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Lecture 1

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Lecture 1: Introduction

A new linguistic paradigm

For more than forty years, linguistics has undergone a series of theory shifts. The dominant paradigm shift in linguistics was that from the description of a language to the investigation of the cognitive structures underlying language production and comprehension.1

Traditionally, there are three scientific paradigms in linguistics: comparative-historical, system-structural, and finally, anthropocentric or anthropological.

Anthropological paradigm in linguistics studying the relationship and interaction of language and culture is currently experiencing a period of prosperity. There are a number of reasons. First, it is the rapid globalization of the world's problems, the need to know in advance the situations that can cause intercultural misunderstanding, the importance of identifying accurately those cultural values which form the basis of communication. Second, it is an objective integrative tendency for the humanities and social sciences, the need to interpret linguistic results with the help of related disciplines (psychology, sociology, anthropology, cultural studies, political science, etc.). Third, it is the applied aspect of linguistics, understanding of language as a means of concentrated reflection of collective experience encoded in the meanings of words, idioms, clichés, etc., and its importance for foreign language learning.

Lingua-Culture Studies

From the notions of language and culture, it becomes clear that the two are inextricably tied, thus justifying a preference for the broader term when discussing language as communication in context rather than as simply a set of signs. The term lingua-culture has been adopted in recent years in various interdisciplinary frameworks but its core meaning has undergone subtle changes and is interpreted in different ways.

Paul Friedrich first coined the expression in an article for American Anthropologist, when he commented that ‘language is loaded with culture’ and went on to define linguaculture as ‘a domain of experience that fuses and intermingles the vocabulary, many semantic aspects of grammar, and the verbal aspects of culture. This rather vague explanation was later refined to these three elements: ‘the universe of vocabulary, grammatical semantics and verbal culture.’ This idea was then borrowed by Agar and formed the basis for his anthropological study Language Shock (1994) in which he explains the indissoluble tie between language and culture (he prefers the term ‘languaculture’). Juliane House (1997) borrowed the term linguaculture yet again, claiming that her definition was ‘adapted from Agar (1996)’ which she interpreted as ‘roughly in the sense of language community’. Robert W. Schrauf and David C. Rubin (2003) give a succinct outline of the concept, identifying the three components as linguistic competence, communicative competence, and cultural competence. They conclude that ‘perhaps the best term for this interwoven linguistic cultural whole in which a person comes to such competence is linguaculture’. Denise A. Filmer claims that in order to analyse discourse, linguistic practice must be perceived as an integrated part of other cultural and social practices and the general social context: ‘…for the purposes of cross-cultural communication and translation, the term lingua-culture functions as a convenient umbrella term for defining that juncture in which language and culture meet in order to create meaning’. 2

The discipline that studies similarities and differences in lingua-cultures of various peoples is called Lingua-Culture Studies (LCS).

Comprehensive and generally accepted definition of the Lingua-Culture Studies was given by V. Vorobyov: LCS is a complex synthesizing discipline that studies the relationship and interaction of language and culture. S. Kosharnaya elaborates this understanding of Lingua-Culture Studies, defining LCS as a scientific discipline that studies the process of understanding and reflection of the material and spiritual culture in the national language. According to Alefrienko, LCS is a scientific discipline that studies (a) the methods and means of culture representation in the target language, (b) the presentation of the national mentality in a language, and (c) patterns of expression of cultural categories in the semantics of linguistic units. 3

Related disciplines

The problem of correlation and the relationship of language, culture, cognition and ethnicity is an interdisciplinary challenge that can only be faced by means of a number of sciences.

Linguistic anthropology is an interdisciplinary field dedicated to the study of language as a cultural resource and speaking as a cultural practice. It assumes that the human language is a cognitive and a social achievement that provides the intellectual tools for thinking and acting in the world. 4 Anthropological linguistics is the study of the relations between language and culture and the relations between human biology, cognition and language. 5 The two terms are sometimes used as synonyms.

Ethnolinguistics (sometimes called cultural linguistics) is a field of linguistics which studies the relationship between language and culture, and the way different ethnic groups perceive the world. It is the combination between ethnology and linguistics. The former refers to the way of life of an entire community, i.e., all the characteristics which distinguish one community from the other. Those characteristics make the cultural aspects of a community or a society. Ethnolinguists study the way perception and conceptualization influences language, and show how this is linked to different cultures and societies. 6

Sociolinguistics is the descriptive study of the effect of any and all aspects of society, including cultural norms, expectations, and context, on the way language is used, and the effects of language use on society. Sociolinguistics differs from sociology of language in that the focus of sociolinguistics is the effect of the society on the language, while the latter's focus is on the language's effect on the society. Sociolinguistics overlaps to a considerable degree with pragmatics and linguistic anthropology.7

Pragmalinguistics, combining knowledge of linguistics and civilization, is a field under development within the realm of applied linguistics. It is concerned with the pragmatism of speech acts, which calls for knowledge of the relation between one linguistic element and the persons producing, using, and receiving it during the communicative situation.8

Cognitive Linguistics is the study of the mind through language and the study of language as a cognitive function. Cognitive Linguistics has two main goals: (1) to study how cognitive mechanisms like memory, categorization, attention, and imagery are used during language behavior; and (2) to develop psychologically viable models of language that cover broad ranges of linguistic phenomena, including idioms and figurative language.

