Cultural Anthropology/Communication and Language

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Nonverbal Primate Communication[edit]

Nonverbal communication is the process of communication through sending and receiving wordless messages. It can be communicated through gestures and touch, by body language or posture, by facial expression and eye contact. Like humans, most (if not all) other primates engage in nonverbal communication to relay messages, emotions, warnings, and ideas to each other. Primates, by nature, are a very social species and tend to live together in communities. By interacting with the same species so often, it is no wonder that primates have developed a more complex way of communicating than most other animals. For example, a study of rhesus monkeys showed that a community had a distinct hierarchy among them and it was clear which monkeys outranked others. The question that was posed was how could such a detailed living environment be created if these monkeys did not have a complex communication system? People have compared primates and their communication abilities to humans as more studies continue, which have tended to bring up controversial ideas, such as a common ancestry. [1] The fact that primates and humans share some of the same nonverbal communications, such as holding hands and kissing, supports the idea that they share common ancestry. [2]

Call Systems[edit]

Non-human primates like these have between fifteen and forty different calls in their call system depending on the species.

A call system is a type of limited vocal communication system. Animals such as monkeys and apes use call systems. According to anthropologist Terrence Deacon, humans still posses six call systems, including:

  • Laughing
  • Sobbing
  • Groaning
  • Frightened Screaming
  • Sighing
  • Crying with pain

These six calls appear to have co-evolved alongside symbolic language, which may be why humans integrate calls and symbolic language into their speech. While human beings still possess six calls, non-human primates have a system ranging from 15-40 calls, depending on the species. Non-human primates use these call systems when they are in the presence of food or danger when they desire company, or when the animal desires to mark its location or to signal pain, sexual interest, or the need for maternal care. The call system of non-human primates is “closed” because it affords the ability to discuss neither absent or nonexistent objects nor the past or future events, which is called displacement. Closed call systems also have the absence of any link between sound and meaning in language, which is called arbitrariness. These six calls, paired with gestures and changes in rhythm, volume, and tonality (something which linguists call speech prosody) appear to have co-evolved with the development of symbolic language. This may be the reason they amalgamate so well. This being said Deacon pointed out that these call systems are controlled by different parts of the ape brain. [3]

Nonverbal Communication[edit]

Two sign language interpreters working as a team for a school.

Nonverbal Communication is defined as the act of communicating with another via body language or other symbolism to convey meanings,or “nonverbal communication involves those nonverbal stimuli in a communication setting that are generated by both the source [speaker] and his or her use of the environment and that have potential message value for the source or receiver [listener]. Basically, it is sending and receiving messages in a variety of ways without the use of verbal codes (words). It is both intentional and unintentional. Not only does it use body language, but also eye contact, gestures, posture, and facial expressions. Another somewhat obvious form of nonverbal communication is that which is written. Handwriting styles and emoticons can be included in this category, exemplifying different forms of human personal expression. Emoticons, which are used often in emails and text messaging, serve to more clearly express a point or add context to what is being communicated since your tone of voice and facial expressions cannot be seen at the time of viewing. The majority of nonverbal communication studies first researched by Ray Birdwhistell focus on face-to-face encounters between two or more people. The physical actions of the communicator and the way in which the listener responds are all key aspects of discovering the subtle implications of nonverbal communication.

Nonverble communication can include slight gestures or very bold moves. Kinesics is also another form of nonverbal communication. Kinesics is the systematic study of body languages, such as gestures, body movements, body postures, and facial expressions. Nonverbal communication also follows certain rules according to culture. In the United States, there exist unspoken rules for communicating. Flirting nonverble communication can show someone can show interest without speaking directly to a person. A smile or quick eye contact can convey attraction. A slight change in expression though can mean anger or jealousy. Nonverbal communication is often considered to include sign language, however, linguists generally consider sign language to be verbal communication, despite the lack of sound. It has been shown that even in infancy, babies sign to their mothers to indicate hunger, showing a natural development of signing for basic needs. [4]Sign language maintains all the functions of an oral language which differentiates it from non-verbal communication. Like most other languages, sign language has a variety of forms, each with diverse meanings across the world.

Clothing can also be a form of communication. From modern cultures to ancient tribes, clothing has always been a subtle yet obvious way of creating a statement about one's self. Oftentimes the chief of a tribe would wear something a bit more extravagant, like a feathered head dress, than the other members of a tribe. Great hunters would wear animal skins to show off a kill. Another example would be during the Reformation period of 1496- 1558, when men would wear a "bombaster", which is a cotton patted pouch, in order to make their stomachs look bigger to make them appear more wealthy. If someone were to be seen with a larger stomach it would be assumed that that person was wealthy because only the wealthy were able to eat as much as they wanted. Women with small waists during the Reformation period used corsets and "bum rolls" on their hips to make their hips look bigger to appear more feminine. The idea of a perfect woman was small waist and larger hips so this image became the fashion of that era which is a form of nonverbal communication. What a person wears, how a person walks, and the faces a person makes can be more expressive than words. In the present day, clothing still says a lot about a person no matter what culture you find yourself in. Women and men are often expected to dress a certain way depending on the situation, such as job requirements and their status in their society.

Charles Darwin

Nonverbal communication has been present since the dawn of human interaction. In 1872, Charles Darwin published the book, The Expressions of the Emotions in Man and Animals, which argues that both humans and animals communicate with their faces.

Although nonverbal communication does not involve the use of words it is still an incredibly effective way of sending and receiving messages from person to person. It is unavoidable to not communicate. When you visit a foreign country and do not understand the native language or the language spoken in that area there are still several ways to communicate messages. For example, you can communicate hunger through making a gesture pointing to your stomach which is a form of body language which is nonverbal. Another common way of communicating is by eye contact. Instinctively humans much like other primates are able to find prey and hunt it down. To do so you must use your vision and make eye contact towards your target. Even if a student stands up and leaves a lecture hall in the middle of a speech by the professor, he or she is still sending a message. Although there was no use of words there is a clear message being sent to the receiver that is nonverbal. One of the most common nonverbal communication is facial expressions. In Sweden when giving a speech at a table it is expected that when toasting you must look straight into the eye of the person you toast, opposite to Japan where eye contact is not a social norm in society, especially in public areas.

sources: Theatre Arts 216 Gregory Pulver, lecture Big Costume Design & Technology the History


Two people not affecting each other's personal space.
Reaction of two people whose personal space are in conflict.

Proxemics is the spacing between two people as they interact. The term was coined by Anthropologist Edward T. Hall in 1966. "....the study of man's transactions as he perceives and uses intimate, personal, social and public space in various settings while following out of awareness dictates of cultural paradigms." -Hall [5] The category of proxemics is most commonly sub-grouped into a physical territory and personal territory, although proxemics can also be identified in several other forms such as eye-contact, facial expression, smells, body warmth, gender, and the number of people involved. The area of personal territory is further sub-grouped as public space- ranging in 12-25 feet between people, social space- ranging from 4-10 feet between people, personal space-between 2-4 feet of separation and finally intimate space- a foot or less of separation [6]. The physical distance between them is related to their social distance. For example, people who know each other very well often communicate in the intimate space, which is about 1.5 feet away from each other. People who stand within a smaller distance than 1.5 feet are also known as close-talkers. These people tend to make others uncomfortable. If two people are communicating who are simply acquaintances they will most likely communicate in the social space which is about 12 feet from each other.[9]

Proximics varies by culture, gender, social setting and the individual’s preference. This can be demonstrated by visiting something as simple as a grocery store in different countries and interacting with different kinds of people. Often in the United States, it can be considered very rude to stand 1 foot behind a stranger when standing in line to purchase your goods. Americans would also consider a person only a foot behind them to be in their "personal space" and would probably step forward and gain some distance. If you were to visit a popular grocery store in the country of China, you would find people standing almost directly behind each other (within about a 2 foot range) trying to fight their way up to the register to pay. If you were to leave any space in front of you (say two feet) people waiting in the line behind you would very likely cut directly in front of you if they saw that there was space available. China and Mexico are much more densely populated than a country like the United States, so people there tend to be much more comfortable coming into close contact with strangers around them. This can have disadvantages, one of them being an increased risk of pick-pocketing when you are frequently bumping into strangers and not thinking much of it.

