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Hall - chapter ten SPACE SPEAKS Every living thing has a...

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Unformatted text preview: chapter ten SPACE SPEAKS Every living thing has a physical boundary that sep- arates it from its external environment. Beginning With the bacteria and the simple cell and ending with man, every organism has a detectable limit which marks where it begins and ends. A short distance up the i phylogenetic scale, however, another, non-physrcal 1: boundary appears that exists outside the physical one. This new boundary is harder to delimit than the first : but is just as real. We call this the “organisms tern- tory.” The act of laying claim to and defending a ter- ritory is termed territoriality. It is territoriahty with \which this chapter is most concerned. In man, it be- comes highly elaborated, as well as being very greatly differentiated from culture to culture. Anyone who has had experience with dogs, partic- ularly in a rural setting such as on ranches and farms, is familiar with the way in which the dog handles space. In the first place, the dog knows the limits of croachment. There are also certain places where be his master’s “yard” and will defend it against en- _ sleeps: a spot next to the fireplace, 3. spot in the : kitchen, or one in the dining room if he is allowed : there. In short, a dog has fixed points to which he re- .- turns time after time, depending upon the occasion. One can also observe that dogs create zones around .;_ SPACE SPEAKS 163 them. Depending upon his relationship to the dog and the zone he is in, a trespasser can evoke diiferent be- havior when he crosses the invisible lines which are meaningful to the dog. . This is particularly noticeable in females with pup- pies. A mother who-has a new litter in a little-used barn will claim thebarn as her territory. When the door opens she may make a slight movement or stir- ring in one corner. Nothing else may happen as the intruder moves ten or fifteen feet into the barn. Then ,j‘; _ the dog may raise her head or get up, circle about, S ' and lie down as another invisible boundary is crossed. One can tell about where the line is by withdrawing and watching when her head goes down. As additional lines are crossed, there will be other signals, a thump- ing of the tail, a low mean or a growl. ‘ One can observe comparable behavior in other Vertebrates—fish, birds, and mammals. Birds have well-developed territoriality, areas which they defend as their own and which they return to year after year. To those who have seen a robin come back to the same nest each year this will come as no surprise. Seals, dolphin, and whales are known to use the same breed- ing grounds. Individual seals have been known to come back to the same rock year after year. Man has developed his territoriality to an almost] - unbelievable extent. Yet we treat space somewhat. as We treat sex. It is there but we don’t talk about it. And . if we do, we certainly are not expected to get techni- cal or serious about it. The man of the house is always somewhat apologetic about “his chair.” How many people have had the experience of coming into a room, seeing a big comfortable chair and heading for r' it, only to pull themselves up short, or pause and turn , to the man and say, “Oh, was I about to sit in your 3‘ chair?” The reply, of course, is usually polite. Imagine 164 THE SILENT LANGUAGE the effect if the host were to give vent to-his true feel- ings and say, “Hell, yes, you’re sitting in my chair, and I don't like anybody sitting in my chair!” For some un- known reason, our culture has tended to play down or cause us to repress and dissociate the feelings we have about space. We relegate it to the informal and are likely to feel guilty whenever we find ourselves getting angry because someone has taken our place. Territoriality is established so rapidly that even the second session in a series of lectures is sufficient to find a significant proportion of most audiences back in the same seats. What’s more, if one has been sitting in a particular seat and someone else occupies it, one can notice a fleeting irritation. There is the remnant of an old urge to throw out the interloper. The inter- loper knows this too, because he will turn around or look up and say, “Have I got your seat?” at which point you lie and say, “Oh no, I was going to move anyway.” Once while talking on this subject to a group of Americans who were going overseas, one very nice, exceedingly mild-mannered w0man raised her hand and said, “You mean it’s natural for me to feel irritated when another woman takes over my kitchen?” An- swer: “Not only is it natural, but most American women have very strong feelings about their kitchens. Even a mother can’t come in and wash the dishes in her daughter’s ' kitchen without annoying her. The kitchen is the place where ‘who will dominate’ is settled. All women know this, and some can even talk about it. Daughters who can’t keep control of their