Language and Communication
Anthropological / sociological interest in
How is Language Related to Culture?
Mini-Exam #1 on April 9, 2014
 True/False
 Multiple-choice
 Short answer
Multiple Choice
 Culture
1. is predominantly transferred through
2. is more developed in Shanghai than
in Tibet
3. is being destroyed by globalization
4. None of the above
Research in cultural
anthropology is mainly based
on ethnographic fieldwork,
although other methods may be
used that do not involve
Short Answer
On the basis of his experience
in the Trobriand Islands
during WWI, B. Malinowski
is generally considered to be
the “father” of the method
called _________ ________
Getting Started
- the structure and nature of animal
communication and how it differs from human
- the nonverbal forms of communication like
gestures, expressions, and movements.
Ex. Facial expression of Bush vs. Gore’s “wooden”
body language
Getting started
 Language as key element in the development of
culture as an attribute of human existence. In
other words, without language, human culture
cannot exist.
 Language and worldview – Sapir-Whorf
hypothesis (words & worlds)
 Language as an element of cultural process
- Socio-linguistics of identity
- Classification of social & cultural reality
- Inventories of social and cultural resources
 Tools of linguistic analysis as tools for cultural
analysis during field research (the way people
communicate what is meaningful or what is not
Properties of Human Language
13 design features (Charles Hockett 1960)
Multimedia potential
- Linguistic messages transmitted through a variety
of media (writing techniques; ASL; Morse code,
Internet, etc.)
2) Discreteness
Combine discrete units according to rules.
3) Arbitrariness (the relationship between sounds
and meanings of words)
Ex: I love you (Te amo; Je tai me;)
4) Productivity
- Speakers’ ability to create totally novel
sentences and a listener’s ability to
comprehend them
5) Displacement
- Ability to talk about objects, people, things,
and events that are remote in time and space
(E.T., ghost, ancestors, goblins)
* Human language as the most precise and
complete system of communication
Nonverbal forms of communication
Is our interpretation of stated and implied
language inherent or derived from our culture?
 real vs. implied meanings of hand gesture
while driving.
Example: Giving someone “the finger” in U.S.
culture has specific connotations (road rage),
but does the same gesture have similar
meaning in China?
Sign Language
Seeing Voices
What Really Happens
Field Settings
Linguistic Forms
Sign Languages
used by the
real deaf
Used for communication
between the deaf
Or between the deaf and
those “who could
“Natural Sign
(Chinese Sign
For “those who could hear”
Ex. Television News;
Showcases such as Expo
Official Chinese
Sign Language
CSL + Oral
People who could hear but
could barely use CSL
CSL + Oral
Written Language Those who have no
knowledge of CSL
Written Chinese
What Really Matters
 The discrepancies between two systems of
 The official CSL as a standardized form of
linguistic communication
 A form of “paralanguage” that is
1)extremely context-dependent
2)facial expression & body languages
3)flexible and improvising
4) Strong indication of “adaptive wisdom”
The validity of “soft data”
“participant observation”
- immersing oneself in
the local community
(long-term residence)
- working through the
native language
the goal of ethnographic
fieldwork is to
“grasp the native point of
view, his relation to life,
to realize his vision of
his world”
(Malinowski 1922: 25)
Culture is SYMBOLIC
As is true of all symbols, such as
flags, the association between a
symbol (water) and what is
symbolized (holiness) is arbitrary
and conventional.
Language is based on arbitrary,
learned association between words
and the things for which they stand
The arbitrary relationship between the
signifier and the signified
Traffic light (stop / go)
Fashion statement
Colors of a European Flag
The arbitrary relationship between
the signifier and the signified
 Language and Context
 Be familiar with the central argument of
the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis or the theory
of linguistic relativity
 Know what sociolinguists study: gender
speech patterns; how social stratification
manifests itself in language; how social
variables influence people’s use of
Language and World
 “The limits of our worlds are the
limits of our words.” – Wittgenstein
Sapir-Whorf hypothesis:
language structures the cognition of
reality and contributes to cultural
Ex. “your are what you speak/write”
Language & Thought Processes
* “linguistic relativity” (as a form of
cultural relativism)
Example: problems of “word-for- word”
translation (Eskimo words for “snow”)
Strong version: “linguistic determinism”
Example: patterns of thought and culture
as patterns of grammar (Gender marked
Language & Thought Processes
Some interesting examples:
 Color terminology: number of
basic/key color terms a language might
have is highly variable.