Personal Space[edit]

A diagram representation of personal space limits.

One's own sense of the invisible boundaries that separate them from other bodies is known as an individual's personal space. A person's sense of personal space varies according to personal comfort as well as cultural norms. This seemingly invisible space, if violated or pressured, serves as a form of nonverbal communication across the globe. While people in the U.S. tend to respect others' space to an extensive degree, it is perfectly normal to be sharing space with another person in close degree in many Asian countries such as China. Aside from a culture's norm on personal space and boundaries, there is no denying that space is used to communicate as well. "You are violating my personal bubble," or "please give me my space," are common phrases in America that are used to inform others that they are simply too close for their personal comfort. Violating another’s personal space can be a form of intimidation in many cases. For example, bullies often use this technique of getting close to a person's face and hovering over them to simply show their dominance without ever saying a word. They may puff up their chest, raise their shoulders, and/or rise up onto their toes in order to make themselves taller and more intimidating. However, getting into another’s personal space can also be flirtatious or friendly. A simple touch on the shoulder can be a way of showing friendliness, while a brush up against an individual's leg with your own can be a sign of flirtation. Space, when observed, can tell an individual many things about another person as far as personality, dominance, and motives.

The four types of personal space: The intimate zone is within touching distance. This is the space reserved for people who genuinely care about each other. The personal zone is from two to four feet. It’s used for discussions that are private and not meant to be overheard. The social zone is four to twelve feet apart. This is the space used for public and casual social conversations. It allows others to enter into the group. The public zone is more than twelve feet. Public speakers and important figures use space to distance themselves from their audience (and establish authority, since demanding more space is a power signal.)

  • For an experiment, try getting in a public elevator and facing backwards. Have you ever noticed that basically everyone in public elevators stands facing front? Try facing backwards and notice how people feel their personal space is being violated or jeopardized. Personal space varies from culture to culture, however, so maybe facing backwards in an elevator is quite common in other cultures.

As said in the experiment personal space varies from culture to culture, for example in Latin America. In Latin American countries what is considered personal space is much closer. A Latino/a will stand much closer to you when speaking and if someone from the U.S. stands far away (which is the norm for an American) it may be taken as rude or seems as if you are uninterested in the conversation.


Hindu units of time shown logarithmically

Chronemics is a field of study examining the utilization of time in nonverbal communication. Perceptions of time can play significant roles in various forms of nonverbal communication. For example, a slight pause before finishing an announcement can help to build a sense of anticipation in one's audience. Aside from the transmission of mood, time can also figure into communication in terms of attention span and the expression or reinforcement of power relationships. A culture's perception of time not only influences the way they communicate but also the way they organize and execute their daily lives. Cultures are divided into two main groups based on the way that members of that culture generally perceive time: monochronic cultures and polychronic cultures.

Monochronic cultures

Monochronic cultures tend to view time as being precisely divided into separate units. The contemporary United States is a monochronic culture. People in the US tend to keep very rigid schedules, and usually value punctuality, brevity, and adherence to plans made in advance. In the US, time is viewed as a resource, as is illustrated by the common expression "time is money". People living in monochronic cultures tend to focus on the completion of one task at a time, and usually, view interruption and distraction as things to be avoided. Monochronic cultures like the US, look down upon being late. When there is a schedule and it is not followed, there are often consequences and social respect is sometimes lost.

Polychronic cultures

Polychronic cultures tend to see time as fluid and malleable. Characteristics of polychronic cultures include interrupted meetings, flexible schedules and higher values placed in people and relationships over punctuality and deadlines.[7] Examples of polychronic cultures are those found in modern Mexico and Egypt. People of these cultures tend to keep open schedules, often altering plans without notice and "double-booking" themselves. In monochronic cultures such as the United States, Germany, and Great Britain these behaviors are thought to be inefficient and improper. People of polychronic cultures are more susceptible to distractions and open to interruption but are better at focusing on many tasks at once. Polychrons prefer to keep their time unstructured, changing from one activity to another as the mood takes them. Although polychrons can meet deadlines, they need to do so in their own way. A polychron does not want detailed plans imposed upon him, nor does he want to make his own detailed plans. Polychrons prefer to work as they see fit without a strict schedule, following their internal mental processes from one minute to the next. [8]


Kinesics is how nonverbal communication is interpreted; different movements of your body convey particular ideas. Through body movements, it is possible to send signals, such as crossed arms or leaning forward when someone is talking. It is important to know that kinesics are different for every culture. Kinesics can show if a person is stressed, likes a person, dislikes a person, feels powerful, is confident, shy, submissive, having a bad day, angry, or standoffish. Although not all interpretations could be correct, a lot can be inferred. Being aware of kinesics can be an aid in relationships, job interviews, or when meeting new people. Noticing people’s body language and being able to interpret their meaning can aid in communication. It is important to be aware your own body language and the message you are giving off. In relationships, kinesics can help a person understand when the other needs space, or when they really are interested in what you are saying. In job interviews, kinesics can be used to portrays confidence and assertiveness. When meeting new people, kinesics help you understand if someone wants to keep talking to you and often learn their personality type, such as shy or outgoing.


In a college setting, kinesics is easily displayed. When nonverbal communication experiments were done, something as simple as, making eye contact with people and walking with your head up, displays confidence and stature. People that keep their heads down, and don't make eye contact, are easily often pushed around or over looked, displaying submission and not confidence.

Defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “a systematic study of the relationship between nonlinguistic body motion and communication” meaning the idea wrapped around kinesics is the inference between the movement of one and the way others read this movement. Kinesics is considered a science and is relatively new one of its kind. The study of this science involves the movement of people as languages such as their posture, or stance. This term was first used by Ray Burdwistel in 1952, an anthropologist who studies this certain movement. He argued that all movements of the body meant something. Nothing was done by accident and every movement was saying feeling or mood. Under this science of movement sign language would fall. Some inferences of kinesics can be the same in all languages such as a smile. A smile in every language means happiness and joy, but the sign language for “A-OK” in English mean “money” in Japanese and in Tunisia it means “I’ll kill you”. So this is not a universal language, even though many gestures mean the same such as slouching meaning remorse but the differences in languages can be spoken with kinesics through the body.


Posture varies from person to person and can be interpreted as nonverbal communication.

Posture is a type of nonverbal communication. Much can be interpreted from a person's posture such as their view of themselves, their mood, etc. Posture can be used to determine a participant’s degree of attention or involvement, the difference in status between communicators, and the level of fondness a person has for the other communicator.

