ANTH 1150 Chapter Notes - Chapter 4: Foxp2, Social Capital, Noam Chomsky
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Chapter 4: Language and Communication
Language—spoken and written—is our primary means of communication.
Language is based on arbitrary, learned associations between words and the
things they stand for.
Anthropologists study language in its social and cultural context.
Some linguistic anthropologists reconstruct ancient languages
Others study linguistic differences to discover patterns.
Sociolinguistics examines dialects and styles in a single language to show
how speech reflects social differences.
Nonhuman Primate Communication
The natural communication systems of other primates are call systems.
These vocal systems consist of a limited number of sounds that are produced
only when particular environmental stimuli are encountered.
The number of calls eventually expanded, becoming too great to be
transmitted even partly through the genes.
The vocal tract of apes is not suitable for speech.
The first chimpanzee to learn American Sign Language was Washoe, a female,
who died in 2007.
Washoe revolutionized the discussion of the language-learning abilities of
The chimp gradually acquired a vocabulary of more than 100 signs
representing English words.
The second chimp, was Lucy. Roger Fouts came two days a week to test and
improve Lucy’s knowledge of ASL. During the rest of the week lucy used ASL
to converse with her foster parents.
After acquiring language, Washoe and Lucy exhibited several human traits:
swearing, joking, telling lies, and trying to teach language to others.
Cultural transmission of a communication system through learning is a
fundamental attribute of language.
Chimps also show that apes share still another linguistic ability with humans:
Speakers routinely use the rules of their language to produce entirely new
expressions that are comprehensible to other native speakers.
Apes also have demonstrated linguistic displacement. Absent in call
systems, this is a key ingredient in language. Displacement means that
humans can talk about things that are not present.
No one denies the huge difference between human language and gorilla
signs. There is a major gap between the ability to write a book or say a prayer
and the few hundred gestures employed by a well-trained chimp.
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The Origin of language.
A mutated gene known as FOXP2 helps explain why humans speak and
chimps don’t. The key role of FOXP2 in speech came to light in a study of a
British family, identified only as KE, half of whose members had an inherited,
severe deficit of speech.
Those who have the nonspeech version of the gene cannot make the fine
tongue and lip movements that are necessary for clear speech, and their
speech is unintelligible.
Chimps have the same genetic sequence as the KE family members with the
Comparing chimp and human geneomes, it appears that the speech friendly
form of FOXP2 took hold in humans around 150,000 years ago.
Language offered in adaptive change to homo sapiens.
Adaptation could occur more rapidly in homo than in the other primates
because our adaptive means are more flexible.
We communicate when we transmit information about ourselves to others
and recieve such information from them.
Deborah Tannen discusses differences in the communication styles of
American men and women, and her comments go beyond language.
She notes that American girls and women tend to look directly aat eachother
when they talk, whereas boys and men do not. Males are more likely to look
straight ahead rather than turn and make eye contact.
Kinesics is the study of communication through body movements, stances,
gestures, and expressions.
We use gestures for emphasis.
Culture teaches us that certain manners and styles should accompany certain
types of speech.
Much of what we communicate is nonverbal and reflects our emotional states
People use emoticons and abbreviations.
Culture always plays a role in shaping the “natural.” Ex: Americans point with
their fingers; people of Madagascar point with their lips.
Body movements communicate social differences.
The Structure of Language
The scientific study of a spoken language involves several inter-related areas
o Phronology- the study of speech sounds, considers which sounds are
present and meaningful in a given language.
o Morphology- the forms in which sounds combine to form morphemes
o Lexicon- a dictionary containing all its morphemes and their
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