lecture_3 - 21A.100 Prof. Howe Linguistic Aspects of...

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21A.100 Prof. Howe Linguistic Aspects of Culture 1. How does culture hang together as a system? How does it work? How does it interact with aspects of life that aren’t culture? a. There has been a lot of efforts in the 20 th century to answer these question. 2. Two of the most frequently asked questions, which are closely interrelated: a. How different are cultures? i. If two people live in two different cultures are they living in two different worlds? Metaphors about different planets. ii. Historians saw that the past is a different country iii. Anthropologists work under the assumption that they can figure it out b. Is there a “most important” element of culture? i. All sorts of suggestion: 1. Natural environment – not environmental determinism, many things in culture follow from environmental adaptation 2. Marxist say that the means of production is the most important 3. Some say it is values. What is good vs. bad? 4. Culture is an elaboration of the basic personality of the society writ large (not many people ascribe to this) 3. LINGUISTICS: One traditional answer to this last question is: linguistics a. There are naive version of this that say there is something about the form of language that determine or is determined by the national character i. Italian is a language that is smooth and flowing, just like the Italian people ii. German is harsh and guttural, like the German people b. People still use these mini-theories, they are very often prejudicial i. Especially concerning “primitive” societies. People would say that they only had 200-400 words in their language, indicating their primitive status. ii. In truth, there is no language in the world that has been extensively studied that has been shown to have less than thousands of words. iii. In Panama, some people call the Kuna’s language a dialect, implying that is it less than a language. iv. People will also make assumptions that there are no words for abstraction or no moral terms as a means of showing that a culture is incapable of abstract thought or amoral. v. One recent feminist theory suggested that men’s speech in all societies was much more metaphorical, where as women’s speech
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was much more grounded and practical, implying that women are more connected to the earth. 4. LINGUISTIC DETERMINISM: The great source of linguistic determinism is from Benjamin Whorf who wrote during the 1930-50’s. a. Professionally an insurance adjuster, he was linguist in his spare time, but he was very serious about linguist. b.
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This note was uploaded on 11/06/2011 for the course ANTHR 100 taught by Professor Howe during the Fall '09 term at MIT.

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lecture_3 - 21A.100 Prof. Howe Linguistic Aspects of...

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