Lecture+4-2 - Lecture 4 Language Anthropologists are...

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Lecture 4: Language Anthropologists are interested in language – human speech and writing – because it is our primary means of communication. Language is also a human capacity obviously rooted in biology. We are born with the ability to acquire languages. But it is also the human capacity that most enables us to transcend biology. The complexity of culture, the ability to create cultures and pass them on, is rooted in our use of language. Language has three distinctive features: (1) Conventionality (the relationship between linguistic symbols and the world they stand for or describe is not permanently fixed) (2) Productivity (people can use language to generate an infinite series of new utterances that can be understood by fellow speakers) (3) Displacement (language is not bound to specific places or situations; it can be used to describe events or things that exist elsewhere, will exist in the future, existed only in the past, or never existed at all) Humans are the only primates who use language. Other primate species rely on call systems . In call systems a particular sound is associated with a particular circumstance: food, danger, etc. Cannot be combined: (danger food!) Calls have a fixed, immediate relationship to what they signify. No past, no future, no elsewhere. Primates can manipulate symbols. Washoe and Koko learned ASL, for instance. But apes cannot speak, and they use ASL only in social environments humans have created for them. So, how did the human language capacity evolve? 1. Vocalizations became more elaborate 2. Use of symbols became more complex 3. social environments that depended on these abilities, and encouraged them, emerged.
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The combination of these trends reinforces several activities: planning, reporting, and transmitting information over time and space. Language might have evolved over many thousands of years, or it might have happened
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This note was uploaded on 02/17/2011 for the course ANTHRCUL 101 taught by Professor Kirsch during the Fall '08 term at University of Michigan.

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Lecture+4-2 - Lecture 4 Language Anthropologists are...

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