Language and Culture Assignment During the 20th century, two theoretical standpoints were influential in the study of the relationship between language and

Language and Culture Assignment During the 20th century, two theoretical standpoints were influential in the study of the relationship between language and culture. The first of them, Linguistic Determinism was formulated by the linguists Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf in the model called the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. It contends that people’s language affects the way they think. Hence, language shapes culture.

A second model for understanding the relationship between language and culture is proposed by linguistic anthropologists working in the area of sociolinguistics. This model maintains that a person’s context and social position shape the content, form, and meaning of her/his language. Hence, culture shapes language. Contemporary sociolinguists are active in an emerging area called Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) that focuses on the relations of language and social inequality, power and stigma, and agency and resistance.

How do you evaluate the two theoretical perspectives succinctly described above? Your response should address the following areas:

1. What are the main ethnographic evidence given by Sapir and Whorf to support their thesis? Be specific.
Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) – Relations of Language and Social Inequality, Power and Stigma, and Agency and Resistance

2. What is the evidence you can glean from the materials given in the module (original online reading) in support of the sociolinguistics theoretical perspective? Once again, be specific.
a little backround on cda… Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis
Linguistic Relativity and Linguistic
The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

Sapir maintains that
specific languages serve
not only as a medium of
communication, but
also to define and guide
our perception of
Whorf contends that
each language
constitutes a frame of
reference that orders a
particular people’s view
of the world.
Edward Sapir (1884-1939)

Language affects all human experience
to a certain extent.

Reflects what is culturally important to
Influences what they pay attention to

Speakers give names (words) to
important entities and events in their
physical and social worlds, and
Once named, those entities and events
become culturally and individually
noticed and experienced.

In other words, the relationship
between vocabulary and cultural value
is bidirectional.
Over time, this interdependent process
creates and reinforces a unique mental
model for each culture.

“The worlds in which different societies
live are distinct worlds, not merely the
same world with different labels
attached” (Sapir, 1949: 162).
Sapir’s Evidence

Sapir examined the vocabulary of the
Paiute people living in semi dessert
regions of Arizona, Utah, and Nevada.
The Paiute, he noted, distinguish fine
details of their environment with
separate words.
Sapir’s Evidence

Among them are words for (as
translated by Sapir) “divide, ledge, sand
flat, semicircular valley, circular valley
or hollow, spot of level ground in
mountains surrounded by ridges, plain
valley surrounded by mountains, plain,
dessert, knoll, plateau, canyon without
water, canyon with creek, wash or
gutter, gulch, slope of mountain or
canyon wall, rolling country intersected
The Sapir-Whorf

According to this hypothesis, the
relationship between language and
thought exists:

At the level of vocabulary, and
At the level of grammar
The Relationship between
Language and Thought

Exists at the level of vocabulary because the
latter reflects the social and physical
environment of the people. Sapir suggests
that the vocabulary of a language not only
reveals what is important to the speaker but
also cues the speaker to be more sensitive to
the named features of their environment.

E. g. The Inuit have a variety of words for
different kinds of snow. We (the American English
speakers) have only one. The Aztecs in Mexico use
the same word for cold, ice, and snow.
The Relationship between
Language and Thought

Exists at the level of grammar. Grammar of a
language and the modes of thought characteristic of
its speakers are interrelated.

As the following two dominant types of sentences in English
language show, the subject of the sentence (book, Sally) is
spoken of as if it were an enduring object, something
stable through time that acts or acted on by something else.
The pervasive tendency in English to view the world as
being made up of objects, so that experiences described
in English lose the fluidity of passing experience:
The book is green (the subject-predicate type).
Sally runs (the actor-action type).
The Relationship between
Language and Thought

In English grammar, time is
conceptualized as if one
could isolate a piece of it:
E. g. I’ll study for three
It is the same way we select
E. g. I’ll take three
Our sense of controlling
time is evident in English
grammar. Americans’ rich
vocabulary for expressing
units of time is linked to
their concern for the
temporal ordering of
The Relationship between
Language and Thought

Some languages have built into their
grammar the characteristic that a
speaker must specify how he acquired
the information s/he is imparting.
For example, in Kwakiutl language, the
speaker must indicate how s/he knows
about an action individuals other than
herself/himself are performing:
The Relationship between
Language and Thought
The lady was washing

Did the speaker actually
see the lady washing
Did the speaker infer
that she was washing
clothes from the sound
that s/he heard?
Did a third party tell the
speaker that she was
washing clothes?
The Relationship between
Language and Thought

English language does
not have this feature,
though the information
can be given by the
speaker if s/he wishes
to do so:
The lady was washing
clothes and I saw it.
The lady was washing
clothes and I heard it.
The lady was washing
clothes and John told
me about it.
The Relationship between
Language and Thought

Language organizes experience, and the
people who speak different languages
organize what they experience
In every language, grammatical rules are
obligatory. They remain unconscious. The
speakers of a language are usually not aware
of them, though they guide their utterances.

Linguistic anthropologists
who make inferences on
universal features of
language, linking them to
uniformities in the human
brain are skeptical about the
Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.
Noam Chomsky, for
example, pointed out that
human brain has a limited
set of rules for organizing
language, so that all
languages share certain
common elements or
linguistic universals.
Language, Behavior, and
Thought: Metaphor and Key

By sharing a language we also share a
view of the world, and that view is
expressed in vocabulary, grammar,
and metaphors of the language.

Metaphors take language from one domain of
experience and apply it to another domain. When
language is extended from one domain to another,
the meaning is also extended. In other words,
metaphor involves not only speaking of one
experience in terms of another, but also
understanding one experience in terms of another.
Metaphors are not
simply verbal devises
that we use to make
our language colorful
and economical.
They are like
templates, theories,
lenses, or filters we
can use to help us
understand one
domain of
experience in terms
of another.
Key Metaphor

Most societies seem to have one or more
domains from which they borrow exclusively
for metaphor. These domains become key
metaphors that give each culture a style
that makes the culture distinctive.
E. g. American key metaphors of war
and economic exchange,
and Kwakiutl key metaphor of hunger
and eating.
Key Scenario

Societies may also have key
scenarios—stories or myths that
portray values and beliefs.
E. g. the heroic quest scenario is
deeply rooted in American literature
and myth (as in the case of Dorothy in
Wizard of Oz and Luke Skywalker in
Star Wars)

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