underlying systems of
         meaning and perception.
     – This work as been labeled as ethnosemantics, ethnoscience, or
         cognitive anthropology.
           • Author prefers cognitive anthropology
           • She defines new ethnography as the linguistics-based field
              method for analyzing the categorizations of a language
     How Language Reflects Culture 8
• Ward Goodenough performed one of the seminal descriptions of
  kinship terminology about the Trukese (Chuuk) in the Pacific Island
  country of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)
   – This idea of ethnosemantics was to explore the way a specific
      area of cultural emphasis was divided up and named.
        • This cultural emphasis is referred to as a semantic domain
          whereby a mental map (model) is created, an area of
          meaning in a language
        • Examples of a semantic domain are kinship, or plants or
• The categorization system is the goal
   – For a particular subject (say fish, or colors or diseases, or plants)
      identify a detailed representation of all the words
   – This would then constitute an accurate picture of the
      categorization system of the speakers of the language.
   – For instance all the words for kinship would be an ethnoscientific
      model (or a mental map)
     How Language Reflects Culture 9
• An example of two different ethnosemantic fields: Dandelions

• In the left-hand example, you would consider dandelions as food, in
  the right-hand side as a pesky plant.
• There are some questions as to whether sets of words really yield
  mental maps or are just elegant models
• Even if this is shown to be true, there is a second value of this work: It
  is a great way to learn the local language
     How Language Reflects Culture 10
•   Of course anthropological linguists do see this work as reflecting the culture and have
    extended the set of techniques.
•   As mentioned before, the new ethnography is the method used
     – This use creates a very important difference in ethnographic work from previous
     – Prior to the 1950s-1970s, it was seen as necessary to learn the local language so
        you could do your fieldwork. The language was not the focus of the fieldwork
     – With the new ethnography the language became the focus.
•   Ethnosemantics as a fieldwork method
     – Fieldwork process is as follows to determine the categorization system (and to
        learn the language):
          • Collecting as many words as is possible (semantic domain)
          • Try to build a taxonomy (how words are related to each other)
          • Look for the culturally appropriate features by which speakers of the language
             distinguish the words in the domain using statistical measure.
•   Ethnosemantics to prototype theory
     – By the 1970s and 1980s a new way of thinking popped
     – Prototype theory suggests that categories can be graded and that some members
        of a category are more central than others.
     – This new thinking suggests that we categorize based on „best examples‟ or
     – That a table is a better example of furniture than would be a metal tray
Linguistic Relativity
                        Linguistic Relativity 1
•   Different languages vary in the semantic domains that they identify and the distinctions they make
    between those domains.
     – They differ in the prototypes and the taxonomies that they identify
     – Within taxonomies, they differ in the number and range of levels in each taxonomy.
     – Body parts, foods, diseases, kinfolk, colors, animals, furniture and so forth are grouped and
          named differently in differing languages.
     – All this is arbitrary and not a connection between the physical world being named and how it
          is divided up and named.
•   One example of the arbitrariness of semantic domains can be seen by looking at how French,
    German and Dyirbal (a language of Australia) look at words for the sun and the moon.
     – Each of these 3 languages has a system for marking its nouns
             • French: le and la
             • German: der, die and das
             • Dyribal: bayi, balan, balam, and bala
     – How does it play out?
             • French: <la lune, la nuit (the night) and la femme (the woman), but le soleil, le jour (the
                day), and le homme (the man)>
             • German: <der Mond, der Tag (the day), and der Mann (the man), but die Sonne, die
                Nacht (the night) and die Frau (the woman)>
             • Dyribal: Moon with bayi words (storms, rainbows and men), and sun is grouped with
             • Balan words ((stars, fire, and women)
                    Linguistic Relativity 2
•   Taking the sun/moon example under scrutiny.
     – Is there anything feminine or masculine about the sun or the moon?
     – No, and do tell you about the culture group
•   Linguistic relativity (or linguistic relativism) is the idea that languages are:
     – Different
     – That they are arbitrary
     – That knowing one language does not allow you to predict how another
        language will categorize and name the world
•   Classic example of linguistic relativity is the way different languages divide
    up and name the rainbow of colors seen in a prism
     – In American English there are 6 colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue,
        and purple)
     – But what about ROYGBIV?
          • English speakers seem not to use indigo. It is not a part of the
            mental map
          • May break into the 3 primary and 3 secondary colors, even
          • Indigo was introduced by Issac Newton who thought because
            musical scales had 7 notes, so should there be 7 colors
                     Linguistic Relativity 3
•   Linguistic relativity and cultural emphasis
     – The ways colors divide up color vary greatly
     – For instance:
          • Some groups combine green with blue (what linguists call grue), while other
              break it into many finer gradations.