 Calendars (solar vs. lunar calendars)
 Naming practices
 English Counting Words
Color Terms
Counting Words
 Quantity / units used
English terminologies:
for uncountable nouns
(liquid, seed, food, etc)
African and Latin
 Specific quantity/unit
words used with
terminologies: 2, 3, or
4 basic color terms
countable nouns: a
of lions, a of geese, a
of pheasants, a
oxen; a of sheep; a
of birds, a of cattle; a
of fish; a
of kittens
Chinese Lunar Calendar
12 animals represent a 12year cycle based on the
lunar calendar: Rat,
Cattle, Tiger, Rabbit,
Dragon, Snake, Horse,
Sheep, Monkey, Rooster,
Dog and Pig. Each
animal has different
underlying personalities
that it passes to people
born during that year.
Prosperous EIGHT “8”
What shall we make of the SapirWhorf hypothesis?
 Can it be tested?
 If a language shapes the way we perceive
and think about the world, we would expect
a people’s worldview to change at a rate
roughly comparable to the rate their
language changes.
 The weaker version of linguistic relativity
can help us understand the relationship
between language, thought, and culture.
- Sociolinguistics: study of the
relation between linguistic
performance and the SOCIAL
CONTEXT of that performance
- Linguistic Diversity
- Gender Speech Contrasts
- - Stratification and Symbolic
EX. Japanese Honorifics
 A complicated set of contextual norms
governs the degree of formality and politeness
people normally use to show respect to those
of higher social position. For instance, verbs
and personal nouns have several alternative
forms that speakers must choose between in
addressing others. Women often address men
with the honorific verb forms that
symbolically express “male superiority.”
 Different forms of personal nouns to reflect
the relative status of the parties.
Language and Status Position
 Status-linked dialects affect the
economic and social prospects of the
people who speak them, a situation
to which Bourdieu applies the term
symbolic capital (ex. a form of
cultural capital).
 Two forms of capital:
- Economic
- Symbolic (Social & CULTURAL)
The value of a dialect – its standing in a
“linguistic market” – depends on the
extent to which it provides access to
desired positions in the labor market.
EX: My Fair Lady
Case: My Fair Lady
 Professor Higgins
teaches Eliza how to
speak like an English
aristocrat (the
acquisition of
“cultural capital.”
 “The rain in Spain
stays mainly in the
Language and Power
1) "A dialect is a language with a losing army.”
Ex. Shanghainese & Cantonese dialects
2) Black English Vernacular (BEV) & the Great
Ebonics Controversy (discussed in the
Haviland Book)
3) Linguistic Nationalism (an attempt by whole
countries to proclaim their independence by
purging their vocabularies of “foreign” terms).
Ex. Former colonial countries of Africa, French
attempt to purge Americanism, revival of
Hebrew as Israel’s first language (vs. Yiddish).
Words borrowed into English…
Chinese: tea/chai, ketchup, ginseng, lichee,
typhoon, fengshui, kowtow…
Japanese: tsunami, geisha, judo, sake, kimono,
karaoke, sushi, tempura, and WALKMAN!
Turkish: yogurt
Malay: bamboo
Scots Gaelic: whisky
Norwegian: ski; Finnish: sauna
India: curry, punch (drink), cashmere, shampoo
New Words in English
 Affluenza (affluence + influenza)
 App
 Bromance (brother + romance)
 Geek
 Netizen (Net + Citizen)
Code switching
 The process of changing from one level of
language to another or from one dialect of a
language to another.
Ex. Martin Luther King’s
skill at code switching
between Standard English
& Afro-american vernacular
Ex. The complexity of Navajo language and its
use as code by U.S. Marines in the Pacific during

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