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March 2006 - Posts

  • Are you joking?

    We have officially stepped over that boundary in sociolinguistics that I really just can't handle. We went from that helpful discussion on methodology and the comparison of work in different fields that has contributed to sociolinguistics. We even talked about the ethnography of communication, which, after a few days, I actually have grasped. But now...oh yes now, we've moved on to the subject of gender roles and gender socialization in language. I rarely just flat out loathe an area of study, but here it is folks. I just can not stand to read about this stuff, probably (as the authors of these papers will tell you) because I'm a man. I would tend to think that I would appreciate them if they weren't about such abstracted information that is just brimming with political overtones. One of the articles that I had to read at least recognized the fact that most of the work done about gender and society is not done by trained linguists and is field by political ideas.

    Now, ladies, before you go getting all upset, I just want to assure you that I understand and support the womens movement. I think that women should have all the rights as everyone else, they should be paid equally, etc etc etc. However, I do not think that we should go re-writing the English language (as one "scholar" suggested) because it is inherently sexist. Some information with scientific reasoning and background por favor! Hmm, let's see, what other assertions were made with no scientific background?...oh yeah..."research on gender and socialization in language is not taken seriously because it is written by women instead of men. " "A woman's role of staying home and raising the children molds society because they teach their children how to speak, rather than just watching sports." We all know this is true because men never raise the children and females never watch sports. I mean seriously, can you believe this stuff?...and this is only the beginning.

    I'm not saying that there was not scientific evidence contained in some of these papers. One in particular discussed features of paralanguage that differ between the sexes. Appearance, voice pitch changes, intonation patterns, and the use of certain vocabulary are phenomena that allow us to differentiate between genders. Some information on brain lateralization appeared concrete as well. These studies showed that language processing in the brain differs between men and women so that women are able to process in both left and right hemispheres whereas men can only process in the left. These are things I can grab on to.

    I will surely be glad when this week of discussion is over, because I know that class is going to be painful. Someone is going to get on a soapbox and entertain the ideas of these very sweeping generalizations about gender differentiation and language.

    Posted Mar 31 2006, 02:25 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Unexpected Findings

    It seems that I often find the most enjoyable articles when I can't find the ones that I am actually supposed to read. I signed up for a paper written by a researcher named Andersen about how child acquire "register" from identifying different speaking roles. I had know idea what that was all about, but since I could not find the exact article, I ended up searching for others and came up with an article on a similar topic by the same author from thirteen years later. I thought that it would be a good idea to review this new article since a lot of things can happen to a line of research in the course of that amount of time. It turns out that Andersen and her co-authors used a methodology called controlled improvisation to observe the use of discourse markers in the conversation of children who are acting out situations using hand puppets that represent people of different social and cultural status. They have found that the number of discourse markers used increases with the level of social or cultural status of the speaker. For example, teachers use more discourse markers than students. They have also found that the use of discourse markers increases when the level of familiarity between conversation participants decreases. I guess that I need to remind everyone what discourse markers are. Discourse markers are particles of speech that structuralize and organize what is said to make it more cohesive and coherent. They can exist in lexical and non-lexical forms. In English, the lexicalized discourse markers are things such as "now, then, well, and like". The non-lexicalized discourse markers are the "uh"s and "ahh" and others like that. Anyways, the basic idea of the paper that I read was to discuss the methodology that was used and to present the information that they gathered from the experimentation. The best part about the paper was that it was very well-written and did not get watered down in way too many examples and tangents. The authors did provide very useful examples to support what they were saying, but instead of using five instances of their point each time, they only used one strong instance. It's a lot easier to understand when you can see one example, instead of weeding through the nuances of "correctness" from a group of examples. I have to say though, that now that I have read their findings, I might be interested to see some more examples (after the fact), because I am a little bit skeptical about some of their points. Maybe there will be some further studies from this group in the future.
    Posted Mar 30 2006, 02:59 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • The Ethnography of Communication

