Friday, March 31, 2017

Sapir’s Hypothesis of Language and Culture

In this section we talked about language, culture and thought and how some important figures went on about the significance of this matter in an anthropological sense. Edward Sapir was a graduate student encouraged by Franz Boaz who is the “Father of American Anthropology”, yet Sapir studied culture and language, and became a linguist. Sapir, one of the anthropologists proposed a hypothesis that a language that only speaks determines how one perceives the world, the distinctions in each language are all different from one another, and thus each society and culture live in their own “Linguistic World”. He then goes off about how two groups can be similar in culture, but provide very distinct languages from one another. An example case of this is of native tribes that include the North American Indians of the Great Plains. They possessed many of the same or very similar cultural characteristics but whose languages belonged to at least six different language families. The family consists of Algonquian (Arapaho and Cheyenne), Siouan (Crow and Dakota), Uto-Aztecan (Shoshone and Comanche), Athapaskan (Sarcee and kiowa Apache), Caddoan (Wichita and Pawnee), and  Kiowa-Tanoan (Kiowa).  Boas and Sapir go on about how culture, physical type (“race”), and language were not given by nature, but a historical coincidence. In other words, if a baby who is of European decent is born in China, they then will learn the Chinese language. If a Chinese baby is born in Mexico, they then will grasp onto the language that is spoken there. Nonetheless they mentioned how similar languages between two towns can have different cultures, such as other cultures in Latin America where they all might speak the same language  with their accents can still understand one another, but they all approach a different type of culture distinct from one another.


Language, Culture, and Society, 5th Edition (2015) by Zdenek Salzmann, James Stanlaw, and NobukoAdachi

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Importance of Language

Language is an important thing to not only a culture but also for people outside of that culture to be able to communicate with others, this is especially true when it comes to different countries. In most cases each country has their own culture and their own language and sometimes not all languages will be the same. Which can take away from the full experience of another culture or it could make it difficult to understand or communicate with others. The article that I found interesting is titled “Northwestern expert calls for more language learning in U.S.”, in this article it talks about  how Brian Edwards, a Professor in Middle East Studies at Northwestern University, is trying to work to make language available to everyone one in the U.S., no matter the region, ethnicity or status. According to the article, the U.S. compared to other countries is behind when it comes to the citizens’ knowing another language. Part of the problem is that there aren’t many qualified teachers. This is a problem because with only a few language teachers in some of the schools they are only teaching a small percentage of students and if they aren’t qualified they might be teaching them the wrong thing. The solution that’s recommended is to increase the number of language teachers. This was something that Edwards does try with his example of trying to increase the number of schools that teach Arabic in Chicago. He does this by connecting university-level educators with teachers from both private and public schools, which does end up helping increase the number of qualified teachers. Being able to understand another language either through speaking, reading or writing is essential for businesses, research and of course international relations.  I do agree with Edwards that the being able to learn another language should be “seen as national need” like English and Math because in the times that we live in now, we are connected to a wider portion of the world and being able to understand different language will help us to understand other cultures and just in general learn more about the world.


Abdelfattah, M. (2017). Northwestern expert calls for more language learning in U.S. Northwestern University. Retrieved from

