LANGUAGE
Chapter 5
LANGUAGE
 A system of symbolic communication using
sounds and/or gestures that are able to be
understood by all members within a society
that share the language.
 Examples?
 Symbol vs. Signal
 Symbol: Shared understandings about the meaning
of certain words, attributes, or objects.
 Signal: An instinctive sound or gesture that has a
natural or self-evident meaning.
HUMANS vs. PRIMATES
 Koko the Gorilla:
 http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-
6277258515422356599&ei=v8NfS6f2CKjGqQKpyoyrCg&q=koko+the+gorilla&hl=en&
client=firefox-a#
 Chimpanzees, Orangutans and Gorillaz can
communicate through sign language at the level of a
~2-3 year old human child.
 Human culture is ultimately dependent on an
elaborate system of communication far more
complex than that of any other species.
LINGUISTICS
The Study of Language --one of the 4 major sub-fields of Anthropology
 Descriptive Linguistics
 Phonology: “Sound-study” The study of language sounds
 Sounds in some languages that are absent/difficult to pronounce
in others?
 Morphology: “Form-study” The study of the patterns or rules of
word formation in a language: Verb tenses, pluralization and
compound words
 Syntax: The patterns or rules by which words are arranged into
phrases and sentences
 Grammar: The entire formal structure of a language, including
morphology and syntax
 Grammar rules of different languages? Definite article
differences?
HISTORICAL LINGUISTICS
The origins/changing nature of language
 Deciphering “dead” languages
 Differences between earlier and later forms of
the same language
 How older languages developed into modern
ones
 Interrelationships among older languages
LANGUAGE FAMILY
A group of languages descended from a single ancestral language
 Indo-European Language Family:

http://www.unilang.org/resources/linguistic/languagefamily_ie.jpg
 Slavic Language Family:

http://www.lerc.educ.ubc.ca/LERC/courses/489/worldlang/Russian/language_family.gif
 Nilo-Saharan Language Family:

http://mathildasanthropologyblog.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/nilo-sharan.png
 GLOTTOCHRONOLOGY: The Linguistic divergence of languages
may be traced by a method known as glottochronology which
compares the core vocabularies of languages (pronouns, lower
numerals, and names for body parts and natural objects).
Assumption: These basic vocabulary words change more slowly than
other words and at a more or less constant rate of 14 to 19 percent per
1,000 years.
PROCESSES OF LINGUISTIC
DIVERGENCE
 Selective Borrowing
 Ex: Foreign words in the English language? English words in




other languages?
Professional Specialization
Ex: Anthropology terms! Medical, Legal terms
Sub-culture lingo
Does the “gamer” culture have specific lingo? How about
those who frequent Starbucks?
LANGUAGE LOSS AND REVIVAL

Language loss usually the result of a dominant society assimilating subordinate societies.

Ex: English colonialism (500 years). In U.S. wiped out about half of all Native American languages.

Over the last ~500 years, 3,500 of the world’s 10,000 or so languages have become extinct because of
forced assimilation, epidemics and warfare.

UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) is focused on
preserving and reviving traditional languages

Initiative [email protected]: Promotes multilingualism on the Internet, this initiative aims to bridge the digital divide
(over 80% of all internet users speak just 10 languages -- chart on p. 109 in your book) to make access to
Internet content and services more equitable for users worldwide.

http://portal.unesco.org/ci/en/ev.php-URL_ID=16541&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html

Reviving and Preserving language

Koro language, Northeast India: http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/player/news/culture-places-

Through song: Ethnographic Example: Andy Palacio and the Garifuna culture:
news/enduring-voices-koro-vin.html
http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/player/music/genre-wm/garifuna/watina-umalali-sg-wm.html
LANGUAGE IN ITS SOCIAL AND
CULTURAL SETTINGS

Sociolinguistics: Relationship between language and society. How social categories (age, gender,
ethnicity, religion, occupation and class) influence the use and significance of distinctive styles of
speech.


Gendered Speech: Distinct male and female speech patterns

Ex (book): Lakota language and Dances w/ Wolves

Ex: Gendered speech in U.S. culture?
Dialects: Varying forms of a language that reflect particular regions, occupations, or social classes
and that are similar enough to be mutually intelligible.

Ex: Formal (standard) vs. Informal speech

A few American Dialects:

Sampler: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qXGuCaApR7U&feature=related

Appalachian: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=03iwAY4KlIU&feature=related

Louisiana Swamp: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5KzeYrjfN9s&feature=channel
“
LANGUAGE IN ITS SOCIAL AND
CULTURAL SETTINGS cont.

Ethnolinguistics: The study of the relationships between language and culture, and how they mutually
influence and inform each other


Linguistic Relativity: The idea that distinctions encoded in one language are unique to that language

Ex: Color spectrum and arbitrary names/divisions

Ex: Things most important to a culture are accorded more names and concepts

The Ayamara Indians in the Bolivian Highlands have 200 words for “Potato”

The Nuer pastoralists of Africa have over 400 names for cattle.

Ex: How many words do we have for “car”? Types of “car”?
What do elements of our language say about us…

We “conquer” space, “fight” the “battle” of the bulge, carry out a “war” against drugs, make a
“killing” of the stock market, “shoot down” an argument, “torpedo” a plan, “spearhead” a
movement, “decapitate” a foreign government, or “bomb” on an exam.
“The structure of the language one habitually uses influences the manner in which one
understands his environment. The picture of the universe shifts from tongue to
tongue.” -B.J. Whorf
GESTURE-CALL SYSTEM

Body signs account for over 60% of our total communication

It provides the “key” to speech, providing listeners with the appropriate frame for
interpreting what a speaker is saying.

Ideas about personal space? Business space?

Paralanguage: voice effects that convey meaning

Giggling/groaning/sighing/pitch/tempo of words
 Clip from Pretty Woman: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rZJ3pBAYTk

Tonal languages: In some languages, intoning a word slightly differently will
change the word entirely. Ex? (70% of the world’s language are Tonal)


Ex: Zhutwasi, or “San Bushmen” click language:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c246fZ-7z1w&feature=related
What about texting, email, Facebook, etc… without body signs and other cues, how do we
get across the right meaning?

(According to a recent study, the intended tone of email messages is perceived
correctly only 56% of the time)
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Language and Communication