    To put it plainly, I am freaking out about the ethnography of communication. We have been assigned an essay exam for this coming week about the development of the ethnography of communication, its methodology, concepts, and key players. The problem is, we haven't even talked about it in class. We were supposed to discuss the EOC two weeks ago, the same day as our in class essay exam, but instead, we ended up having a presentation about ethnopoetics from Dr. J. H. I know that ethnopoetics is part of the EOC, but still, even this past week we didn't discuss it. We moved right on to sociolinguistics. I spent the majority of last night trying to find information on the EOC, both at the library and on the internet. I finally found the original EOC article from American Anthropologist back from 1966. Hymes and Gumperz wrote the introduction to the publication that included many other papers that pertained to the subject. I also got a later Hymes publication that recapped the original introduction. In either case, I don't feel like we've learned enough about what Dr. J feels is important about the subject to actually write an essay about it. You can add to this frustration, the fact that all the books that I need to do reviews on for the next two weeks are checked out of the library already. Of course, to make matters worse, they aren't due until the end of April or early in May. My prediction is that the end of this semester is not going to be pretty. My immediate concentration is going to be on getting through this coming week. I think that for a brief moment last night, I second guessed even taking this class, because it is a whole ton of work to do on top of everything else. I spend every night studying, reading, and writing, after spending all day long working. I need a vacation from school for a while so that I'm ready to start grad school fresh in the fall!
    Posted Mar 29 2006, 02:16 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Is there a Gumperz website?

    Last night, I spent the majority of my evening sitting up at All Saints studying and working, just as I usually do. I've now found a way to rope some additional friends from Linguistics Core to go along with me, because I work a lot better with a study buddy. This has always been the case for me, since I can remember that back when I was a music major, I had better and more productive practice sessions when I had a practice buddy. It gives you someone to chat with when you want to take a quick break. Anyways, the point of my going up to All Saints last night was to work on my famous linguist report about John Gumperz. I was originally supposed to have Dell Hymes for my assignment but ended up traded with Mike Como for the sake of convenience on his end. I was glad to do it, but I later realized that doing a report on Gumperz was going to be a little more challenging. It's not tha Gumperz is not a well-known sociolinguists, because he sure is! He has published extensively, both in journals and books, and has collaborated with many other famous linguists. The problem that I've found is that, although he has a lot of stuff out there to read, there is very little to find about him on the internet. Since I don't have the time to sit and read all his publications and then come up with a summary of his life's work, I thought it would be a lot easier to look for some sort of biographical sketch or summary of his life on the internet. This is the method that my other classmates have been using to do their reports. The other part of the problem (not that I'm wishing it on him or anything) is that most of the linguists that my classmates have covered have already passed on or are far into their retirements so that biographies have been written about them. Good ole John Gumperz is still alive and well and still doing great work as an Emeritus Professor at the University of California at Berkeley. I found a few brief sketches about him on the internet that were in introductions and prefaces to books and other articles about his books, but there is very little information about his early years when he switched from studying chemistry to linguistics while at the University of Michigan. (ahh, I'm not so crazy then!) I'm interested to see who his teachers and influences were and also which of the linguists that we know well today were his students. It's actually rather mysterious. Anyways, slightly discouraged, I decided to go ahead and take the chance and email Dr. Gumperz and ask him for some information. I haven't heard anything back yet, but at least if I end up with no information on his early academic career, I can say I emailed him to make direct contact.
    Posted Mar 28 2006, 02:44 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Sociolinguistics from two points of view

