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PSYC14 - Lec 8 - Culture and Language - near-verbatim.docx

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PSYC14 Lecture 8: Language and Culture PY
Date: Nov 8, 2012
Slide 2: Overview
1) Co-evolution of culture and language
2) Universal features of language
3) Culturally distinct features of language
4) Language and thought the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis
o Support and challenge to hypothesis
Slide 3: Human Culture and Language
Historically speaking…
1) Humans haven’t always been verbal
o Communication hasn’t always taken the form of words; in the past = gestures and
sounds that aren’t semantic (no lexical or linguistic base to them)
o Chimps provide a modern-day model of what human communication once was
Chimps groom each other for 20% of their waking hours b/c grooming is the
primary way of maintaining social bonds with their kin in their groups
It’s possible that humans in the past engaged in behaviors like this as their
primary form of socializing
Slide 4:
Human culture has changed across time, language doesn’t remain static – as culture changes, so
does language
2) Human culture evolved, necessitating language
o As Robin Dunbar (2004) sees it:
A non-verbal lifestyle had its limits!
If grooming was the main form of socializing, there’s some problems!
o Grooming was problematic because it’s extremely time-consuming (chimps groom for
20% of their waking hours to maintain society and their group consists of approx. 50
members lot of time; human group in past would have had 150 group members so
significantly more than 20% of waking hours spent grooming socializing = 40% to
maintain social bonds), only fosters connection between 2 individual, involves hand-eye
coordination (takes your attention away from other things)
Non-verbal lifestyle seems to be doing it’s job until the group gets too large and
grooming gets to be too time-consuming therefore, language also changes to
accommodate for the cultural/community based factors
Not particular efficient as a means of socializing
Evolving manual skills that compete with grooming but grooming takes up so
much time, so grooming really needs to be replaced
Thus, factors that pushed for change:
1) increase in the # of ppl in the community
o Too many ppl to groom

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PSYC14 Lecture 8: Language and Culture PY
Date: Nov 8, 2012
2) humans at this time are becoming increasingly sophisticated when it
comes to developing manual skills like tool building and construction of
o Makes sense that humans develop verbal mode of socializing to
replace non-verbal method of social grooming
o Verbal mode of socializing includes laughter and spoken word
Slide 5:
Accordingly, humans evolved a verbal mode of socializing in order to replace non-verbal modes
of communication
New verbal mode was functionally superior b/c:
o *Quick (don’t have to have dialogue for hours to maintain basic level of acquaintance)
o *Can be done in group much more efficiently
o *Something that allows us to multi-task
Supports manual habits that were increasingly developing @ this time; make
tools and talk @ the same time therefore adaptive; change in culture that put
demands on ppl that was accommodated by the development of language
o More words = see world more complexly = way that we speak influences way we think
o More clarification
Slide 6:
Language & human culture are CO-EVOLVING
Language & human culture are 2 diff domains = they change independently of each other but
the fact is, because one has changed, it leads to changes in the other domain
because language changes, human culture changes; because human culture changes, there are
changes in the way that we express ourselves linguistically
it’s a process of inter-animation
o Example 1: language and crafting
Crafting = cultural activity
Knitting group = socialization = talking while accomplishing the work that
they’re doing
Co-evolution of human culture and language what’s happening to language
b/c of this quilting group?
In these groups, most women couldn’t read, but there were a few that could
and they would be appointed as the reader in these quilting groups and they
would read and so the other illiterate women would have opportunity to
expand their vocab so culture (the knitting group) acts on language =
elaborating on the person’s lexicon = vocab increases
The idea also becomes that it’s cool to be able to read and women should be
able to read also

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PSYC14 Lecture 8: Language and Culture PY
Date: Nov 8, 2012
So, due to community cultural activities like this = you have shifting of how
language is treated in a culture there’s emphasis on fact that women may
want to get further edu so they can read
Slide 7:
o Example 2: language and food
How change in culture impacts language and how change in language impacts
You have a history and need within culture to grow and prepare food time-
consuming activity so it makes sense that you do this as a group and that you’re
talking to other group members
So, engaging in social activity while you get the work done
As food culture becomes more sophisticated (learn how to prepare/grow
things), they need increasingly sophisticated linguistic system need more
words need to be able to elaborate (ex: tell difference between blueberry,
Food culture becomes more sophisticated so it puts pressure on ppl to grow
their vocab to become better in cooking/agri
Also, as cooking, need to explain in words ‘how much’ – need 2 come up with
system to convert amount into words measurement system
With increasingly more complicated recipes, need system of measurement
Food culture has encouraged oral tradition of recipe sharing secret that’s
passed on, eventually in written form
Slide 8:
o Example 3: language and work
How change in culture impacts language and how change in language impacts
culture? Inter-animated process one domain effects the other
Workplace provides need to find a way to express with the ppl we work with
Worksong = for long time = social song = tends to sound the same across
Very simple; repeated phrases, encourages chorus so ppl work in
Song serves purpose to coordinate the actions
Worksong shares history with colonialism, imperialism and enslavement
What does worksong do for work?
o It coordinates the work but also because when they sing, they
are a united force
o Ted: the worksong is a transformational tool for culture; the
song changes culture; it is a revolutionary tool that changes how
work is done under what conditions; worksong made the work
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