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Chapter 2

Chapter 2-Language and Culture and Society


Department
Anthropology
Course Code
ANT253H1
Professor
Marcel Danesi
Chapter
2

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Chapter 2: Studying Language
1786: English scholar William Jones suggested that Sanskrit, Persian, Greek, and
Latin sprang from the same linguistic source, and thus, belonged to the same
language family
19th century: the emergence of linguistics as a true science
Early 1950s: anthropological linguistics
5th century: Indian scholar Panini – first person to show how words are constructed
from smaller structures or units
oHe demonstrated how combinations produced many distinct words
Wilheld von Humboldt
oCoined terminnere sprachform – internal structure (particular structure
of the language spoken – as conditioning how people came to view reality)
oThe precursor of a view of language known as linguistic relativity (Which
is fundamental to anthropological linguistics)
oEvery language has its innere sprachform, or internal structure which
determines its outerform and which is a reflection of its speakers minds.
The language and the thought of a person are inseparable.
Comparative grammar: the method of making linkages between languages
Proto-Indo-European (PIE): all languages as having descended from the same
undocumented language.
oThe main branches were closer in time to PIE, and the lower branches of
the indo-European language family were closer to the modern day
descendants)
Proto-Germanic languages family: English, Swedish, german.
Neo-grammarian school: movement which emerged in germany. – introduced the
notion of sound law. – indicate that there are tendencies within languages that bring
about changes within them.
oIntroduced the notion of borrowing,
Ferdinand de Saussure-his approach came to be known as
structuralism.
Diachronic: the historical study of sounds
Synchronic: the systematic study of a language at a specific point
in time.
The goal of linguistics: to understand the nature of langue
(language) rather than on parole (word)
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‘minimal pair’ – the initial sound in words as the tool for
opposition – the initial sound as what keeps makes the distinction between words
Nasal consonants as existing in all languages and also among the
earliest sounds acquired by children.
Consonants produced near the back of the throat are relatively rare
and among the last sounds to be acquired by children.
Bloomfieldian ‘manual of techniques – the approach came to be
known as descriptive since the goal was to describe languages as a means toward
understanding the cultures that used them. – the method to gain insight into language
was ethnographic.
Noam Chomsky: argued that an understanding of language as a
universal faculty of the human brain could never be developed from a piecemeal
description of the sounds, word forms, etc. – argued that a true theory of language
would have to explain, for instance, why all languages seem to reveal a similar
pattern for constructing complex sentences from more simple ones.
oTransformational: the rules that turn paraphrases into sentences with
identical surface structures
oComsky claimed that as linguists studied the nature of rules in different
languages, they would eventually come to the conclusion that they could
be conflated into one universal set of rule-making principles.
oChomsky claimed the task of the linguist was to describe the ideal
knowledge of a language, which he called ‘linguistic competence
Cognitive linguistics – an approach that emerged to challenge the validity of the
chomskyan paradigm
oThis approach is anthropological, focusing on the relation between
language, cognition, and culture.
Today, linguistics is divided into theoretical or applied subfields
oTheoretical: concerned with building language models or theories to
describe languages and to explain the similarities of language structures.
oApplied: applying the findings of linguistic research to language teaching,
dictionary preparation, speech therapy, computerized machine translation,
and automatic speech recognition.
Sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, neurolinguistics: branches that are concerned with
the relations between language and the subject matter of cognate academic
disciplines.
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