Lecture 13 3/4/2013 10:31:00 AM
Language, Culture, and Society
Why study language in a sociocultural anthropology course?
Sociocultural anthropology focuses on learned behaviours and ideas that human
beings acquire as members of society.
Language is one of these behaviours that is learned and culturally acquired.
Language as a cultural practice:
Language is so ingrained in our everyday life and seems so natural that we tend
to forget it is leaned and culturally acquired.
Paradox of language:
Language is universal:
o All people around the world have a language.
Languages are plural:
o Different societies around the world have elaborated different languages
Definition of Language:
The system of arbitrary vocal symbols (or their equivalent) we use to encode our
experience of the world.
Why vocal symbols or their equivalent?
The articulated sounds of speech can be transferred into visual speech
symbolism (written words, reading lips, sign language, etc.)
Language is specific to humans:
Animals have a type of communication. For ex: primates have call systems
ranging from 15-40 difference calls depending on the species.
These calls are produces only when the animal finds itself in specific situations,
such as the presence of food or danger (limited contexts)
Primate call systems do not have symbolic complexity that human languages
Voluntarily articulated sounds:
Question: o Can sounds made under emotional stress, like a scream or surprise or
fear, be considered as part of language?
This kind of reaction is instinctive and not symbolic.
Language is an intentional symbolic way of communicating.
Are interjections such as “ah! Oh!” Part of language?
Interjections have a conventional use.
We culturally learn how to use them
They vary in different languages from society to society.
The formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named.
For ex: the sound of knocking at the door or drinking an beverage.
These sounds do not come naturally our of nature:
They are cultural constructions, that is why we find cultural variation
Aspects of language:
System of symbols
Specific to humans
Universal and variation
Languages differ in:
o Lexicon (vocabulary)
o Word structure o Sentence structure
o Grammatical categories
o Discourse patterns
Language Differ in sounds:
o The study of the sounds of language
o Uses 38 sounds (phonemes)
Can we consider the !Kung San “cli