Language and Culture
Language:
– System of human communication utilizing
arbitrary vocal (or visual) symbols for the
exchange of information.
• Minimal linguistic event involves:
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two human beings with
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healthy auditory (or visual) systems (receiver),
healthy vocal (or visual) systems (transmitter), and
healthy nervous systems connecting 2 and 3 to
healthy brains;
a physical link between the two humans
a shared grammar (encoder/decoder), located in the left
hemispheres of their brains.
WHY IS LANGUAGE IMPORTANT ?
 Allows the communication of complex and
abstract concepts.
 Provides a means by which customs, norms,
and important information can be passed
between generations and preserved.
 The process of language acquisition forms the
way we think
 Language is the vehicle of culture.
Linguistic Anthropology
• Devoted to the study of human
communication
• Study of non-Western languages
• Relationship between nationalism and
language
• Role of language in mass media
• Applying research to improved language
learning
Origins of Language
• Many primates communicate using calls,
body postures and gestures
• Modern verbal language developed by
50,000 years ago, perhaps earlier
• Emergence of writing associated with
emergence of the state.
SEMANTIC UNIVERSALITY
– Humans are able to convey information
relevant to all aspects of experience and
thought.
– All human languages share the same
fundamental properties.
Semantic Universality is achieved due
to three basic aspects of language:
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PRODUCTIVITY:
– The capacity to create an infinite number of new messages with
any level of detail.
• DISPLACEMENT:
– The ability to send or receive a message without direct sensory
contact with the conditions or events to which the message
refers. (Abstract concepts)
• ARBITRARINESS:
– The symbols of language can be completely arbitrary. They do
not have to resemble or mimic any aspect of what they are
representing. This allows for the great diversity of languages
and symbols.
Linguistics:
The discipline which studies language
structure (grammar).
 Linguistics is descriptive, and describes the
way people talk not the way they should talk.
 Structural linguistics breaks down language
into hierarchical levels of structure, from
broader to smaller categories.
ELEMENTS OF LANGUAGE ANALYSIS
 All human languages are composed of, or
can be described in terms of, the same basic
elements.
Grammar:
– The rules that govern the structure of a
language.
– OR A system located in human brains that
specifies the relationship between sound and
meaning in language.
Basic structure of grammars
• A system of elements and rules:
– basic sounds
– rules for putting them together into minimal,
basic sound-meaning pairs ("words")
– rules for putting minimal sound-meaning pairs
into larger entities (phrases, sentences).
Types of Grammar
• Descriptive grammar:
– an objective description model of the grammar of a
natural spoken language (the product of linguistic
analysis); description of how people actually speak.
• Prescriptive grammar:
– statements regarding how people should speak (or
write) in order to be considered "correct" or "educated"
(social prescriptions, norms).
Phonetics
• PHONETICS: The study of the phones or “individual”
sounds that native speakers make.
• PHONES: The basic, etic sounds that make up phonemes
• PHONEMES: The basic sound units of the grammar, used
to make different minimal sound-meaning pairs. The
smallest sound contrasts that distinguish meaning.
• PHONEMIC SYSTEM: All the phonemes in a given
language; the set of phones that are arbitrarily but
habitually perceived by the speakers as contrastive.
Phonemes
• Minimal pair
– two words (or other sound-meaning units)
distinguished from one another by a single phonetic
contrast.
• Free variation
– alternation of sounds with no change in meaning.
Phonetic Alphabet
 A system for phonetic transcription (i.e., a written record)
of sounds of spoken language.
 Sounds are classified according to the origin of the sound,
state of the vocal chords, and the position of the
articulators.
Phonetic alphabet
• Vocal cord states:
– maximally tense : stopped : glottal stop
– minimally tense : voiceless : voiceless glottal
fricative
– intermediate : voiced : voiced glottal fricative
• Articulators: movable speech organs in the oral cavity
– lips
– tongue
– velum (soft palate)
Places of
Articulation
in the Vocal
Tract
Places of Articulation
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Labials: Sounds made by changing the position of the lips
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Bilabial: bringing two lips together [b] [p] [m]
Labiodental: touching one lip to the teeth [f] [v] in fine and vine
Alveolars: Sounds made by raising the tongue to the alveolar ridge
– Voiced : [d] do [z] zoo
– Nasal: [n] new
– Voiceless: [t] two [s] sue
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Interdental: Sounds make by placing the tip of the tongue between the teeth
– Voiceless : [t] thin and ether
– Voiced: [t] in then and either
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Velars: Sounds made by placing the back of the tongue onto the soft palate or
velum.