          • Russian divides the English blue into golubuy (light blue) and siniy (dark blue)
     – Harold Conklin found that there can be a link between primary colors and cultural
          • Among the Hanunóo (Philippines) primary terms are:
                 – ma-bi:ru („black, very dark colors (including dark blue)‟
                    ma-lagit? („white, very pale colors‟
                 – ma-latuy („green, freshness, succulence‟)
                 – ma-rara? (red, dryness, desiccation‟)
          • What did he learn?
                 – These 4 terms provide a model in which it is clear that the contrasts of
                    lightness/darkness and freshness/dryness are feature.
                 – They do use other terms (such as ash gray) but these 4 terms are central
                 – Plants and their condition form a cultural focus for this agricultural
                    group and this set of terms reveals this worldview.
                            Linguistic Relativity 4
•   Color perception is a human universal in that there are no significant differences in the
    ability to distinguish or match hues among human populations
•   Color terms deal with the relationship of vocabulary to the continuum of ‘color space’
    (color solid) to the three dimensions of hue, brightness and saturation
•   Number of categories can vary between cultures and even members of a culture so
    how do we get an ‘objective’ measure?
     – Etic perspective on how to measure color:
           • Etic view is one which is culturally-neutral (often scientific)
           • Wavelength can be measured and represented on Munsell color charts so that
              an objective tool is available for color research
     – Emic perspective on how to measure color
          • Emic is culture-specific
          • Each cultural group can use the Munsell chart to identify color but this puts
             color terms outside of the context in which color is used
•   Best examples of a color are surprisingly consistent
     – Agreement on best red, blue (focal colors)
     – Disagreement on number of tiles to put in the category
•   Some cultures don’t have terms for some colors (Think about how most people name
    colors and compare that with an interior decorator or painter.)
                           Linguistic Relativity 5
•   Challenging linguistic relativism: The search for universals
     – In 1969, Brent Berlin and Paul Kay thought there might be some underlying universal pattern to
         the way people see color.
           • They argued that there was a universal system for naming colors
           • They also stated that the systems for naming colors with more colors were more
              evolutionarily advanced than those with fewer colors
     – Here is the sequence:
           • Stage 1: black & white (2 colors)
           • Stage 2: add red (3 colors)
           • Stage 3: add green or yellow (4 colors)
           • Stage 4: add yellow or green (5 colors)
           • Stage 5: add blue (6 colors)
           • Stage 6: add brown (7 colors)
           • Stage 7: add purple, pink, orange, and/or gray (Stage 6 + these colors)
•   Problems with Berlin and Kay
     – The evolutionary focus of the system
     – The methods they used came under criticism
     – There really is some difference in how people see color
           • Cataracts cause people to see more yellow so blue-green looks more green (ask my Mom!)
           • New study suggests that if our eyes are healthy we have the same color perception
              experience (Read this website: Color Perception Is Not In The Eye Of The Beholder: It's
              In The Brain
•   In addition to color, the lexicon of the environment is studied in the search for
     – Every culture exists in relationship to the environment
     – The environmental image – perception of the environment results from this
     – The image in influenced by technology, means of subsistence, division of
        labor, size and complexity of the community, its ideology, and many other
     – So, how the environment is used influences the environmental image.
•   Example:
     – The Navajo have two main categories for geographic names:
          • Sources of water and prominent landscape features (mountains,
             prehistorical sites, etc.)
          • They are occupied with migration and geography, to the migration routes
             of the Navajo
     – The Hopi language also marks geography in association with words of insects,
        body parts or manufactured objects, but more important
          • The terms used mark a relationship to their societal connections to the clan
          • Often the marking is in relationship to the history of the site to the Hopi
The Influence of Language on Culture 1
•   So is linguistic relativism really linguistic determinism?
     – Linguistic determinism is the concept that language determines your
        ability to perceive and think about things, as well as to talk about them
          • Two persons have been the most influential in this conversation in
             anthropology: Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf.
          • Both worked primarily with Native American languages
•   Sapir was Boas‟ student and Whorf was Sapir‟s student
     – Remember, Boas was a proponent of linguistic relativism
     – Sapir argued that while words and categories may start out as a result
        of experience, they become a part of the linguistic system and become
        imposed on the world (habitual grooves is a way one anthropologist
        called this)
     – Whorf argued that „users of markedly different grammars are pointed by
        their grammar towards different types of observations and different
        evaluations of externally similar acts of observations, and hence are not
        equivalent as observers , but most arrive at different views of the world
        (Whorf, 1940 cited in Ottenheimer, 2009, p. 33). Whorf stated they were
        obliged to think in certain lines.