    Today in Linguistics Core, we started our three week long discussion on the topic of sociolinguistics. As I've mentioned previously, sociolinguistics is a field that is near and dear to my heart, since that is what I'm planning to study when I get to graduate school. The first of our three classes covered the theories and key players in the field and gave us a chance to discuss a lot of the big famous works about sociolinguistics and how it came to be. It's coming down to that time when the four of us who took Languages in Contact last fall semester are going to be relied upon to know a lot of information to share with the class. One of the main points that we started to discuss in class was the use or disuse of social status as a sociolinguistic variable. The class sociolinguists, Labov and Trudgill have stated in the past that social status is an extremely important variable when taking other factors into consideration. Other features that are often studied are gender, age, education, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic history. We have not gotten very far past the methodologies used in sociolinguistic research, so I think that I'll save the discussion on deeper theory for another time. The important point that I want to make is that their is another view that opposes the thinking of Labov and others on the use of social status as a variable. Milroy, in particular, feels that there is no use for such a variable in sociolinguistic research and rather uses the variables of kinship, tribal affiliation, and occupation for her research. She conducted a very famous study of what she called "social networks" in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It is always interesting to see where sociolinguists choose to conduct their work, as some of the studies are in unusual places. Labov is famous for a study that he did in New York City department stores. He was interested in the use and disuse of post-vocalic 'r' in New York City English. He visited three department stores that catered mostly to customers of varying socioeconomic backgrounds; Saks, Macy's, and Kline. Labov found that the clerks in the stores would change their speech to adjust to the clientele in the store. The clerks at Saks had a higher percentage of initial and secondary use of 'r', whereas the clerks at Kline were more likely to "drop" the 'r' to resemble more closely the stereotypical New York accent. This is just one of many studies that have shown interesting facts about humans and how they use language in differing social settings and among different people, according to a host of different sociolinguistic variables.
    Posted Mar 27 2006, 02:28 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • So much information

    My Sunday turned out to be rather relaxing just as I had planned, but there was some work thrown in. You will remember that last Monday was our essay exam in class and that I had spent the majority of my time studying for it the week before. Although I had written all my reviews for readings assigned for Monday (although they would not be discussed), I never actually read everyone else's reviews. I realized this on Sunday afternoon...not that it was a big problem. I had just finished reading all the reviews of about fifty pieces of literature, whether they be books or journal articles, for this class coming up tomorrow. Then I had to start in on about another fifty reviews from last week. One hundred new ideas to read about in two weeks is tough enough, but to do it in two days was rough! Luckily, the material that we are getting into is really interesting stuff, most of which I will likely talk about for years to come, as I'm heading into the field of sociolinguistics. When I stopped for a moment to think about how much reading that we have been assigned since the beginning of the semester and how much material for which we've been responsible (not to mention the rest of the semester), I started to get a twinge of sympathy for my fellow classmates, most of whom have no interest in things linguistic. I mean seriously, they have enough to worry about for things in their own specialities, instead of getting into the linguistic nitty-gritty in my speciality. I suppose that it makes some sense that, thanks to good ole Boas, all anthropology majors at FSU are participating in the traditional four field method. Every graduate student that comes into the department (and many other anthro departments around the world) must demonstrate some sort of proficiency in linguistic anthropology, cultural anthropology, archaeology, and biological anthropology. After the first year of classes (with two core classes per semester), student have to take three-hour-long comprehensive exams. If you don't pass your comps, you have an opportunity to retake them, but two tries and you're gone...no questions asked. I'm sure that I'll have my own set of comps based on more linguistic things up at Indiana or Michigan State (still haven't decided...still haven't heard back from everywhere), but luckily they will all be about linguistics. Let's face it, if I had to take an archaeology core class, it would not be a pretty picture.
    Posted Mar 26 2006, 12:58 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Why it's better not to procrastinate

    This week, I've taken a really proactive approach to getting my work done for next week's class. Dr J more or less laid down the law a few weeks back about certain individuals in the class not doing enough reading or holding themselves accountable for all the information. Although I don't feel like I am one of the people in class who is not doing work (probably because all I do is read my stuff and the reviews that others write), I am pretty sure that others in the class likely had a bit of a wake up call after the in-class essay exam last week. I'm almost dreading going to class tomorrow, because it will be one of two things. Either everyone did pretty well, making Dr J happy, or a few people will have done well and the rest of the class will have bombed, surely upsetting Dr J greatly. If we want to consider past history, the latter of the two choices will probably happen. But, I digress...

