An Introduction to Sociolinguistics: Ethnographies essay

Listening to thunder or stones, as in the Ojibwa examples mentioned earlier (see up. 3-4), may appear to be bizarre, even to those who ‘listen to their consciences’ as a matter Of course. We must try to understand how different groups of people use their language (or languages) if we are to achieve a comprehensive understanding of how that language (or those languages) is related to the society that uses it. A society that encourages a wide variety of kinds of talk is likely to be rather different in many nonlinguistic ways from one in which speakers are expected neither to waste words nor to use words eighty.

In this chapter, therefore, I will look at how we can talk about the various ways in which people communicate with one another, in an attempt to see what factors are involved. However, I will also be concerned with the fact that much of that communication is directed toward keeping an individual society going; that is, an important function of communication is social maintenance. Language is used to sustain reality. Consequently, a second purpose of this chapter is to look at ways in which individuals cooperate with one another to sustain the reality of everyday life and at how hey use language as one of the means to do so.

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Varieties of Talk It is instructive to look at some of the ways in which various people in the world use talk, or sometimes the absence of talk, i. E. , silence, to communicate. For example, Marshall (1961) has indicated how the ! Gung, a bush-dwelling people of South West Africa, have certain customs which help them either to avoid or to reduce friction and hostility within bands and between bands. The ! Gung lead TACTIC 242 5/9/05, 4:30 PM Ethnographers 243 a very harsh life as hunters and gatherers, a life which requires a considerable amount of operation and the companionship of a larger group if survival is to be guaranteed.

Many of the customs of the ! Gung support their social need for cooperativeness and the individual need for personal acceptance. The ! Gung are talkative people. Talk keeps communication open among them; it offers an emotional release; and it can also be used to alert individuals that they are stepping out of bounds, so heading off potentially dangerous conflicts between individuals. The ! Gung talk about all kinds Of things, but principally about food and gifting. However, they avoid mentioning the names of their odds aloud, and men and women do not openly discuss sexual matters together.

Such subjects are taboo. They have their own styles of joking, and story-telling, but, in the latter case, they do not ‘make up’ stories, finding no interest at all in that activity. They have one kind of talk to resolve disputes; another, which Marshall calls a ‘shout,’ to resolve the kinds of tension that arise when some sudden, dangerous event occurs, such as the burning down of a grass hut in a village; and still another, a repetitive trance-like type of speech, to indicate a feeling of some kind of deprivation concerning food.

According to Marshall, speech among the ! Gung helps to maintain peaceful social relationships by allowing people to keep in touch with one another about how they are thinking and feeling. It helps the ! Gung to relieve their tensions, and it prevents pressures from building up and finding their release in aggression. We can contrast the need the ! Gung have to talk in order to ensure that tensions do not build up with the Western Apache view of silence (Basso, 1972). Whereas the !

Gung speak to prevent uncertainty in human relationships, the Western Apache of east-central Arizona choose to be silent hen there is a strong possibility that such uncertainty exists. They are silent on ‘meeting strangers,’ whether these are fellow Western Apache Or complete outsiders; and strangers, too, are expected to be silent. The Western Apache do not easily enter into new social relationships, and silence is deemed appropriate to a new relationship, because such a relationship is felt to be inherently uncertain.

Children returning from government boarding schools are greeted with silence and the children themselves are expected to be silent. Silence is maintained until each person once again becomes accustomed to the presence of the others. When one is ‘cussed out,’ i. E. , disciplined verbally, silence is again the appropriate response, even though the cussing out may be undeserved; the Western Apache believe that responding will make matters worse.

The initial stages of courting behavior also require silence; in this case, silence is taken to be a proper indication Of the shyness that is expected been two people attempting to enter into a close relationship. They regard talkativeness in such a situation, especially in the female of the pair, as immodest. Silence is also used as a kind of humiliating device after someone dies: you are silent in the presence of ‘people who are sad,’ and you should not further disturb those who are already disturbed by grief.