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Conversations with In-Laws and Culture
In American society stereotype the often plays out in most forms of media is that talking with your in-laws can be tough. With movies like me the Fokker's and failure to launch showing the struggles that can come with dealing with in-laws, it surprised me a little that Americans don't have it the worst. In some languages and cultures it's nearly impossible to talk with your in-laws. Parts of Africa Australia and India have societies that restrict certain words that a person may say after marriage. For example some people in Ethiopia follow a rule called ball issue shot which for bids them from using words that begin with the same syllable as the name of their father-in-law or mother-in-law. Another. Another thing that some the societies practice is avoiding speech. Avoiding speech used to be very common with aboriginal languages in Australia but has since largely faded in some areas. Avoiding speech crosses the genders and generations such as there are cultures where a man in his mother-in-law are forbidden to directly address each other as well as instances where a woman in his father-in-law and her father-in-law cannot address each other either. Still though all societies have workarounds to these rules. For example a common thing to do is send in flights to syllables or words that you get around the avoiding speech or the addressing speeches. As to why these systems arose is believed that in the African and Indian regions was it was used in a way to reinforce inferior status of daughter-in-law's, whereas in Australia it was used to limit the chance for sexual relations between in-laws. The biggest take away that I got from this article however though, was that no matter how much we dread talking to in-laws in American society, there are people out there who have it far worse than we do.
ROUSSEAU, B. (2017, January 9). Talking to In-laws Can Be Hard. In Some Languages, It’s Impossible. Retrieved March 29, 2017, from

The Immediacy of the Pirahã Language

The Immediacy of the Pirahã Language

In the depths of the Brazilian Amazon along the Maici River, there lives a group of people called the Pirahã. This tribe of natives live together, surviving as a group of less that 420 people. Some would consider the Pirahã to be a primitive group, but as a whole, their culture has everything they require despite the supposed simplicity of their lives and languages. One linguist, by the name of Daniel Everett, spent some time with them in their home environment, learning about their culture through the analysis of language. The Pirahã have a very interesting way of comprehending their existence. Everything the encounter is very rooted in the present, a concept that Everett calls “The Immediacy of Experience” meaning that everything they encounter is only really important to them for the time they are encountering it. The tribe has a particular word that details this phenomenon, xibipiio. To this group the word can be used in many instances; in essence it means “to go in and out of experience.” It can be used to describe when people leave, when people arrive; however it can also be used to describe the coming and going of aircraft, when it leaves their sight, it is now xibipiio. Even though the plane continues to exist, to them, because it is no longer within their sensory field, it ceases to exist in their world. This concept even translates to their understanding of fire, when a flame flickers, they say it is xibipiio— it is going in and out of experience. This use of the word is exquisite evidence that their language directly correlates to their understanding of their world. They see the world in a very specific, immediate way and their choice of words depicts it in a way that is significant only to them. Their life is so different from that of our own that it may be difficult to understand why they interact with their environment in this way, but the fact of the matter is, it works for them. We may see little benefit to this method of speech but for them, it is all they need, and that is what matters most.


Everett, D. (2005). Cultural Constraints on Grammar and Cognition in Pirahã: Another Look at the Design Features of Human Language. Current Anthropology, 46(4), 621-646. doi:10.1086/431525


Salzmann, Z., Stanlaw, J., & Adachi, N. (2015). Language, culture, and society: An introduction to linguistic anthropology (6th ed.). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Attitudes About the Use of Speech

            The use of speech in different cultures varies depending on gender, age, whether or not the speaker is in public, and others. According to the authors of our textbook “Language, Culture, and Society: An Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology”, Plato states in Athenian culture the people not only take delight in talking, but also talk a great deal. However Spartans were reserved and Cretans prefer to be concise in speech. The authors also mention the Araucanians in Chile where men are expected to talk often, but women are supposed to speak quietly in public and keep silent around their husbands. Some cultures use gender as the deciding factor of who can speak, while in other cultures it is expected that everyone hold back their words to form a response before they speak. For example the Western Apache will refrain from speaking when meeting strangers and the initial stages of courtship. If a stranger is quick to speak they are seen as wanting something. Even though the Apache are slow to respond in certain situations, public speaking is valued in all societies. Different cultures have different ideas about what it means to speak well in public, but as a general rule a natural speaker will see their native language as the most natural. The context of language use also plays a role in how different cultures view speech. Context is a process that grows and changes among the people having conservation. In the Apache culture parents would refrain from talking to their children for several days after the kids returned home from a boarding school. Although the children were not strangers, the parents felt they needed to see how the kids would adjust to being back and would not talk to their children. The most efficient means of communication for people is using their native language because they not only know all the words, but they know the cultural background that plays a role in the context in which they are in.