If two people are having a conversation, and are both interested, their movements and body positions including posture, will mirror each other. In this way, posture can be an indicator of interest in what another person has to say. For the listener, having good posture can convey an interest in what the speaker is saying. Having bad posture might show the speaker that the listener is not interested. Another example of posture signaling an attitude is during interviews: if one's posture us upright and their arms are uncrossed, this implies an openness, a willingness. If the interviewee is slouched, and their arms are crossed, this implies reservations and a closed attitude.

In addition, good (or bad) posture can have positive or negative social effects. In some cultures, someone walking with their shoulders hunched over, neck bent, looking down would most likely be perceived as submissive or easy to pick on. On the other hand, if someone is walking with their shoulders back, back straight, and eyes up, they are perceived as more confident and display a “don’t f*** with me” attitude (Paul James). Good posture can also signify a recent success in my own personal experience. Just as bad posture can illustrate that someone has recently failed a test or is under a significant amount of stress.

An ethnographic example of a posture that one could self-identify with is that of dancers. If one started taking ballet lessons you would begin relating good posture to grace and finesse. Those who could keep their backs perfectly straight while keeping their shoulders down and neck stretched high seemed to nearly float around the dance studio. When they took this grace to the streets people always noticed them. It seemed to demand a certain level of respect and attention. Bad posture would obviously have quite the opposite effect.

Another example of posture can be found in the U.S. Military. Poor posture displayed by a subordinate to a superior is a sign of disrespect which may result in punishment. Posture can have a different meaning for superiors. A superior displaying poor or casual posture can be a cue to subordinates to relax a little where as stiff posture can represent seriousness. Bad posture in the military can even be a cause for punishment. In the world today, posture plays a significant role.(Charles Gardner)


One of the most well-known and crucial forms of nonverbal communication in Asian cultures is Bowing (though it is also typical among nobility and aristocracy of European countries). In Japan, bowing is practiced upon introductions, indicating its widespread significance as a cultural norm. This is a sign of respect or a way of conveying that you will obey a certain thing someone has asked. It is also a sign of respect to bow to your elders. Bowing must be with eyes down on the floor because it shows trust. A bow while locking eyes can show that you do not trust whom you are bowing to.


The lower [11] you bow, the more respect you are showing. The most common bow is around 15 degrees held for one or two seconds while a deeper bow would be 30 degrees held for three seconds. Bows should always be returned (except to staff in department stores), and the person who is the lower status of the two should bow first and lowest, holding the bow until the other person has done theirs. Men and women have a minor difference in how they bow. Men bow with their hands at their sides, while women bow with their hands just touching in front. Both men and women keep their heels together for the bow. In the business world, bowing has become an art form. New employees are often trained in appropriate bowing techniques for employee and customer care. In Japan’s overpopulated and hectic days, it is common to see department stores with a neatly uniformed girl, (including gloves and hat), bowing at customers getting on and off of the escalator asking them to watch their step. Bowing also takes place in elevators, the operators inform individuals what is on each floor and ask them what floor they want.

There are many different ways and meanings of bowing in different parts of Asia. In the city areas of Korea, after a greeting, a simple lowering of the head and shoulder (like a little head nod with some shoulder) is a sign of kindness whereas the country side, it may be a sign of laziness. Most adult men to men bows consist with a handshake at the same time. Unless that is, one male is clearly an elder, then the informal (head nod) bow is usually what occurs.

When Koreans are visiting a grave in the country, or paying a visit to someone for forgiveness, asking for a favor, thankfulness, or sorrow, the bows include more movement like kneeling. This kneeling is most often seen among young family members when interacting with older family members. When sitting on the ground, the elder family members would sit in a comfortable position while the young family members would bow in the kneeling movement then remain in the kneeling position throughout the conversation to show respect and dignity. [9] First a formal bow (a deeper bow than just a slight movement of the head and shoulder), then standing up straight, coming about onto your knees, then bowing until your forehead touches the ground (hands are usually placed between the floor and forehead). This can be done multiples times depending the degree of emotion. [10]

An example of the relevance of bowing in current day society is President Obama's highly publicized and debated bow to Emperor Akihito of Japan. Critics of his bow saw it as overly submissive. Supporters saw it as a needed sign of respect. The cultural implications of such a reaction to the brief motion imply that not only do eastern cultures pay close attention to such signs of respect and hierarchy. [11]


Tattoos are a rather up front use of non-verbal communication.

Inscriptions are the way we communicate non-verbally with things such as tattoos, piercings, hair-styles, even what you choose to wear. The way people present their bodies in a physical sense is a key method of communication. Appearance is usually the first impression made when meeting a new person, so the inscriptions the person chooses to present change the way others interpret them greatly. These convey many messages from age to profession, sexual interest, emotions, wealth, etc. Colors and styles send messages as to convey gender and culturally specific themes of identity. All people of varying generations, social class, social groups, automatically and subconsciously, judge people based on the way they look, or what image they project via their inscriptions. For example, I recently made the decision to get some facial piercings done. My peers reacted with a level of positive excitement and made me feel good about my self-image. While persons belonging to older age groups tend to judge me much more harshly and in a more negative light.

Historically tattoos have played a part as symbolic indications or rites of passage. For instance, sailors would get a swallow tattoo after successfully sailing a certain amount of miles or a distinct and difficult voyage. Also,

  1. Numbered list item
swallows are symbolic for coming home. All swallows return to San Juan Capistrano every year and sailors would get them as an open of good luck, for them to successfully make it home every time.


A gesture is a movement or position of the hand, arm, body, head, or face that is used to convey an idea, opinion, or emotion. This form of communication gets a point across without the use of words, making it a form of non-verbal communication. Full-body gestures can be used in many ways from showing passion by dancing or expressing sympathy with a hug. Hand and arm gestures can portray anger with a slap across another person's face or romance by kissing a woman's hand. Facial gestures are also common in expressing nonverbal communication. A scrunched up face can represent sickness or discomfort, while a smile can send a message of gratitude or happiness.

Dancing is one of the most complex examples of nonverbal communication. In Latin dancing, a lead and follow can spend hours on the dance floor without speaking one word, but the two people can form a bond of trust and friendship or offense and dislike. The follow, usually the girl, tends to call the lead over with her eyes and stance on the side of the floor; however, officially, the lead, usually a male, is the person to ask the follow to dance by extending his/her hand outwards towards the follow gently. While dancing, the lead directs the follow's movements through subtle changes in his/her hand position, arm direction, and footwork speed. How close and how sexually the follow dances hints to the lead what moves she/he does or does not enjoy.

The finger

A popular gesture that is used quite often in Western culture is the “middle finger.” The gesture is generally used to convey anger with another person without speaking. Since drivers are often unable to verbally communicate with the driver of another car, they use the gesture along with the sound of a car horn to represent anger on the road. The middle finger can also be used amongst close friends as humor mainly among adolescence and young adults. American culture teaches children that the gesture is inconsiderate and forbidden. Gestures that have strong cultural symbolism, such as the middle finger, are even punishable or rewarded, depending on the gesture. However, in other cultures, varying gestures are used to convey the same meaning. In Spain and Latin American countries, for example, the hand flick under the chin is used to express anger or insult.