Silence is also required during curing ceremonials if you are not to be considered disrespectful or to be interfering either with the curing process or with the person conducting the ceremonial. According to Basso, the Western Apache resort to silence when they are confronted AITCH 0 243 5/9/05, 4:30 PM 244 Ethnographers with ambiguity and uncertainty in their social relationships: they do not try to talk their way out of faculty or uncertainty as people with other cultural backgrounds sometimes try to do. Silence is often communicative and its appropriate uses must be learned.

Among other things it can communicate respect, comfort, support, disagreement, or uncertainty. In many societies people do not talk unless they have something important to say. As Gardner (1966) has observed, the Plainness of south India are neither particularly cooperative nor competitive, and individuals tend to do their own thing. They do not find much to talk about, and by the time they are 40 or so they hardly seem to talk at all. The Raritan of Colombia are described as being not only taciturn, but also, when they do speak, deliberately evasive.

Several reports have recounted how Danes appreciate silence, being able to sit in one another’s presence for long periods of time without feeling any need to talk and, indeed, finding visitors who insist on talking constantly too demanding. They feel no urge to fill up silences with idle chatter. In other societies, e. G. , among certain aboriginal peoples in North America, an acceptable social visit is to arrive at someone’s house, sit around for a while, and then leave with hardly a word spoken all he while. If you have nothing to say, you do not need to speak, and there is no obligation to make ‘small talk. In contrast, other people talk for the sheer pleasure of talking. Fox (1974) has described how the Root, the residents of the southwestern tip of the island of Timer in eastern Indonesia, consider talk one Of the great pleasures of life ? not just idle chatter, but disputing, arguing showing off various verbal skills, and, in general, indulging in verbal activity. Silence is interpreted as a sign of some kind of distress, possibly confusion or dejection. So social encounters are talk- filled. The Bella Cola of British Columbia are said to talk constantly and to prize wittiness.

Among the Russians of Chile the men take great pride in their oratorical skills, but women maintain silence in the presence of their husbands. Even communities located physically quite near each other can be quite different in this respect. In his Laws, Plato described how the Athenians were great talkers whereas the Spartan were known for their brevity and the Cretan were reputed to have more wit than words. The social situation in Antigen in the West Indies requires another kind of indulgence in talk. Talk is expected of people. Irishman (1 974, p. 13) describes what happens when someone enters a casual group: no opening is necessarily made for him; nor is there any pause or other formal signal that he is being included. No one appears to pay any attention. When he feels ready he will simply begin speaking. He may be heard, he may not. That is, the other voices may eventually stop and listen, or some of them may not; eyes may or may not turn to him. If he is not heard the first time he will try again, and yet again (often with the same remark). Eventually he will be heard or give up.

In such a system it is also true that there is no particular reason to find out what is going on or who is talking before one starts oneself. There is little pressure to relate one’s subject to any state of the group. Therefore it is also quite reasonable to arrive talking, so to speak, and the louder one does so the greater the chances that one is heard. TACTIC 244 5/9/05, 4:30 PM Ethnographers 245 In Antigen a conversation is multi-faceted in that it freely mixes a variety of activities that in certain other groups would be kept quite apart.

Irishman points out (p. 114) how, ‘in a brief investigation with me, about three minutes, a girl called to someone on the street, made a remark to a small boy, sang a little, told a child to go to school, sang some more, told a child to go buy bread, etc. , all the while continuing the thread of her conversation about her sister. ‘ In Antigen people speak because they must assert themselves through language. They do not consider as interruptions behavior that we would consider to be either interruptive or even disruptive. Irishman says (p. 15) that in Antigen ‘to enter a conversation one must assert one’s presence rather than participate in something airmailed as an exchange. ‘ In a restaurant or store: one says aloud what one wants, nobody asks you. Neither is any sign given that your request has been heard. If you feel your request is not getting attention you may repeat it (how often depending on your character, how big a noise you like to make generally). But one must not assume in the remarks one makes that one has not been heard the first time or one will be rebuked.

One is listened to. Talk in Antigen is therefore quite a different kind of activity from talk in Denmark. Nor can one kind be said to be ‘better’ than the other. Each arises from retain needs in the society and each responds to those needs. As a final example of another special use of languages, can mention the importance of a certain kind of talk among the Suburban of the Philippines, who employ certain kinds of speech in drinking encounters. Such encounters are very important for gaining prestige and for resolving disputes.