Adachi, N., Salzmann, Z., & Stanlaw, J. (2015). Language, Culture, and Society: An Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology. Boulder: Westview Press.


As we learned in class and from the book (the first source I listed below), synesthesia is the stimulation of one sense by another. I remember stumbling upon a House episode about synesthesia a long time ago. The episode was about an Air Force pilot that was “hearing with her eyes,” and it fascinated me. Now, I actually know two synesthetes (people who have synesthesia). While attending community college, I found out that one of my favorite professors actually has synesthesia. He described how when he ate different foods, he heard different sounds, depending on what he was eating. So, when he ate and tasted food, this stimulated his hearing of different noises. And just as we prefer some foods to others because of the way they taste to us, he preferred some foods to others because of the way they sounded to him. I believe that he had other senses linked too, but I can’t recall his examples. I have another friend who I met recently, who also has synesthesia. She describes different letters as having an inherent evenness or oddness, as well as having different colors attached to them. The latter is what is known as color-graphemic synesthesia and is the most common form of synesthesia. According to “Synesthesia Statistics” (the second source I listed below), the majority of the synesthete population in the world are women and are left-handed. One of the synesthetes I know is male, and the other is female, but both of them are left-handed. The female-to-male ratio is 3:1 and synesthesia itself only occurs 1 in every 2,000 people, making it pretty rare. I find synesthesia interesting to learn about because I can’t experience what it’s like to be a synesthete. I can only learn about it through others by using my own senses as a comparison.

Salzmann, Z., Stanlaw, J., & Adachi, N. (2015). Language, Culture, and Society: An Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology (6th ed.). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.


Kinesics is the study of body language. It has came to be that many language show gestures and have different ways of communicating just by Kinesics itself. The only nonverbal behaviors that are universal throughout the world are facial expressions, such as the expressions of anger, happiness, sadness, disgust, surprise and fear are basic to all humans. However, the rest of them are specific to certain cultures. For example, in the United States eye contact is considered respectful. Parents tell their children to look at them when they speak because it is a sign that someone is paying attention to them. In some Middle Eastern and Asian cultures, eye contact is to be avoided because it might signal an inappropriate romantic interest or it may be just plain inappropriate in a social interactions. One interesting thing to note is that, the basic assumptions that underlie kinesics is that no body movement or facial expression is likely to lack meaning because, just like other aspects of voluntary human behavior, body movements, postures, and facial expressions are patterned and occur together. When breaking down this idea, I thought about a time when I was awkward or uncomfortable and not just one of my actions was out of place. I had my hand close to my mouth, avoided eye contact, and really tried accepting the situation I was in. It is extremely interesting how a few little movements and actions can display a real feeling someone is having and how other people can easily pick up on small gestures. It’s a unique way of communication that I believe isn’t thought much about nowadays. 

Salzmann, Z., Stanlaw, J., & Adachi, N. (2012). Language, Culture, and Society: An Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology. Westview Press

How Language Influences Gender Roles

We’ve learned in class that culture and language are inextricably linked, that we can learn about a culture through language.  But it seems as though language doesn’t only record observations about the culture it represents, but can actually influence a culture in a very measurable way.  Recent research suggests that language influences our behavior; specifically, cultures that use gender when referring to nouns are more likely to distinguish between male and female roles, which results in fewer women working, especially in politics and other powerful positions.

Languages often use gender for nouns.  The World Atlas of Linguistic Structures lists four grammatical variables related to gender in a language, which are: the number of possible genders in a language, whether or not the genders are linked to biological sex, whether or not the gender of the noun is determined by semantics, such as in English; and whether the pronouns take a gender in first, second, or third person.  

Researchers have studied this detailed data and assigned a numerical value based on it, called the Gender Intensity Index, which shows how heavily saturated the language is with gender.  The researchers found that the more heavily “genderized” the language, the fewer women participated in the work force.  Languages with sex-base gender nouns correlated to a decrease in female workers by up to 12%, as compared to 3% in non-sex-based gender languages.  