An example of a globally controversial gesture is two men to kissing or holding hands. In some parts of the world, for example America, such an act would be interpreted as homosexual. In some Asian and Islamic countries, however, it is a common gesture of greeting between two men. Solidarity between men in these countries especially in families requires them to hold hands or else they are distrustful.

Gestures are not limited to movements of the body, symbolic gestures also exist. For example, it could be a considerate "gesture" to send someone a "thank you" card for a present they have given you. Another example of a considerate gesture would be to send someone flowers when they are sick or grieving. Cards and flowers are often symbols that you care for and are thinking about the recipient.

Thumbs up is positive in most western countries. In Iran and Iraq it is considered highly offensive.

The 'thumbs up' gesture has different cultural meaning around the world. In most western countries the thumbs up are positive, a gesture to signify affirmation or a positive result. In Iran and Iraq, however, the gesture is considered very obscene and offensive. [12]

Suggested gesture articles


According to the dictionary, Haptics is expressed as “The branch of psychology that investigates cutaneous sense data”. In other words, the word Haptic, or Haptics is used to refer to the sense of touch and touching capabilities. Haptics can be broken down and organized into three different fields.

Haptic Communicationis the way that people communicate based solely through touching. This sense is important for humans because it provides information about objects that we touch and it is also a part of nonverbal communications. Touch can send a very strong (both positive and negative) message. Haptic Communication can be both platonic (tickling) and sexual (kissing). Haptic Communication is needed for any form of physical intimacy. Some examples might be hugging someone to show that you care, or punching someone to show that you’re angry. Young people and old people use more touching than those who are middle aged.

There are also many different types of touches. There are 7 types of touch that come from research conducted by Jones and Yarbrough (1985) and they are positive touches,playful touches, control touches, ritualistic touches, hybrid touches, task related touches, and accidental touches.

A young man and woman engaging in pre-sexual, haptic behavior.

Another form of Haptics is Haptic Technology, which is a technology that interfaces with the user through the sense of touch. An example of this might be all of the touch screen cell phones that have become very popular in the U.S. Another example could be the new touch screens used in the grocery stores with the self check out option.

And lastly, there is Haptic Perception, which is used when we recognize an object by touching it. It involves the combination of the senses in the skin, the position of the hand, and conformation. This is used in many everyday actions. An example of this would be using your hand to dig around in your bag looking for a particular object, like a cell phone or a pen. This haptic is particularly useful for the blind who may rely entirely upon touch in order to identify an object since they cannot see it.

An ethnographic representation of haptics in different cultures depends on what is socially acceptable. For example, in the United States it is usually a form of positive touching when you pat someone's head, but in the Thai culture it is rude to touch someone's head. It seems that in America there are only a few touches that are seen as rude or inappropriate, and they are either violent actions (pushing or hitting) or sexual touches to oneself or another. But of course sexual touches and violent actions can be appropriate in certain arenas. such as a boxing arena or a bed room.

Eye Gaze[edit]

Use of eye contact is a fascinating part of human communication

Eye contact is one of the most important forms of communication a human has when interacting with another individual non-verbally. Eyes are not only seen as the “window into the soul”, they are also able to give answers to critical questions an individual might have when interacting with another person. Whether in the work force, public speaking, during interviews, or participating in other social interactions, the length of eye contact, direction of gaze, number of blinks, and relative eyelid position are all used as nonverbal communication.Eye contact signals vary from culture to culture, and they even vary among certain religions. For example, in America, someone who is unable to maintain eye contact is seen as under-confident, shy, or submissive; however, in some Arab countries this person is also seen as disrespectful. Furthermore, some cultures, for example South Asia, might view this extended eye contact as challenging, rude, and aggressive. In English-speaking cultures, a certain amount of eye contact is required in daily social situations; however, too much eye contact can be uncomfortable or awkward. Common practice in American culture is to make eye contact in the beginning of the conversation and then let their gaze drift to the side periodically to avoid a "stare out," as a speaker. But as a listener, maintaining eye contact shows interest and that the listener is actually listening. [13] It can also be used to communicate with different people. For example, people sometimes use it to talk across the classroom with one another. Sometimes girls use it to talk about another girl and make their own eye language and eye gazing. Eye contact length and form can not only be hostile or show emotion, but it can also be used to show attraction or desire. When dancing, if a girl gives extended eye contact to a man on the side of the room, she is sending him a message to ask her to dance to the next song. If a couple sits across from one another at the dinner table and gaze for long time into each others' eyes, it is not considered uncomfortable, and is often meant as a message of love or infatuation. Eye contact can also give someone confidence. For example, looking down at their feet, means that person has a low self-esteem. But if someone is looking into another person's eyes, that means they are confident and have a higher self-esteem. Eye contact can also be used in a job setting, if someone goes into a job interview not giving eye contact, that person is less likely to get the job than someone who does give eye contact during the job interview.

Native American’s of the Pacific Northwest feared that having their pictures taken would steal their souls through their eyes. They were very wary of having their pictures taken and if they allowed it they would squeeze their eyes shut to keep in their soul. [14]

Australian Aboriginal Avoidance Practices are very common practices in some Aboriginal clans, where family members aren't permitted to make eye contact with certain family or clan members.

I have always been very interested in Japanese culture, their culture is vastly different than American culture. In America I have always been taught in speaking class that eye contact is a good thing, if fact its a grading requirement on how good you are able to make with the audience. My exchange student who was staying with me was practicing for a Com 101 speech that she had to give. Through out her speech I would have to remind her to look up from her note cards and to make good eye contact. She told me in Japan that this was not a common thing, it was typical for a Japanese student too look at their note cards or visual presentations and limit their eye contact with the audience. Also a common phrase that a teenage kid always hears from their parents is "look at me when I'm talking to you", In Japanese culture if a kid were to look their parents in they eye when they were being scolded would be reprimanded for being defiant. It was interesting to see how something such as eye contact can be interrupted differently among cultures.
This is also true in the Hawaiian Islands - people do not make eye contact with each other. My friend who is from Maui, told me that this is because to them, it's like someone is giving them a mean look - or looking down on them and could instigate a fight. I believe this came about due to the traditional Japanese ways of not keeping eye contact. There are many Japanese people in Hawaii and I believe that this practice of not making eye contact formed over time to what it is now in Hawaii.

Eye contact is one of the most important forms of nonverbal communication yet at the same time, it may also be the least understood. From a scientific view point "window into the soul" means very little. As profound a communication as it is I think the least is known about eye contact as a form of NVC.

[EDIT: who is writing this paragraph? Is this a quote from somebody aboriginal? Why no exclamation marks and source etc.?]


Paralanguage describes the non-verbal elements of communication that are used to alter the meaning or emotion conveyed in a verbal message. This non-verbal communication includes facial expressions, a tone of voice, hand gestures, eye contact, proxemics (special arrangement), and patterns of touch. Sometimes, however, the definition is restricted to vocally-produced sounds, and only includes pitch, volume, and intonation of speech. Such nonverbal communication is often communicated more powerfully than verbal messages. It has been suggested that as much as 70% of the messages we communicate are through paralanguage. Note the picture of the two men at the right. Without hearing the conversation, what could one assume about the men?

Two men argue at a political event in New York.