kitchen will be forever under the thumb of any woman who can move into this area.” The questioner continued: "You know that makes me feel so relieved. I have three older sisters and a mother, and every time they come to town they march SPACE SPEAKS 165 right into the kitchen and take over. I want to tell them to stay out of my kitchen, that they have their own kitchens and this is my kitchen, but I always thought I was having unkind thoughts about my mother and sisters, thoughts I wasn’t supposed to have. This relieves me so much, because now I know I was right.” Father’s shop is, of course, another sacred territory and best kept that way. The same applies to his study, if he has one. As one travels abroad and examines the ways irf which ‘space is handled, startling variations are dis- covered—differences which we react to vigorously. Since none of us is taught to look at space as isolated from other associations, feelings cued by the handling l of space are often attributed-to something else. In growing up people learn literally thousands of spatial i cues, all of which have their own meaning in their' own context. These cues “release” responses already established in much the same way as Pavlov’s bells started his dogs salivating. Just how accurate a spatial J memory is has never been completely tested. There are indications, however, that it is exceedingly per- sistent. Literally thousands of experiences teach us uncon- sciously that space communicates. Yet this fact would probably never have been brought to the level of con- sciousness if it had not been realized that space is organized diiferently in each culture. The associations and feelings that are released in a member of one cul- ture almost invariably mean something else in the next. When we say that some foreigners are “pushy,” all this means is that their handling of space releases this association in our minds. ' What gets overlooked is that the response is there in toto and has been there all along. There is no point ‘J 2': 1‘ 166 THE SILENT LANGUAGE in well~meaning people feeling guilty because they get angry when a foreigner presents them with a spatial cue that releases anger or aggression. The main thing is to know what is happening and try to find out which cue was responsible. The next step is to discover, if possible, whether the person really intended to re- lease this particular feeling or whether he intended to engender a different reaction. Uncovering-the specific cues in a foreign culture is a painstaking and laborious process. Usually it is easier for the newcomer to listen to the observations of old-timers and then test these observations against his own experience. At first he may hear, “You’re going to have a hard time getting used to the way these peo- ple crowd you. Why, when you are trying to buy a theater ticket, instead of standing in line and waiting their turn they all try to reach in and get their money to the ticket seller at once. It’s just terrible the way- you have to push and shove just to keep your place.' Why, the last time I got to the ticket window of the theater and poked my head up to the opening, there were five arms and hands reaching over my shoulder waving money.” Or he may hear the following: “It’s as much as- your life is worth to ride the streetcars. They’re worse than our subways. What’s more, these people don’t seem to mind it at all.” Some of this stems from the fact that, as Americans we have a pattern which discourages touching, except in moments of in- timacy. When we ride on a streetcar or crowded f" elevator we will "hold ourselves in,” having been taught from early childhood to avoid bodily contact with strangers. Abroad, it’s confusing when conflicting SPACE spears 167 However, the fact that those who have been in a foreign country for some time talk about these things provides the newcomer with advance warning. Get- ting over a spatial accent is just as important, some- times more so, than eliminating a spoken one. Advice to the newcomer might be: Watch were people stand, and don't back up. You will feel funny doing it, but it’s amazing how much difierence it makes in people’s attitudes toward you. HOW DIFFERENT CULTURES USE SPACE Several years ago a magazine published a map of the United States as the average New Yorker sees it. The details of New York were quite clear and the suburbs to the north were also accurately shown. Hollywood appeared in some detail while the space in between New York and Hollywood was ahnost a total blank. Places like Phoenix, Albuquerque, the Grand Canyon, and Taos, New Mexico, were all croWded into a hopeless jumble. It was easy to see that the average New Yorker knew little and cared less for what went on in the rest of the country. To the geographer the map was a distortiOn of the worst kind. Yet to the student of culture it was surprisingly accurate. It showed the informal images that many people have of the rest of the country. As a graduate student I lived in New York, and my landlord was a first-generation American of