    I decided to get a head start on work this past week by hitting up the library Tuesday after work to get my books and journal articles right away. I ended up getting all my postings done by Thursday night, so I was able to relax for a while on Friday and hang out with friends. I knew that I had two more not so difficult tasks for the weekend regarding class. I had to write my famous linguist report on John Gumperz and read all the reviews that my classmates are supposed to post by 7pm on Saturday. I decided to do the reviews first on Saturday and wait until Sunday for the report, and I'm glad I did. I found out on Saturday that Sidiky wasn't feeling well and we would not be meeting for our weekly Senari meeting either. That opened up my Saturday afternoon. I also happened to flip through the class syllabus and found that my famous linguist report is not due this coming Monday (like I had thought previously), but it is due instead the following Monday. That opened up my Sunday! With no reviews to complete, no meeting, reviews read on Saturday, and no linguist report to do...my non-procrastination has paid off with a relaxing Sunday ahead. I'm sure that I'll probably work on the Gumperz report anyway, but it's no rush at this point with an extra week to get it done. I've already collected all the materials and done the research on him, so all that is left is writing the paper, which is only supposed to be a few pages anyway. I'm hoping that I'll have a lot of time to sit in front of the computer working on learning some new Javascripts for work during the day and then spend the evening in front of the television watching my Sunday night shows. This might even turn out to be a normal weekend, with less work than during the week. That hasn't happened in a long time!

    Posted Mar 25 2006, 06:10 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • You know what I love...

    In the spirit of my good friend in the blogging world, Mike (of Chomp Blog fame), I'm going to write about something that I really love that actually has nothing to do with linguistics. As anyone who knows me and has seen my desk at work can attest to, I love Chapstick. I have probably about fifteen tubes of the stuff around at any one given time. I have one in the pocket of all my jackets, three on my desk at work, at least four on my desk at home, two in the car, and who knows how many in my bag for school. I love chapstick of all different types, with the exception of that weird medicated kind in the tube with the black label. I did a little research on Chapstick and found some pretty interesting things. There are actually people all over the world who claim to have an addiction to Chapstick. (maybe I should join that club) Doctors say that Chapstick contains no addictive substances, but instead people are addicted to the pleasant and soothing feeling of the balm which leads them to reapply repeatedly throughout the day. Chapstick is one of those things, like tissues, that has become a household name. No matter what kind of lip balm-ish substance you have, most of the time it is referred as Chapstick, even though that is actually a company name. I've even discovered that you can visit websites specifically devoted to selling things like Chapstick and buy lots of different kinds and color all in one place. I'm definitely planning on ordering some since I'm rather intrigued to see what Chapstick brand "wild blue crazeberry" is all about.

    You know what else I love (while I'm on a roll here)...hyacinths. Every since I was a little kid, I've always liked the smell of hyacinths and the kinda weird shape for a flower. My grandparents always has hyacinths growing in both the front and back yard of their house, and they used to bring me hyacinths in a pot in springtime. I don't think that hyacinths are as popular down here in the south, but I'll definitely look forward to seeing them next spring when I'm back up north.

    Yeah, I know...this is a random post...deal with it!

    Posted Mar 24 2006, 03:08 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Back in the day