The meaning and interpretation of paralanguage are defined by one’s culture. Eye contact is one aspect of paralanguage that has very different meanings in different cultures. In Western cultures, eye contact is used as a greeting, and it is acceptable to look people of higher social standing or the opposite gender in the eye while speaking to them. However, in the Islamic faith, Muslims often lower their gaze and do not look at the opposite gender’s eyes after the initial greeting. This is because lustful glances to those of the opposite gender are prohibited. Eye contact between a man and woman is only allowed for a second or two. Some exceptions that allow prolonged eye contact are while teaching, testifying, or looking at a girl for marriage. This eye contact must remain “clean” or is considered “adultery of the eyes.” What is considered harmless flirting in some western cultures may be seen as a form of adultery in Islam.

In addition, in many cultures, it is respectful to not look a person of higher social standing or power in the eyes. However, this can be interpreted as being “shifty-eyed” in Western culture. Someone may be judged as dishonest, shy, or nervous rather than courteous. The following is an account of my own small-scale research involving eye contact and proxemics on Western Washington University's campus:

In experimenting with eye contact, I learned a lot about American culture and about how uncomfortable I was with holding eye contact with others – even those who I knew very well. I first experimented with gazing. I selected strangers in the dining hall to gaze at from twenty or so yards away. When they noticed me staring at them, most subjects began to squirm and alert the people around them that “that weird girl over there keeps staring at me.” They would quickly look away and back again, and eventually avoid eye contact altogether. Most people turned their shoulder to me and ducked their head in a defensive sort of movement. When I gazed at people I knew well from across a room, they often made goofy faces at me or appeared confused. My female friends subtly checked their clothes and hair and then looked back at me with confused expressions. They held eye contact with me, but like the strangers in the dining hall, appeared uncomfortable and defensive. I concluded that holding eye contact (a behavior against the social norm in American culture) makes the gazer more powerful, as it puts those being gazed at on guard and makes them uncomfortable and defensive. Holding eye contact also exudes self-confidence.
While experimenting with paralanguage, I spoke louder, softer, faster, slower, and played with pauses in my speech. When I spoke loudly, people either backed away or raised their voice to match my own. More males than females raised their voices as if it were a contest. When I used a softer voice, both males and females moved closer. Most females I spoke with also softened their voices, while only males I was good friends with and who were comfortable around me lowered theirs. Volume was used to gain control or power in conversations. When I spoke quickly, conversations were often cut short, and other people tried to match my pace. Quick speech made others feel as if I were irritated or eager to end the conversation. Slower speech usually resulted in longer, more laid back conversations. Both people were at ease as opposed to on-edge when I spoke quickly. When I paused while I was speaking, others became irritated and eager to move on in the conversation. Often, people would jump in and interrupt my statement or question. When I paused after a sentence, people felt obligated to speak to fill the silence. In America’s fast-paced culture, we feel pressured to fill gaps in conversation rather than waste the time. I experimented with pauses in places where I would normally have responded to a statement or question. I noticed that people immediately became uncomfortable, and a few quickly justified or reworded their statements. They appeared to feel uncomfortable or unsure of what they had just said. Had I not paused and simply continued with the conversation, they would have retained that confidence, and would not have felt the need to justify themselves. After experimenting with paralanguage, I determined that pausing after a person’s statement or question and speaking quickly put people on edge, but it was difficult to determine if either of these gave me more power in a conversation. On occasion, people would become irritated with me, and the conversation would end.

Sign Languages[edit]

Sign Language is a formal language using a system of hand gestures and movements, typically replacing vocalization. Sign language is the dominant language for the deaf community. Like any other language, it has its own unique structure and linguistic components. Also similar to how most languages are learned, sign language is learned through visualization, practice, and patience. However, understanding that 90% of the deaf community have hearing parents, sign language is mostly learned in schools because for those 90%, sign language is not their mother tongue[12]. There are many types of Sign Language around the world, each of which are uniquely different to one another, but the three most recognized ones are:

American Sign Language[edit]

Hands Signing "A.S.L."

American Sign Language is an intricate language that uses signs made with the hands and other movements such as facial expressions and postures of the body. It is the first language of many deaf North Americans and one of several communication options available to deaf people. Sign language is the fourth most commonly used language in the United States.[13]

ASL originated when Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, an apprentice lawyer, encountered a deaf child in 1814, Alice Cogswell. Gallaudet became intrigued by Alice, and began teaching her to spell words in the dirt with a stick. Alice's father pleaded for Gallaudet to go to the Braidwood family's school to learn methods for teaching the deaf. Cogswell and Gallaudet raised money to send Gallaudet to London, but when he arrived, he found the Braidwood's would only share their methods under unrealistic and unfair conditions. Before returning to the United States, Gaullaudet saw a demonstration of French Sign Language by two prominent, deaf men; Laurent Clerc and Abbe Siccard. Sicard was the head of the Institut Royal des Sourds-Muels a Paris and invited Gallaudet to begin studying French Sign Language. When it was time for Gallaudet to return to the United States, he convinced Clerc to come with him. Clerc and Gallaudet founded the American School for the Deaf, the first of its kind in the U.S., and in 1817 seven students, Alice Cogswell included, became the first class to graduate.

ASL was not recognized as a legitimate language until the 1960s. Prior to this, it was considered a broken, limited form of the English language. Much of the structure in ASL is based on French Sign Language. [14] Today, it is very common for American Sign Language to be taught as a second language in American schools. ASL is not offered as a course in some schools like French or Spanish, but it is rapidly becoming a popular class in American elementary, middle and high schools. [15]

ASL is usually the first language for deaf people. This is primarily because deaf parents choose it for their children when they are born. Hearing parents usually choose for their deaf children to have cochlear implants so that they may "fit in" better with society. The difference comes in culture. A deaf parent would never consider it to be a disorder to have a deaf child, it would be a blessing. They love who they are and prefer it that way. A hearing parent would see it as wanting their child to be like the majority of the world and would not want them to have special accommodation. [16]

Children that are hearing can be taught Sign language before they are taught a verbal language because it helps communication between the child and the parent. It also increases their vocabulary.

Sign Language is the quickest way for children to learn how to communicate. Picking up on motions and symbols is a much easier thing for children to do than to make sounds. By learning sign language first, children have an easier time learning verbally speak. Being able to show a child a sign then how to pronounce it is much more effective than using cards or photos because the word is already in the child’s mind. [17]

A strong part of the ASL community is deaf culture. [18] Deaf culture is made up of a group of people who do not believe that their deafness is a form of disability. They believe that they are blessed to not have to hear the noise of the world. There are large communities of deaf people all over the nation. There is a lot of pride that goes along with the deaf community. This is why cochlear implants are such a controversial issue in deaf culture. Cochlear implants are electronic devices that are surgically implanted into a deaf person's ear, most often when the person is rather young. Many deaf people feel that using an outside device to hear is betraying their community. They resent a hearing person, often the parents of a deaf child, imposing their biased ideas about what is essential for a quality life. They feel cochlear implants exclude people from the deaf culture, while never letting them fully become involved in hearing culture. [15] [16]

French Sign Language[edit]

Letter F in "LSF"

The Abbe de l'Épée is considered the Father of French Sign Language (FSL) (also known as Langue des Signes Francaise (LSF)). He is said to have developed the language by accident. One night, it is said, the Abbe was trying to get out of the rain so he found coverage in a house where two deaf sisters lived. He was amazed at the language the two sisters developed to communicate with each other and their Parisian community. The language the sisters developed was very rich and complex. The Abbe devoted all of his time into learning the language. The Abbe eventually developed a free school for the deaf in 1755. This school was able to teach the students to not only communicate but also to read and write, to do this the Abbe developed a system he called “methodical signs.” The methodical signs he created were a mixture of sign language words he had learned with some grammatical terms he invented.