European extraction who had lived in New York all his life. At the end of the academic year as I was leaving, the landlord came down to watch me load my car. When feelings are being released at the same time. Our l, senses are bombarded by a strange language, different , smells, and gestures, as well as a host of signs and I said good-by, he remarked, “Well, one of these Sun- day afternoons I put my family in the car and we drive out to New Mexico and see you.” The map and the landlord’s comment illustrate how 168 me SILENT LANGUAGE Americans treat space as highly personalized. We visualize the relationship betWeen places we know by personal experience. Places which we haven’t been to and with which we are not personally identified tend to remain confused. Traditionally American space begins with “a place.” It is one of the oldest sets, comparable to, but not quite the same as, the Spanish lager. The reader will have no difficulty thinking up ways in which place is used: "He found a place in her heart,” "He has a place in the mountains,” “I am tired of this place,” and so on. Those who have children know how diffi- cult it is to get across to them the whole concept of place—like Washington, or Boston, or Philadelphia, and so on. An American child requires between six and seven, years before he has begun to master the basic concepts of place. Our culture provides for a great variety of places, including different classes of places. - Contrasted with the Middle East, our system is characterized by fine gradations as one moves from one space category to the next. In the world of the Arab there are villages and cities. That is about all. Most non-nomadic Arabs think of themselves as villagers. The actual villages are of varying popula- tion, from a few families up to several thousands. not covered by a term like hamlet, village, or town. It nevertheless, because such places are always named; number of families live-alike Dogpatch of the funny papers. Our Dogpatches present the basic American pat- tern in uncomplicated form. They have scattered residences with no concentration of buildings in one The smallest place category in the United States is ‘ is immediately recognizable as a territorial entity,.__ They are areas with no recognizable center where a_ SPACE SPEAKS 169 spot. Like time, place with us is diifused, so that you never quite know where its center is. Beyond this the naming of place categories begins with the “cross- roads store” or “corner” and continues with the “small shopping center,” the “county seat,” the “small town,” “large town,” “metropolitan center,” “city,” and “metropolis.” Like much of the rest of our culture, including the social ranking system, there are no clear gradations as one moves from one category to the next. The “points” are of varying sizes, and there are no linguistic cues indicating the size of the place we are talking about. The United States, New Mexico, Albuquerque, Pecos are all said the same way and used the same way in sentences. The child who is learning the language has no way of distinguishing 0;: space category from another by listening to others t O The miracle is that children eventually are able to sort out and pin down the diiferent space terms from the meager cues provided by others. Try telling a five- year-old the difierence between where you live in the suburbs and the town where your wife goes to shop. It will be a frustrating task, since the child, at that age, only comprehends where he lives. His room, his house, his place at the table are the places that are learned early. The reason most Americans have difficulty in school with geography or geometry stems from the fact that space as an informal cultural system is different from space as it is technically elaborated by classroom geography and mathematics. It must be said in fair- ness to ourselves that other cultures have similar prob- lems. Only the very perceptive adult realizes that there is anything really difficult for the child to learn about space. In reality, he has to take what is literally a spatial blur and isolate the significant points that 170 THE SILENT LANGUAGE adults talk about. Sometimes adults are unnecessarily impatient with children because they don’t catch on. People do not realize that the child has heard older people talking about dilferent places and is trying to figure out, from what he hears, the difference between this place and that. In this regard it should be pointed out that the first clues which suggest to children that one thing is different from another come from shifts in tone of voice which direct attention in very subtle but important ways. Speaking a fully developed 'lan- guage as we do, it is hard to remember that there was a time when we could not speak at all and when the whole communicative process was carried on by means of variations in the voice tone. This early lan- guage is lost to consciousness and functions out of awareness, so that we tend to forget the very great role it plays in the learning process. To coutinue