Rake (1964) has described how talk, what he calls ‘drinking talk,’ proceeds in such encounters, from the initial invitation to partake of drink, to the selection of the proper topics for discussion and problems for resolution as drinking proceeds imitatively, and finally to the displays of verbal art that accompany heavy, ‘successful’ drinking. Each of these stages has its own characteristics. Those who are the most accomplished at drinking talk become the De facto leaders among the Suburban because successful talk during drinking may be used to claim or assert social leadership.

It gives one a certain right to manipulate others, because it is during such talk that important disputes are settled, e. G. , disputes which in other societies would have to be settled in the courts. Drinking talk among the Suburban is therefore far removed from ‘cocktail arty chatter,’ as many Westerners know the latter: it is serious business. Have used these various examples to provide some insight into how speech, or talk, is used in certain societies very differently from the ways we might be accustomed to hearing it used.

Those ways, of course, derive entirely from the norms we have internalized or from others with which we have become familiar. We should be prepared to acknowledge that some of our own uses of language would undoubtedly strike a ! Gung, a Western Apache, an Antigen, or a Suburban as strange, if not bizarre. Just think how often we talk bout the weather but to no consequence! What we need is some kind Of general scheme, or framework, to help us make systematic observations about the different ways people use talk.

In the next section we will consider such a framework. TACTIC 245 5/9/05, 4130 PM 246 Ethnographers Discussion 1 . From what I have said about the various peoples just mentioned, e. G. , the Routines, Western Apache, ! Gung, Antigens, and so on, we might predict that children learn different ways of speaking in different societies. Samaritan reports (1 969, p. 323) that, among the Gabby of the Central African Republic: Gabby parents and other adults focus little attention on the speech of children.

No serious attempt is made to improve their language. In fact, a child only uncommonly takes part in a dyadic speech event with an adult…. Among the Gabby, ‘children are seen and not heard. ‘ Finally, there appears to be very little interest in reporting how a person speaks, particularly when psychological motivations are implied. We can contrast this kind of upbringing with the Nanas of Nigeria (Messenger, 1960, p. 229): The Nanas take great pride in their eloquence, and youth are trained from early childhood to evolve verbal skills.

This proverb riddle instructs young people to assume adult duties and responsibilities as early as possible, even if doing so is difficult and unpleasant at times. As the vine must struggle to escape growing into the pit [the riddle], so must the child strive to overcome his shyness and insecurity and learn to speak publicly, as well as perform other adult roles. How would you describe your own linguistic upbringing in similar terms? Do you know others who have had a different kind of upbringing?

Are there any social or cognitive consequences to ‘the way one learns to speak’ in this broad ensue? 2. Is there any justification for the claim that different ethnic and social groups in society sometimes exhibit quite different ways of speaking, even that a bilingual person may sometimes behave quite differently, depending on which language he or she is using? If there are such differences, are there any consequences for that society as a whole? 3. In some speech communities there are special occasions and special places for certain kinds of speech. Banyan (1 972, up. 40-1) has described such a special place, the local store, for people in a community in Nova Scotia: What is apparently owing on in the culture of the La Have Islanders is that, within the whole range of speech situations making up the speech economy of the islanders, the session at the store is singled out as special, isolated from the others and enjoyed for its own sake, because talking there may be enjoyed for its own sake and not as a part of another activity or for some instrumental purpose. In other words, the fact that this situation is set aside for sociability, pure and simple, makes it special.

Do you know of any equivalent occasions or places within your own social group? Or any occasions or places in which ‘normal ales’ are suspended? AITCH 0 246 5/9/05, 4:30 PM Ethnographers 247 4. The Suburban have prescribed rituals they follow for correct ‘drinking’ behavior. What rituals do we observe when we dine out, e. G. , at an elegant restaurant or at a formal banquet? 5. Exchanging greetings with others seems to be an unremarkable activity. However, once you begin to ask questions about what is happening you discover that it may not be so unremarkable after all. Why speak at all? When do you greet others? Who do you greet?