Later in England in 1771 he was giving demonstrations on how to teach the deaf by using sign language. The Abbe was able to make public demonstrations of his “methodical signs” which attracted all kinds of educators and celebrities, which brought attraction to the idea that the deaf could be educated. Before this time, it was thought that the deaf didn’t produce thoughts and ideas. Then, finally, with this new breakthrough, their voices (in a way) could be heard. The deaf community began showing society that they too had deep thoughts and ideas. Also, with this new means of communication with the deaf, society began teaching them about religion, social rules, and roles, and so forth. This was the beginning of the many strides forward that have taken place in the deaf community.

Technically, the Abbe did not invent the FSL. His major contributions were helping people understand that the deaf people did not need a spoken language to think and he indirectly accelerated the growth of the language by getting so many deaf students to come together. After the French Sign Language had been used for almost a century, Thomas Gallaudet brought FSL to the United States where it was modified to incorporate English terms, while maintaining French sentence structure, to form what now is American Sign Language (ASL).

FSL flourished until the late late 1800s, after which two schools of thought, the manualist and oralist had a disagreement of the languages uses. In 1880 the Milan International Congress of Teachers for the Deaf-Mute convened and decided that the oralist tradition would be preferred. Eventually, sign language was seen as a barrier to learning to talk so the language was banned from classroom. It was not until 1970s when the deaf community began to demand greater recognition of sign language as well as a bilingual educational system this system did not change. In 1991 the National Assembly passed the Fabius law, officially authorizing the use of LSF for the education of deaf children. A law was passed in 2004 fully recognizing LSF as a language in its own right.

Although French Sign Language is mostly used by the deaf community, many others take use in the language as well. This might include friends, family, teachers, interpreters, or maybe even just people that find the language fascinating. It is estimated that there are between 50,000-100,000 people in France who use French Sign Language. Like American Sign Language, French Sign Language has a manual alphabet, some of which are shared between the two sign languages. Below are links to the complete French and American manual alphabet, to give you a visual perspective of their similarities and differences. For more history on the use of sign try exploring Fingerspelling.

British Sign Language[edit]

Though English is spoken in both Britain and America, British Sign Language (BSL) is entirely different from American Sign Language. For example, ASL uses one hand for finger spelling, while BSL uses two hands.

As in many European countries, the use of sign language by deaf persons was often discouraged, especially in educational institutions, up until approximately 1990. It was believed the use of sign would decrease a child’s probability of attaining proficiency at speaking and understanding, through lip reading, spoken language. However, by the 1970s to 1980s, sign language slowly began to be recognized as a complete visual language in Britain. BSL is now used as a means of primary and/or secondary communication by around 70,000 people, largely in the United Kingdom. [17]

Features of Language[edit]

Human language is distinct and unique because there are specific features that distinguish human language from any other form of communication. It is unique from such forms of animal communication because it has linguistic rules that are followed in order to speak, it uses meaningful symbols, and we are continuously creating new ideas. [19] There are some aspects of human language that are features of true language, meaning humans are the only ones with this ability, and is one of the key properties separating human language from animal language. For example, displacement and productivity are part of "true language", but although they are abilities found only in humans, not all languages have them. [20] The most recognized features of human language are as follows:

1. Duality of patterning: associates sounds with meaning. For Example: CAT/TACK/ACT the same phonemes are expressed but organized in a different order to convey different information.
2. Productivity: Symbols and rules can be combined for infinite messages. Productivity is also the ability of the native speakers to use certain grammatical processes, mainly in the formation of words
3. Interchangeability: Speakers are able to send and receive messages.
4. Arbitrariness: No association with words, and its meaning except for the sounds. For Example: The words WHALE and MICROORGANISM do not convey any relation to the size or physicality of the word and the physicality of the subject.
5. Displacement in time, space, role: Being able to talk about the non-current. This allows people to communicate about the past, future, and distant places.
6. Specialization: Language only serves the purpose of communication.
7. Cultural transmission: Specifics must be learned by each person.

The Structure of Language[edit]

By definition, communication is behavior that affects the behavior of others by the transmission of information. Language is a series of codes made up of words and rules that allow humans to communicate. The structure of human language is complex and intricate and each language spoken in the world has different phonological systems, which is, by definition, the sounds that are used and how they are related to one another. The basic rules of language are covered here, including phonology, morphology, semantics (the study of meaning), syntax (how sentences are formed), and how speech sounds are divided.


Places of articulation along the vocal tract 1 Exo-labial 2 Endo-labial 3 Dental 4 Alveolar 5 Post-alveolar 6 Pre-palatal 7 Palatal 8 Velar 9 Uvular 10 Pharyngeal 11 Glottal 12 Epiglottal 13 Radical 14 Postero-dorsal 15 Antero-dorsal 16 Laminal(tongue blade) 17 Apical (apex or tongue tip) 18 Sub-laminal (underside of tongue)

Phonology is the use of sounds to encode messages within a spoken human language. It is said that babies are born with the capacity to speak any language. It isn't that they understand all languages, but they can make sounds and hear differences in sounds that adults would not understand. This is what parents hear as baby talk. The infant is trying out all of the different sounds they can produce. As the infant begins to learn the language from their parents, they begin to narrow the range of sounds they produce to one's common to the language they are learning, and by the age of 5, they no longer have the vocal range they had previously. For example, a common sound that is used in Indian language is /dh. To any native Indian there is a huge difference between /dh and /d, but for people like me who cannot speak Hindi, not only can we not hear the difference, but it is very difficult to even attempt to produce this sound. Another large variation between languages for phonology is where in your mouth you speak from. In English, we speak mostly from the front or middle of our mouths, but it is very common in African to speak from the glottal, which is the deepest part of one's throat. These sounds come out as deep growls, though they have great significance in African culture. As someone who grew up in a bilingual house, I understand that phonetics are complex. In the language that I learned, I had to use different sounds and use my tongue in different ways to make various sounds prominent. After reading how phonology is a critical piece of human language, I now understand why I say different words with separate emphasis. A Phonology is the study of speech sounds, including phonetics and phonemics. It is also an overall description of the sounds of a given language. [21]


The literal Latin translation of morphology is "form study of". However, in English we would say the study of form. The English definition of morphology is the study of the structure of words together, or formed together. Morphology is, more simply put, the study of morphemes, which are the smallest utterances with meaning. The term "utterance" is used rather than "word" because not all morphemes are words. Many languages use affixes, which carry specific grammatical meanings and are therefore morphemes, but are not words. For example, English-speakers do not think of the suffix “-ing” as a word, but it is in fact a morpheme. The creation of morphemes rather than words allowed anthropologists to more easily translate languages.

A junior Moran with head-dress and markings. It would be difficult to translate this tribes language without the use of Morphemes.

Morphology is very helpful in translating different languages, such as the language Bangla. For example, some words do not have a literal translation from Bangla to English because a word in Bangla may mean more than one word in English. Two professors from Bangladesh discovered an algorithm that could translate Bangla words, as they are generally very complex. They first search for the whole word. If this does not come up with results, they then search the first morpheme they find, in one example it was "Ma" of "Manushtir". "Ma" was a correct morpheme, however "ushtir" was not. The researchers then attempted "Man", however "ushtir" was not a correct morpheme. They next tried "Manush" and "tir", discovering that this was correct combination of morphemes.