our analysis of the way a child learns about space, let us turn to his conception of a road. At first a road is whatever he happens to be driving on. This doesn’t mean that he can’t tell when you take a wrong turn. He can, and often will even correct a mistake which is made. It only means that he has not yet broken the road down into its components and that he makes the distinction between this road and that road in just the same way that he learns to dis: tinguish between the phoneme d and the phoneme b in initial position in the spoken language. Using roads for cross-cultural contrast, the reader will recall that Paris, being an old city as well as'a French city, has a street-naming system that puzzles most Americans. Street names shift as one progresses. Take Rue St.~Honoré, for example, which becomes Rue du Faubourg St.-Honoré, Avenue des Ternes, and Avenue du Roule. A child growing up in Paris, however, has no more difliculty learning his system SPACE spears 171 than one of our children learning ours. We teach ours to watch the intersections and the directions and that when something happens—that is, when there is a change of course at one of these points—you can ex- pect the name to change. In Paris the child learns ' that as he passes certain landmarks—like buildings that are well known, or statues—the name of the street changes. It is interesting and informative to watch very young children as they learn their culture. They quickly pick up the fact that we have names for some things and not for others. First, they identify the whole object or the set—a room, for instance; then they be- gin to fixate on certain other discrete objects like books, ashtrays, letter openers, tables, and pencils. By so doing they accomplish two things. First, they find out how far down the scale they have to go in identi- fying things. Second, they learn what are the isolates and patterns for handling space and object nomencla- ture. First children are often better subjects than sec- ond children, because, having learned the hard way, the first one will teach the second One without involv- ing the parents. The child will ask, “What's this?” pointing to a pen- cil. You reply, “Apencil.” The child is not satisfied and says, “No,'this,” pointing to the shaft of the pencil and making clear that she means the shaft. So you say, “Oh, that’s the shaft of the pencil.” Then the child moves her finger one quarter inch and says, “What’s this?” and you say, “The shaft.” This process is re- peated and you say, “That's still the shaft; and this is the shaft, and this is the shaft. It’s all the shaft of the pencil. This is the shaft, this is the point, and this is the eraser, and this is the little tin thing that holds the eraser on.” Then she may point to the eraser, and you discover that she is still trying to find out where 172 THE SILENT LANGUAGE the dividing lines are. She manages to worm out the fact that the-eraser has a top and sides but no more. She also learns that there is no way to tell-the dilfer- ence between one side and the next and that no labels are pinned on parts of the point, even though distinc- fions are made between the lead and the rest of the pencil. She ma ‘ dilference some of the time and s technology I had progressed to the obtain the nomenclature of the canoe and the wooden food bowl. At this point it was necessary for me to go through what children go through—that is, point to various parts after I thought I had the pattern and ask if I had the name right. As I soon discovered, their system of carving up microspace was radically differ- ent from our own. The Trukese treat open spaces, without dividing lines (as we know them), as com- pletely distinct. Each area has a name. On the other hand, they have not developed a nomenclature for: the edges of objects as elaborately as Westerners have done. The reader has only to think of rims of cups and the number of dilferent ways in which these can be referred to. There is the rim itself. It can be square or round or ellipfical in cross section; straight, flared, or curved inward; plain or decorated, and wavy or straight. This doesn’t mean that the Trukese don’t elaborate rims. They do; it just means that we have ways of talking about what we do and not as many ways of talking about what happens to an open area point of having to SPACE SPEAKS THE SILENT LANGUAGE 174 the truth. They just use and conceive of space dif- ferently. We work from points and along hnes. They apparently do not. While seemingly inconsequential, these differences caused innumerable headaches to the white supervisers who used to run the Hopi reservation in the first part of this century. ' I will never forget driving over to one of the Villages at the end of a mesa and discovering that someone was building a house in the middle of the road. It later developed that the culprit (in my eyes) was a man I had known for some time. I said, ‘Paul, why are you building your house in the middle of the road? There...
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