– The endings of the words back, bag, and band
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Palatals: The front part of the tongue is raised to the hard palatte.
– Shoe, shut, sure, and sugar
Manners of articulation
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Stops
Aspirated vs. Unaspirated Sounds
Fricatives
Afficates
Sibilants
Obstruents
Liquids
Glides
Morphology
Morphology: The rules for combining phonemes into
morphemes.
• Morpheme: The smallest part of an utterance that has a
definte meaning.
– minimal sound-meaning unit.
– Morphemes come in two varieties:
• Bound Morpheme: a morpheme that never occurs alone
(i.e., is not a word).
– Suffixs and prefixes: ing, ed, mal, pre,
• Free Morpheme: a morpheme that may occur alone (i.e.,
is a word).
Morphology
• Word: minimal free form.
 The smallest part of an utterance that has a definite meaning is
called a morpheme.
 It may consist of a single phoneme or a string of phonemes.
 A morpheme which can occur by itself is a word
• Homonyms (homophones):
– morphemes which sound the same but have different meanings.
• Synonyms:
– morphemes which sound different but have the same meanings.
Morphology
• Root:
– the lexical/semantic "center" of a word; the invariant of
a group of related stems.
• Affixes:
– morphemes which are added to other morphemes (esp.
roots, stems).
• A suffix follows the root/stem.
• A prefix precedes the root/stem.
• An infix is inserted into the root/stem
SYNTAX: The rules for combining
morphemes (words) into sentences
 Syntax consists of the unconscious rules which govern
sentence structure and the ways in which words are
ordered within sentences.
 The basic and universal divisions of Syntax reflects
fundamental aspects of how human speakers perceive the
world: nouns for things, verbs for actions and events,
adjectives for qualities.
 The rules of syntax can be extremely complex, and most
native-speakers are not able to cite them, but instinctively
know how to use them : ENCULTURATION
WHAT MAKES UP SYNTAX?
• Phrase Structure rules: How to construct
proper phrases
• Lexical Insertion rules: How to use words
within those structures
• Transformational rules: rules that apply
to (delete, add, move elements in) phrase
structure trees produced by Phrase Structure
rules.
Syntactic Structure
• Deep structure:
– the abstract, underlying syntactic representation
(phrase structure) of sentence, produced by
Phrase Structure and Lexical Insertion Rules.
• Surface structure:
– the syntactic representation produced by
application of transformational rules to deep
structure.
Symbols
• A SYMBOL is something which is used to
represent something else, usually a much
more complex concept.
 We can make symbols mean anything: they are
arbitrary and their complexity is essentially
unlimited.
 Human beings have the ability to think in
symbols, and language is both an outgrowth of
that ability and probably a necessary part of it:
Thought, Language and Society
• Sapir-Whorf
– language determines
how we see the world
and behavior
– reality is filtered
through language
categories
• Sociolinguistics
– social position
determines the content
and form of language
Dialects
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“A language without an army”
A way of speaking in a particular place
e.g. Cockney
Speakers are sometimes considered less
intelligent
• Ebonics - dialect or language?
Bilingualism
Different ways of
speaking depending
on age, gender,
occupation and class
Language and Culture
Mother-Infant talk
Argument style is
culturally learned
“Fat talk”
“Fat Talk”
• Euro-American adolescent girl’s talk a
lot about their body weight and image
• “I’m so fat.” “No you’re not.”
• Functions as positive reinforcement
from friends
• Functions to absolve girl from guilty
feelings about eating
- Nichter and Vuckovic 1994
Paralanguage
• Silence
• Kinesics
– body movement, expressions
– some cultures are more touch-oriented
– eye-contact in some cultures is rude
• Dress
• Looks
Mass Media
Media
anthropologists
promote a more
holistic
approach to
news reporting
In Japan TV,
90% of staff
are men,
reflected in
program
output
Critical media anthropologists
ask to what degree access to
media messages are mindopening or controlling
Language and Change
• Colonialism was a major force of change
• Pidgins
– usually limited to trade
• National policies of assimilation
– Soviet Union
– English-only movement in the US
The BIG Questions Revisited
• What aspects of communication do
linguistic anthropologists study?
• How do culture, society and communication
interact?
• What are some important
factors
affecting language
change?
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The BIG Questions?