Who speaks first? What can (and cannot) be said? What else is involved in an exchange of retesting? The Ethnography of Speaking Homes (1974) has proposed an ethnographic framework which takes into account the various factors that are involved in speaking. An ethnography of a communicative event is a description of all the factors that are relevant in understanding how that particular communicative event achieves its objectives. For convenience, Homes uses the word SPEAKING as an acronym for the various factors he deems to be relevant. We will now consider these factors one by one. The Setting and Scene (S) of speech are important.

Setting refers to the time and place, i. E. The concrete physical circumstances in which speech takes place. Scene refers to the abstract psychological setting, or the cultural definition of the occasion. The Queen’s Christmas message has its own unique setting and scene, as has the President of the United States’ annual State of the Union Address. A particular bit of speech may actually serve to define a scene, whereas another bit of speech may be deemed to be quite inappropriate in certain circumstances. Within a particular setting, of course, participants are free to change scenes, as they change the level of formality (e. . Go from serious to joyful) or as they change the kind of activity in which they are involved (e. G. , begin to drink or to recite poetry). The Participants (P) include various combinations of speaker-listener, addresser-addressee, or sender-receiver. They generally fill certain socially species- fide roles. A two- person conversation involves a speaker and hearer whose roles change; a ‘dressing down’ involves a speaker and hearer with no role change; a political speech involves an addresser and addressees (the audience); and a telephone message involves a sender and a receiver.

A prayer obviously sakes a deity a participant. In a classroom a teacher’s question and a student’s response involve not just those two as speaker and listener but also the rest of the class as audience, since they too are expected to benefit from the exchange. Ends (E) refers to the conventionally recognized and expected outcomes of an exchange as well as to the personal goals that participants seek to accomplish on particular occasions. A trial in a courtroom has a recognizable social end in view, but the various participants, i. . , the judge, jury, prosecution, defense, accused, and witnesses, have different personal oils. Likewise, a marriage ceremony serves a certain social end, but each of the various participants may have his or her own unique goals in getting married or in seeing a particular couple married. 248 Ethnographers Act sequence (A) refers to the actual form and content of what is said: the precise words used, how they are used, and the relationship of what is said to the actual topic at hand.

This is one aspect of speaking in which linguists have long shown an interest, particularly those who study discourse and conversation, and it is one about which will have more to say in chapter 12. Others too, e. G. , psychologists and communication theorists concerned with content analysis, have shown a similar interest. Public lectures, casual conversations, and cocktail party chatter are all different forms of speaking; with each go different kinds of language and things talked about.

Key (K), the fifth term, refers to the tone, manner, or spirit in which a particular message is conveyed: light-hearted, serious, precise, pedantic, mocking, sarcastic, pompous, and so on. The key may also be marked nonverbally by certain kinds of behavior, gesture, posture, or even deportment. When there is a lack f fit between what a person is actually saying and the key that the person is using, listeners are likely to pay more attention to the key than to the actual content, e. G. , to the burlesque of a ritual rather than to the ritual itself.

Instrumentalities (l) refers to the choice of channel, e. G. , oral, written, or telegraphic, and to the actual forms of speech employed, such as the language, dialect, code, or register that is chosen. Formal, written, legal language is one instrumentality; spoken Newfoundland English is another; code-switching between English and Italian in Toronto is a third; and the use f Pig Latin is still another. In Surname a high government official addresses a Bush Negro chief in Dutch and has his words translated into the local tribal language. The chief does the opposite.

Each speaks this way although both could use a common instrumentality, Shoran. You may employ different instrumentalities in the course of a single verbal exchange of some length: first read something then tell a dialect joke, then quote Shakespeare, then use an expression from another language, and so on. You also need not necessarily change topic to do any of these. Norms of interaction and interpretation (N) refers to the specific behaviors and properties that attach to speaking and also to how these may be viewed by someone who does not share them, e. G. Loudness, silence, gaze return, and so on. For example, there are certain norms of interaction with regard to church set-vices and conversing with strangers. However, these norms may vary from social group to social group, so the kind of behavior expected in congregations that practice ‘talking in tongues’ or the group encouragement of a preacher in others would be deemed abnormal and unacceptable in a ‘high’ Anglican setting. Likewise, an Arab and an Anglo-Saxon meeting for the first time are unlikely to find a conversational distance that each finds comfortable.

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