The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax[edit]

Many people have heard the urban legend that the Inuit, or Eskimos, have an unusual number of words for snow. What many of those people don't know is that the urban legend is just that: a legend. The story started in 1911 when Frank Boas said that the Eskimos had four different root words for snow. Benjamin Whorf later embellished that to seven and mentioned the possibility of more. From then on, the number got larger and larger with every retelling. Geoffrey Pullum later wrote an essay about how the story got so out of hand, calling it "The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax."

The truth is, the Inuit language has at most about a dozen root words for snow. This isn't far off from English, which has "snow," "slush," "blizzard," "powder," "dust," and many other words for different types of snow. Inuit, however, is a polysynthetic language, meaning it tacks on morphemes in the form of suffixes to a root word to make large compound words, which would translate to the equivalent of phrases in English. These compounds can make it seem like there are hundreds of words for snow, when there are really only a few root words and a bunch of suffixes that can be added on to make any number of compounds.



A semantics flowchart

Semantics is the study of meaning. Some anthropologists have seen language, and hence linguistics, as basic to a science of man because it provides a link between the biological and sociocultural levels. Modern linguistics is diffusing widely in anthropology itself among younger scholars, producing work of competence that ranges from historical and descriptive studies to problems of semantic and social variation. In the 1960's, Chomsky prompted a formal analysis of semantics and argued that grammars needed to represent all of a speaker's linguistic knowledge, including the meaning of words. Most semanticists focused attention on how words are linked to each other within a language through five different relations

1. synonymy - same meaning (ex: old and aged) 2. homophony - same sound, different meaning (ex: would and wood) 3. antonymy - opposite meaning (ex: tall and short) 4. denotation - what words refer to in the "real" world (ex: having the word pig refer to the actual animal, instead of pig meaning dirty, smelly, messy or sloppy) 5. connotation - additional meanings that derive from the typical contexts in which they are used in everyday speech. (ex: calling a person a pig, not meaning the animal but meaning that they are dirty, smelly, messy or sloppy)

Formal semanticists only focused on the first four, but we have now discovered that our ability to use the same words in different ways (and different words in the same way) goes beyond the limits of formal semantics. Included in the study of semantics are metaphors which are a form of figurative or nonliteral language that links together expressions from unrelated semantic domains. A semantic domain is a set of linguistic expressions with interrelated meanings for example the words pig and chicken are in the same semantic domain. But when you use a metaphor to call a police officer a pig, you are combining two semantic domains to create meaning that the police officer is fat, greedy, dirty, etc. [8]



Syntax Bracket

      1. The study of the arrangement and order of words, for example if the Subject or the Object comes first in a sentence.

Syntax is the study of rules and principles for constructing sentences in natural languages. It also studies the patterns of forming sentences and phrases as well. It comes from ancient Greek (“syn”- means together and “taxis” means arrangement.) Outside of linguistics, syntax is also used to refer to the rules of mathematical systems, such as logic, artificial formal languages, and computer programming language. There are many theoretical approaches to the study of syntax. Noam Chomsky, a linguist, sees syntax as a branch of biology, since they view syntax as the study of linguistic knowledge as the human mind sees it. Other linguists take a Platonistic view, in that they regard syntax to be the study of an abstract formal system.

Major Approaches to Syntax[edit]

Generative Grammar Noam Chomsky pioneered the generative approach to syntax. The hypothesis is that syntax is a structure of the human mind. The goal is to make a complete model of this inner language, and the model could be used to describe all human language and to predict if any utterance would sound correct to a native speaker of the language. It focuses mostly on the form of the sentence rather than the communicative function of it. The majority of generative theories assume that syntax is based on the constituent structure of sentences.

Categorial Grammar Categorial grammar is an approach that attributes the syntactic structure to the properties of the syntactic categories, rather than to the rules of grammar.

Dependency Grammar Structure is determined by the relations between a word and its dependents rather than being based on constituent structure.

Example: In many cases, it can be difficult for individuals to learn English as a second language because if the syntax is altered, it can change the meaning of a sentence. For example, "The man carries the lady" ----> "The lady carries the man." The order of the nouns is switched and gives the sentence a completely different meaning.

Computational Analysis of Syntax of ancient Indus symbols[edit]

One recent case of computational analysis of the syntax of an unknown language comes form the work of Rajesh P. N. Rao (2009[25]) at the Dept. of Computer Science & Engineering, University of Washington. His team's computational analysis decoding patterns in the ancient Indus script has shown that it is in fact patterned like spoken language. Like spoken language, the Indus symbols follow a degree of ordering that is intermediate between highly patterned systems such a computer programming languages and highly variable systems such as the DNA code. Further analysis of the pattern of symbols with unknown meaning has linked it to the ancient Sumerian language of Mesopotamia and Old Tamil from India.

Speech Sounds[edit]

Human Speech sounds are traditionally divided between vowels and consonants, but scientific distinctions are much more precise. An important distinction between sounds in many languages is the vibration of the glottis, which is called voicing. It distinguishes such sounds as /s/ (voiceless;no vibrating) and /z/ (voiced;vibrating). The chart below mentions pulmonic consonants, which are produced by releasing air from the lungs and somehow obstructing it on its way out the mouth. The non-pulmonic Consonants are clicks, implosives (similar to the 'glug-glug' sound sometimes made to imitate a liquid being poured or being drunk), and explosives. Co-articulation refers to sounds that are produced in two areas at once (like /W/).

A chart of the full International Phonetic Alphabet.


A phoneme is the smallest phonetic unit in a language that is capable of conveying a distinction in meaning.[19] For example, in English we can tell that pail and tail are different words, so /p/ and /t/ are phonemes (two words differing in only one sound are called a minimal pair). The International Phonetic Association created the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), a collection of standardized representations of the sounds of spoken language. [20]

When a native speaker does not recognize different sounds as being distinct they are called allophones. For example, in the English language we consider the p in pin and the p in spin to have the same phoneme, which makes them allophones. In Chinese, however, these two similar phones are treated separately and both have a separate symbol in their alphabet. The minimum bits of meaning that native speakers recognize are known as phonemes. It is any small set of units, usually about 20 to 60 in number, and different for each language, considered to be the basic distinctive units of speech sound by which morphemes, words, and sentences are represented. [26]


Morpheme flowchart

Morphemes are the smallest linguistic unit that has semantic meaning. In spoken language, morphemes are composed of phonemes(the smallest unit of spoken language), but in written language morphemes are composed of graphemes(the smallest unit of written language). For example, the word "bookkeeper" has three morphemes: "book", "keep", and "-er".

Think about how you would transcribe, "I'd like a cupcake please" in IPA

Language and Thought[edit]

1. Noam Chomsky and Universal Grammar[edit]

Noam Chomsky is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, political activist, author, and lecturer.