Women in these cultures are far less likely to hold political office, and the countries of these languages are more likely to have quotas for the number of women required.  Female participation in politics tended to rise sharply after the implementation of quotas, suggesting that it was a lack of opportunity rather than a lack of desire to participate in politics.  I found this interesting because while we know that language and culture are linked, the idea that language can influence culture is something I had not considered before.  

Gay, V., Santacreu-Vasut, E., & Shoham, A. (2012). Does language shape our economy? Female/male grammatical distinctions and gender economics. Retrieved March 29, 2017, from

The Origin of Language

            Of all the content learnt thus far from, “Language, Culture, and Society” by Salzmann, Stanlaw, and Adachi *, the topic I found the most interesting was their discussion in chapter six on the origin of language.

The authors wrote that a key element of determining the origin of language is whether the skills required came from one source at one time, or from multiple, separate sources at different times. ‘Monogenesis’ is the term for the former, and ‘polygenesis’ is the term for the latter. The authors agreed that a polygenesis origin is questionable, even improbable, as it requires many parallel developments of a long, complex process to occur independently. They noted that, since everyone, regardless of ethnicity, can learn any language they attempt, there must be some innate quality to language that suggests it originated from one area. This monogenesis comes in two forms, a ‘radical’ and a ‘fuzzy’. ‘Radical’ monogenesis is where all the traits originated in one spot at one time, as did the subsequent language, which later diverged into multiple forms. They believed that the most probable origin is this “fuzzy” monogenesis, where there is a single origin of the traits for language, but different groups were free to develop their language at different paces. The authors noted that there can never be a definitive answer.

The earliest languages discovered so far, ‘protolanguages’, are still much younger than the definitive first language. The most reconstructed is Proto-Indo-European, which existed about six thousand years ago near the steppes of Russia. It is the ‘father’ of most South Asian and European languages today.

The authors made a final note that one of the most important things to remember in all of this is that there were probably more languages existing in the past than there are currently, making the origin of language even more muddled.

*Adachi, N., Salzmann, Z., & Stanlaw, J. (2015). Language, Culture, and Society: An Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology (6th ed.). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Death of Languages

In a society, there are many ways to preserve one's culture. One of the ways is through a spoken language. However, over the course of time, many languages that were once spoken, have gone extinct and with it, important pieces and or entire cultures have been lost to us. It has been predicted that by the year 2100 over 90% of the languages that are spoken in the world will disappear. But how does a language become extinct? One of the common ways is that the sole survivor of the language dies, but this is not the only way language death can occur. Another way a language can be lost by being bilingual. This happens when areas that were native languages become overwhelmed by the other language that is being used. A prime example of this is the spread of the English language. English is becoming a dominant language around the world that it is causing certain places to stop using their native language and making them use in English public place. Over time people start to let go of the native language since it not the primary language anymore.  Today as many as 7,000 languages are spoken, and a total of 473 of the languages that are spoken today are in endangered of becoming extinct. When a language becomes extinct, researchers not only lose how a language is spoken but they lose an enormous amount of cultural data in the form of how people express relationships with their environment, the organization of one's culture, and their emotions to one other. The language also provides a sense of identity for people within the culture, that disappears along with the language becoming extinct, leaving the culture in the complete chaos that eventually leads to their own demise. With language, death occurring more rapidly in modern times, several organizations and linguist are trying to save languages through revitalization. Examples of revitalized languages are Welsh and Maori which were brought back from the brink of extinction. Hebrew which was once a dead language at one time was resurrected and is spoken once again. Even though revitalization is a solution to saving endangered languages, it's not the correct way to save them. The possible correct way to saving a language is to make people aware of the consequences that happen when a language dies. Languages are a part of people's culture, and they need to be preserved and protected for the culture to survive.

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