    I remember back in the day when I could sit down for a few minutes (not for a very long time, I had two majors and three minors) and just study a language. Most of the time was spent on Greek, French, or Spanish, but I've dabbled a little bit in several other languages. One of the great parts about being at a large university is that you always have the opportunity to meet people from other places around the world. I've had the luck of meeting a lot of different people from a lot of different places in the almost six years that I've been down in Tallahassee going to school and working. I really try to make an effort to learn a little bit about whoever's language and culture, and of course, how to say a few things. I was sitting here trying to remember some of the people and places and languages that I've encountered while I've been here. In the biology side of things, I met tons of Chinese people, and I actually got pretty good about learning some of the language. The thing that many people don't realize about Chinese is that it is a really easy language to speak (or learn to speak), but it is the writing that is the tough part. I know several people who speak Chinese who can't write it. One of my favorite parts about being in biology was that I met Rani Dhanarajan, a molecular biologist and an amazing cook. I've been taking Indian cooking classes from Rani for over two years now, and I've tried to learn a little bit about her language, Tamil, along the way. Then there are all the Bulgarians in the school of music at FSU. There was a great cello professor who recently passed away named Lubomir Georgiev who encouraged a lot of students from his native Bulgaria to come to Tallahassee to study. I know a lot of the Bulgarians, and have picked up a thing or two from them. This is of course just a start on the languages that I've tried to learn something about. My "language" shelf in my bedroom is overflowing with texts, primers, grammars, dictionaries, in probably about 20 languages. Hmmm...I wonder how many there are really, I've never counted. French, Spanish, English (of course), Italian, German, Greek, Latin, Russian, Senari, Swahili, Chinese, Hungarian, Portuguese, Indonesian, Dutch, Yoruba....hmm...that's all I can think of off the top of my head, but there are a lot. That surely doesn't count the rest of the library that is my bedroom with all my regular books plus linguistics books. I just remembered that I'm going to have the chance to learn something about yet another language this coming weekend. I got invited to meet a friend of Brooke's who is coming into town this weekend. She is a native speaker of Telugu, a language of India. I'm also going to attempt to learn a little more Hungarian from chatting with my pal Tim Parsons and some modern Greek from Sarah Moore (both in core class with me). It's great to be surrounded by such smart and worldly all the time! I don't think I'll ever stop learning languages!
    Posted Mar 23 2006, 03:05 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Spreading the linguistics word

    I was out with a few friends last night celebrating the fact that one of the gang is back in Tallahassee for a couple days on spring break. Since, I'm not around the music school really at all anymore, these outings and the occassional party are my only opportunities to see and catch up with some of the old gang. I ran into my friend Amanda Hanson while we were there, and she informed me that she has been considering looking into studying linguistics for her graduate school work. She and I have been chatting off and on (at random outings and parties) about what I'm doing, and how it's ok to switch your studies around, etc. She was a music major but dropped music her junior year to pursue a degree in French. She is now taking a lot of upper level French classes and basically having a marvelous time over in that department. We didn't get a chance to talk at length about her linguistics ambitions, but I'm sure that she's got some great things in mind. I remember her saying that she wants to look into French linguistics, and that's of course where I started getting interested in linguistics, so maybe...just maybe...I could get her interested in some African stuff, specifically West African stuff, and then the French will be right there. It would be great to make an early connection with a potential collaborator for the future. Wow, just thinking about future research makes me extra excited to get started this coming fall. I'll definitely be sure to post more once I find out what Amanda has in mind for her future. It's so great spreading the word and meeting others who are equally as enthusiastic and interested in linguistics!
    Posted Mar 22 2006, 02:53 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Coffee and Studying with Brooke

    Whenever I talk about Core class and doing homework, I always seem to get to mentioning Mike Como (my linguistic partner in crime). I do, however, have few other anthro buddies that are tons of fun to sit with and attempt to do homework while chatting along the way. Mike is busy finishing up his honors thesis this week since it's due this coming Friday and he defends next week, so he has been rather in dispose when it comes to doing homework. In his absence, I had the pleasure of hanging out with another of the talented anthro crew, Miss Ella Brooke Bulmer. Brooke was also in LIC with Mike and me last semester and studies the religion of the indigenous peoples of Guatemala. Brooke and I headed out to the All Saints Cafe here in quaint Tallahassee to start on the readings and reviews for the upcoming week. We are finally getting into sociolinguistics, so I'm pretty excited. All Saints is the perfect place for me to do homework in this town...it has coffee, it's open 24 hours, there are lots of tables and plugs for laptop use, it has free wireless internet, and it has the perfect noise/silence ratio to read. I had a pretty great time reading my first article for this week, and why is that you ask?...because it was an article on linguistic methodology by the famous sociolinguist William Labov. Labov has a knack for just....bam!....laying the info right down with no garbage in between the words. He says exactly what he wants to to make his point, and it's perfectly clear every time. The article outlined a lot of theories and principles behind linguistic methodology with just enough examples to get the point across in every case. Brooke, however, did not have quite the happy time with her reading as I had with mine. She got stuck reading about some statistical methodology by Milroy. Blech! If there is one thing that I am not looking forward to in sociolinguistic is potentially dealing with statistics. It's never been my favorite subject. In any case, we both got a lot done, and it was a successful evening of doing homework. There is plenty more to do for the rest of the week though.
    Posted Mar 21 2006, 03:18 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • And the studying pays off