The Influence of Language on Culture 2
•   So is linguistic relativism really
    linguistic determinism? (continued)
      – Example of the Hopi
           • The verb system creates
              verbs of repeated or
              prolonged action by making
              a simple addition to single-
              action verbs
           • Hopi has aspects which
                 – Duration
                 – Other tendencies of
           • See p. 33 for examples
      – Another Hopi example
           • Hopi has validity forms
           • These indicate whether the
                 – Reports
                 – Expects
                 – Speaks from previous
The Influence of Language on Culture 3
• Neither Sapir or Whorf formulated their ideas as a hypothesis, but it
  became known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (also the Whorf-Sapir
  hypothesis and the Whorfian hypothesis)
• There are two basic forms:
   – Strong Whorf as language as a 'prison„, from which there is no
   – Weaker Whorf sees language as a room, which provides you
     with specific ways of seeing, but you can leave the room, enter
     other rooms, or return to the original room (this is much closer to
     linguistic relativism)
• Testing linguistic determinism (Which 2 group together?)
The Influence of Language on Culture 4
• Yucatec and English speakers
   – Among Yucatec speakers, the word che‟ can be used to create
      additional words for objects such as trees, sticks, and plants (all
      made of wood), but all are different shapes
   – Among English speakers objects of the same material are
      generally given different labels (trees, sticks and so forth) [Same
      idea for water: lake, river, stream, creek, ocean]
• In a set of tests of memory, Yucatec tended to group things together
  based on the type of material, English speakers by the shape.
• Russian and English on the color blue
   – Three tiles, two identical and one different
   – Russian speakers (with the light blue and dark blue colors)
      grouped which two identical if the tiles spread across the two-
      term category
   – English speakers had no time distinctions
The Influence of Language on Culture 5
•   Relative space and absolute space
     – Unlike color, how we experience space is biologically based, not culturally based
           • We name space around us in terms of our own bodies (up/down, front/back,
           • This is a deictic concept: Pointing, pointing out, the specifying of location of
              something from the point of view of the speaker
                 – Once thought to be egocentric too; a egocentric, deictic system results in
                     one that is relativistic (as she says, ironic)
                 – So now know some languages use absolute (fixed) reckoning systems
                        » The Guugu-Yimidhirr (Australia) do have deictic terms, but also use a
                          geographically based system (gunggaarr (north), gyibarr (south) naga
                          (east) and guwa (west)
                        » The Tzeltal use a topgraphic system (uphill/downhill)
                        » Here is where it gets interesting:
                        » For an English speaker with a cup closer to him than a bowl who is
                          turned around and asked to repeat this will place the cup closer again.
                        » The Tzeltal will place the bowl closer on the second round!
                 – English does have some examples of fixed deictic systems:
                        » NYC refer to directions in relation to the direction you are facing
                        » In New Orleans, by uptown/downtown and lakeside/riverside
The Influence of Language on Culture 6
• Experiencing linguistic determinism
   – To use a new language easily you must wrap yourself in the new
     concepts that the new language presents to you
   – Shinzwani 1
      • Her example in Shinzwani where two ideas are merged: “at
         the table” is the same as “on the table”
      • Her example in Shinzwani where two ideas are separated:
         eating bananas from cooking bananas (even as the bananas
         looked the same to her)
   – Shinzwani 2
      • Lend and borrow are different in English, but not so in
      • So they have a hard time adding direction of the transfer (I
         lend to you and give to them, and I borrow and receive)
   – Ukrainians separate general love from romantic love
   – Czech and time (pp. 38-39)
      Language, Culture and Thought 1
•   What categories tell you about the mind
     – It does appear that language does have some effect on thought
       processes to some extent
     – Categories are not just reflections of our world, but may help shape it
•   Categories and metaphors
          • Remember, Hopi think of time as repeating, as cyclical and the
            language enables this and encourages this.
               – You do not say 2 days, you say one day and another
               – You do not say for the next three weeks, but next week and the
                 next week and the week after that
          • In English, things that are not observable (hour, month, day) can be
            both singular and plural, just as with some observable objects (cat,
            dog, house)
               – So can say 1 month, 2 months, and so forth
               – Makes time measurable and objective
          • While the metaphor of time is money is very English, the metaphor
            of „well begun is half done‟ would make sense to a Hopi speaker.
       Language, Culture and Thought 2
•   Metaphors and Frames: Framing metaphors, framing debates
     – Cognitive linguists state that the words we create (and are used within) frames
     – The idea of a frame is similar to that of a worldview.
     – Frames often evoke cultural metaphors, grouping ideas into commonly used
          • Example: Using “Founding Fathers” in a conversation both builds and
             reinforces a metaphorical frame as to how we see our country
          • It is easier to talk about something if your language already as a frame for it.
•   When your language has no frame for something this is called hypocognition.
     – The lack of a term for grief in Tahiti made coping with it harder
     – Lack of a frame can make it hard to absorb and think about facts or experiences
        that do not fit that frame
     – When confronted with novel ideas tend to ignore them or reinterpret them within
        known frames
        Frames trump facts (talking about rejecting the novel)
     – Frames affect how we think aobut and interact with the world around us
          • Taxes as a burden or community maintenance fees
          • Gay marriage or same-sex marriage