Introduction to the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis states that language and culture are so closely connected that one defines the other. The central idea behind their theory is that language is not merely a tool for reporting experience, but more importantly it is a shaper of ideas. In other words, a language does not merely record and transmit perceptions and thoughts; it actually helps to shape them. Language controls the way we think and perceive the world. It is the guide for our mental activity. Since people exist in space and time, it is difficult to stand back and objectively view them as means of communication. If a foreigner appears aggressive and pushy, or remote and cold, it may only mean that his personal distances are different from one’s own. We understand and make sense of the world according to our mother language. Because languages are self-contained and limited, it follows then that they would limit our view of and orientation in the world. If this hypothesis is true, it is evident then that language plays a large and important role in culture. With there being so many different languages with various characteristics in the world, we should expect to find significant and formidable barriers in language and thought for effective communication and understanding.

One of the strongest statements of the position that the way in which we think about the world is influenced by the language we use to talk about it is found in Sapir’s 1929 article “The status of linguistics as a science” where he states that humans are actually at the mercy of the particular language they speak:

It is quite an illusion to imagine that one adjusts to reality essentially without the use of language and that language is merely an incidental means of solving specific problems in communication or reflection. The fact of the matter is that the “real world” is to a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group. No two languages are ever sufficiently similar to be considered as representing the same social reality. The worlds in which different societies live are distinct worlds, not merely the same world with different labels attached. (Sapir [1929] 1949b: 162)

This position was echoed a decade later by Whorf, who framed it as the “linguistic relativity principle,” by which he meant “that users of markedly different grammars are pointed by the grammars toward different types of observations and different evaluations of extremely similar acts of observation, and hence are not equivalent as observers but must arrive at somewhat different views of the world” (Whorf 1956c: 221).10

Compare the different ways that speakers of English and Navajo express their intentions and actions (note that Navajo utterances have been translated into English):

ENGLISH SPEAKER: I must go there.

NAVAJO SPEAKER: It is only good that I shall go there.

ENGLISH SPEAKER: I make the horse run.

NAVAJO SPEAKER: The horse is running for me.

In their use of language, speakers of English and Navajo express different views of events and experiences. By framing their intentions or activities with contrasting words and grammatical forms, they show in these examples that they have different attitudes about people's rights and obligations. English speakers encode the rights of people to control other beings (people or animals) or to be controlled or compelled themselves. In contrast, Navajo speakers give all beings the ability to decide for themselves, without compulsion or control from others. The words used by speakers of English and Navajo express and reflect attitudes about the world that come from their own cultures. Although the attitudes indicated by these examples are specific, the process of encoding values, ideas, and emotions in language is universal. Such culturally shared attitudes, or cultural models, are based on people's ideas about the world they live in. Cultural models are expressed in several ways, but language is key to their transmission.

Linguistic relativity claims that:

 Peoples of the world have developed different ways of viewing the world.

 Language differences reflect differences in culture (a rarely made claim now).

 Language differences reflect differences in conceptual structure.

 Language can create some aspects of reality.

 The conceptual system underlying the language that a person speaks will affect the way in which that person thinks about the world and, accordingly, the way in which that person will reason when solving problems.

 Language differences affect our daily, automatic thinking, rather than what we are capable of thinking about.

 The more frequent and automatic the word or grammatical form, the more it potentially affects what we observe in the world and how we reason.

 Therefore, we want to look at grammar and grammatical words to test whether language affects perception and reasoning.

One of Whorf's examples of the linguistic relativity was the supposedly many words for 'snow' in the Inuit language, which has later been shown to be a misrepresentation. Another well known example is how the Hopi language describes water with two different words for drinking water in a container versus a natural body of water. These examples of polysemy served the double purpose of showing that indigenous languages sometimes made more fine grained semantic distinctions than European languages and that direct translation between two languages, even of seemingly basic concepts like snow or water, is not always possible.

One summation of this theory, sometimes referred to as the "weak version," is that some elements of language, for example, in vocabulary or grammatical systems, influence speakers' perceptions and can affect their attitudes and behavior. The "strong version" (Linguistic determinism) suggests that language is ultimately directive in this process. The difference between the two versions seems to be the degree of control that language exerts. The "strong" position is clearly unprovable.

These ideas generated a considerable debate within anthropology and psychology, including a fair number of empirical studies aimed at either confirming or disproving the linguistic relativity hypothesis. Whorf’s ideas remain attractive even after studies that show that some of his specific claims about the Hopi language are empirically questionable or simply inadequate.

Despite some of the empirical problems encountered by Whorf’s linguistic analyses, the issue of whether or not, or to what extent, language influences thought is likely to remain an important topic within linguistic anthropology, especially as a new generation of scholars find themselves attracted by new ways of testing Whorf’s intuitions about how “grammatical categories, to the extent that they are obligatory and habitual, and relatively inaccessible to the average speaker’s consciousness, will form a privileged location for transmitting and reproducing cultural and social categories”. This is an attractive idea for many reasons, including the fact that it deals with epistemological themes that are quite central to the study of cultural practices.

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