    I'm going to tentatively say that all that studying that I did for my midterm essay exam today really paid off. What paid off even more was posting information over the past week on linguistics relativity, color terminology, kinship systems, and folk taxonomy, because as I had assumed, that's exactly what the test was about. We had one hour and fifteen minutes to complete the essay and also to answer two short, two to four sentence identification questions. Benjamin Whorf and phoneme...not too bad. Let me say though...tonight, I'm not doing anything. Absolutely nothing except for eating the lasagna that my roommate is cooking for dinner and then going out for a beer or two. You will not find me in front of a computer or a book until at least tomorrow evening, when the homework and studying will commence once again. I'm thankful that the readings for next week, the next three weeks actually, are all about sociolinguistics. Finally, something I can relate to! On another note, there are only four weeks left in the semester! Wow!!! We still have tons of readings, two essays exams, I have my famous linguist report (on Gumperz), and a 3 hour final exam. That seems like a lot to squeeze into four weeks if you ask me. Luckily, I won't have to spend a ton of time in the library, since I have most of the books about sociolinguistics that we will be talking about. Things have been kind of quiet at work lately as well, so I have a little mental down time during the day from time to time. I think that it's pretty funny that my least stressful and least busy time is while I'm at work. Such is my life. I also officially called today to let the apartment office know that I won't be renewing my lease....grad school here I come!!!
    Posted Mar 20 2006, 11:10 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Kinship

    The universalist versus relativist debate on kinship terminology is the most contentious out of the bunch due to the highly social nature of the topic. One of the greatest works about analyzing kinship systems in ethnoscience was in 1956 by Goodenough. Goodenough used the method of componential analysis to gather and analyze information about the kinship system of the Truk people. His definition of culture is rather famous, basically stating that culture is whatever an individual needs to operate in an acceptable manner in society. Goodenough placed a lot of scientific methodology into his description of meaning in kinship terminology. The universalist kinship scholars had a difficult time getting their acts together, as they had problems even agreeing among one another about what to do with certain aspects of kinship systems. One main point of contention was the importance of the nuclear family in the grand scheme of things. Malinowski downplayed the importance of the nuclear family and instead focused on the mother-child bond. He had a problem with seeing kinship in overly scientific terms. In opposition to Malinowski, Lounsbury thought that kinship systems were centered around a focal member (a matriarch or patriarch) and that the terminological relationships used to describe the individuals in the systems was innate and carried across cultures. The relativist argument was easy to make since the universalists were having enough trouble arguing among themselves. The relativists stated that universals do exist in mating and reproduction but not in their terminology. These individuals proposed that kinship terminology should be viewed in a social rather than biological view. The big relativist proponents were Leach and Schneider.
    Posted Mar 19 2006, 02:30 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Folk Taxonomy

    Continuing with our talk about cognitive anthropology, I will go on with discussion about folk taxonomy and where it fits into the grand scheme of relativist versus universalist thought. As you might recall from last post, the 1969 article about color terminology by Berlin and Kay was a pretty big deal. Berlin also applied his universalist ideas about categorization to the field of ethnobotany, basically a taxonomy system for naming plants. Berlin was interested in exploring further the Boasian thoughts about the innate nature of humans to categorize their environment. When one does a folk taxonomy about anything, plants or otherwise, it is necessary to collect all the information possible about that particular semantic domain, so that it can be completely categorized. The categorization system proposed by Berlin was one of contrast and inclusion. This system is what many of us would recognize as a tree diagram showing taxonomy or classification where the most general organisms are at the top, and the more specific organism spread branch by branch toward the bottom of the chart. This hierarchical relationship has been widely used in many fields for classification. Berlin got in a little trouble along the way when he proposed that the most psychologically salient taxa (level of taxonomy) was at the generic level. That may sound pretty accepted, but consider this...his classification scheme of contrast and inclusion went from unique beginner to life form to generic to specific. Therefore, he was saying that it is more universal that one can recognize a pigeon as a pigeon rather than as a bird. Pigeon would be the generic taxa, where bird would be the life form taxa. It's only fair that the ideas of relativists have their place in this post as well, as many of their thoughts came before these universalist thoughts. Dougherty, back in the early 1980s, stepped up to the plate and asserted that folk taxonomic categorization was not necessarily innate. He suggested that salience reflects human interest, so that in some cultures the generic taxa may be the most salient, but in others it might not be. In the same vein of things, Hunn and Randall have also suggested that Berlin's contrast and inclusion model should be replaced with the "natural core model" in which a dense core of multi-purpose taxa exist, with otherwise specific taxa eminating outside of it. They also suggest that only humans only lexicalize things that are of importance to them, the whole interest versus use idea. Stepping back to universalism for a moment, it is important that we include the early 1990s ideas of Atran, who also disagreed with Berlin. He felt that taxonomy should be divided into three levels of hierarchy based on common sense and science.
    Posted Mar 18 2006, 01:53 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Color Terminology

    I talked last week for a bit about the split between ethnoscience and cognitive anthropology, so now I figured that I would break down the thoughts on the subject into the "big three". Ideas relating to cognitive anthropology exist in two opposing camps...the relativists versus the universalists. The relativist tradition stems out of the Linguistic Relativity ideas and the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis of, you guessed it, Sapir and Whorf (and a few others). These ideas were transferred to anthropological studies, many of which included some kind of linguistic concern as well. The areas of study that I call the big three above are folk taxonomy, color terminology, and kinship systems. These three areas exist separately from one another when it comes to specific theories, but in ways, they are all interconnected. My next few posts will outline the ideas of each area, the major players, and the relative versus universal nature of each.

    I'm going to start by talking about color terminology, because that's really what started the whole ball rolling with universalist thought. Back in 1969, Berlin and Kay published a paper in hopes to support the relativist ideas of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, but instead spurred interest in universalism of color terminology from their unexpected results. In their paper, the two scholars discovered several universal features shared by different cultures in their color terminology. I believe that I covered a breakdown of this information a few posts ago, so I won't repeat it here. Suffice it to say that they discovered evolutionary similarities in the creation of different basic and secondary colors. This gave fodder to individuals, all the way back to Sapir, who had been attempting to demonstrate the innate and unconscious ability of humans to categorize things. Addition studies came about explaining the neurophysiological constraints that the human brain contributes to the universality of color terminology. (Conklin was a biggie there) The relativists, of course, reacted to these universal ideas, which then brought about a whole slew of other universalist papers supporting or altering Berlin and Kay's original findings. Kay and McDaniel later revised the 1969 findings by suggesting the Composite Category Rule and "fuzzy set" theory, that the semantic domains of color exist on a continuum of unions and intersections. Berlin and Berlin, much later, revised earlier work to incorporate evidence that color categories are influenced by language contact. Outside of the realm of Berlin and his students, McLaury disagreed the 1969 study, and developed a new (but still universalist) theory on color terminology. His idea was that hue and brightness must be taken into consideration, and thereby proposed color categories based on these features. The biggest relativist argument with the proposal of universal color terminologies was the fact that the universalists suggested that culture had no impact on the subject. Lucy, in particular, argued in the late 1990s that Berlin and Kay's result were as such because they isolated color from meaning. If meaning is not involved, then the cultural impact on color terminology is absent from the argument...something the relativists continue to argue about. Color terminology is the strongest argument, out of the big three, for universalist categorization in cognitive anthropology

    Posted Mar 17 2006, 01:21 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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