Noam Chomsky is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, political activist, author, and lecturer. In the 1950s, Noam Chomsky revolutionized the study of syntax with his concept of transformational-generative grammar. This idea states that before we speak we have formulated an idea of what we are going to say. Universal grammar, a basic prewiring of the brain that presupposes all people to encode experiences linguistically in a specific way, converts those ideas into phrase structure rules. The universal phrase structure rules lead to the deep structure. To be understandable to others, the deep structure must be encoded into the specific grammar of the language that one speaks. Once the experience is encoded in the deep structure, it is transformed by moving, deleting, substituting, or inserting various elements until a grammatical utterance is formed (surface structure). The same deep structure will therefore have different surface structures in different languages, or even within the same language, depending on the style of the speaker or the circumstance under which the utterance is spoken. [27]

Universal Grammar is linguistic theory proposing universal principles of grammar used by all languages. This theory is said to be inherent in humans and has been studied in relation to child development for some time. This study is known as Language acquisition which involves the processes through which a person acquires language. Universal Grammar incorporates conceptual generalizations called linguistic universals which follow a variety of traits. Such traits can include: word orders of different languages, phonenes found in languages and also questions as to why children display certain linguistic behaviors. Acclaimed intellectual Noam Chomsky has held a very substantial influence in the study of Universal Grammar by posing many questions and theoretical answers to the significant amount of uncertainty on the topic. Chomsky has persuasively claimed for the existence of a Universal grammar that all languages are born out from. Chomsky then goes on to describe the cause of these universal ideals of language which are:

Some of the areas of the brain involved in language processing: Broca's area(Blue), Wernicke's area(Green), Supramarginal gyrus(Yellow), Angular gyrus(Orange) ,Primary Auditory Cortex(Pink)

1. That universal grammar is in some way concealed in the physical workings of the human brain, and

2. That universal grammar is the end-product of a progression of evolutionary accidents or DNA mutations taken place over millions of years.

Neither of these theories have much evidence to prove them as fact, but in Chomsky's opinion, they are the best explanation yet. According to the Poverty of the stimulus argument, there are countless facets of linguistic proficiency of adult speakers that could not have been acquired solely from the linguistic material accessible to a child during the period of language acquisition. Therefore, these features are not learned traits and must be considered innate properties of the human brain.

2. Sapir-Whorf hypothesis[edit]

The argument that language defines the way a person behaves and thinks has existed since the early 1900's when Edward Sapir first identified the concept. He believed that language and the thoughts that we have are somehow interwoven, and that all people are equally being affected by the confines of their language. An example of this idea is given in George Orwell's book 1984, in which he discusses the use of a language entitled "Newspeak" which was created to change the way people thought about the government. The new vocabulary they were given was created to control their minds. Since they could not think of things not included in the vocabulary, they were to be zombies imprisoned by the trance of their language.

Later Benjamin Lee Whorf, Sapir’s student picked up on the idea of linguistic determinism. Whorf coined the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis also referred to as the Whorf hypothesis, which states that language is not simply a way of voicing ideas, but is the very thing which shapes those ideas. One cannot think outside the confines of their language. The result of this process is many different world views by speakers of different languages which led him to the idea of linguistic relativity.

An example of this is the studies Whorf did on the Hopi language. He concluded that Hopi speakers do not include tense in their sentences, and therefore must have a different sense of time than other groups of people. The way a culture's perception of time affects the ways in which they communicate is known as chronemics. One consequence of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is the belief that time is somehow subjective, and perceptions of it can therefore be dramatically different across cultures. However, in recent years, the Hopi have been studied in order to further understand this issue, and it has been discovered that although the Hopi do not include references to the past, present or future in their grammars, they do include two other tenses, manifested and becoming manifested. Manifested includes all that is and ever has been, physically. This includes the senses and concrete items. Becoming manifested includes anything which is not physical, has no definite origin and cannot be perceived by the senses. Verbs are always expressed in terms of these two tenses. In this way, the Hopi do include some aspect of time, but in a different way than a native English speaker would recognize.

Another claim embodied in this hypothesis is that the structure and lexicon of one's language influences how one perceives and conceptualizes the world. Thus the lexicon of a specific language mirrors whatever the nonverbal culture emphasizes. For example, aspects of the society which are not associated directly with language seem to have a direct impact on the formation of language. A society where horses are revered will have many words for horses and horse things- not because horses talk, but because people talk about their horses. Important parts of a society are certainly highlighted in the vocabulary of a language. For example, the Eskimos have many words for snow, the Americans for cars and the Norwegians for fish.

Focal Vocabulary

  • Lexicon: Meaning
  • Semantics: In linguistics, semantics is the study of meaning. A better explanation would be that semantics is the study of explanation of signs as used by a person or communities within particular situations and contexts.
  • Somantic domain: a set of linguistic expressions with interrelated meanings (e.g., a metaphor; referring to police officers as pigs)

The study of semantics has been a topic highly avoided in the past due to the difficult to explain what is meant by the meaning of a word. Before the formal study of semantics defining the meaning of a word meant taking the literal meaning of the word in a sentence without taking into consideration things like metaphor, which will be discussed later. This means that for each sentence or phrase the meaning is the truth and it is taken to be how the world is. After much debate about the definition of semantics Noam Chomsky carried out a formal analysis to better explain this topic. He concluded that in order to understand the true meaning of a phrase or word grammars needed to represent all of the knowledge and background that the speaker had with that particular language.

With this new formal study of semantics it was discovered that many words or phrases that have one meaning in one culture may have a completely different meaning in another. Synonyms, different words with the same meaning, homophones, same sound with different meaning and metaphor, a form of figurative or non-literal language linking two expressions from different domains are all examples of these cultural differences. For an example of metaphor, in the U.S. pop culture the term “ill” is often referred to something that people really like where in other cultures if this term were used it may be taken to literally mean that the object of place being referred to had a sickness.

The formal study of semantics has helped to give a more clear understanding of different words and what they may mean in different languages and cultures. Although these studies have helped a lot there are still words which may have open-ended meanings, such as honesty or trust, which cannot be linked with a concrete object and thus are difficult to assign one meaning to.

3. Cognitive Therapy[edit]

A type of psychotherapy founded by Aaron T. Beck that our emotions and behaviors are caused by our internal dialogue. This therapy involves making a change in ourself by learning to challenge and prove false our own thoughts, especially in regards to specific mistaken thought patterns called cognitive distortions. This is done by identifying and changing dysfunctional thinking, behavior, and emotional responses with the help of a therapist who helps the client develop skills for modifying beliefs, identifying distorted thinking, relating to others in different ways, and changing behaviors.


Language Change[edit]

Languages develop and change throughout time. Language branches and grows as groups of people travel, split, trade, learn and develop.[29] They are constantly being altered to fit the needs of individual societies. Once a language is established it continues to change as time progresses through adaptation and sharing. Many languages are a combination of older languages, and often represent a mixing of cultures. Spanish and English are bother Germanic based languages, yet have their own grammar rules and gendered words. In the United States these two languages come in close contact and often mix, many households today using what is commonly referred to as “Spanglish”. As cultures choose to adapt to new terms or not, creates more splices, or branches, in the metaphorical language tree. Today, language change in a language is not a slow process; words develop new meaning, take on new symbolism and convey new different ideas every day. Media and technology have an enormous influence on how a language changes. Once and new term is created or obtains a new meaning, it can be repeated and spread across the world in seconds or minutes. This instantaneous sharing has created a rapid change and these words and meaning can come go as quickly as they are created. These terms often represent eras or generations.

How New Words Are Coined[edit]

New words are coined through nine different methods: compounding, acronym formation, borrowing, clipping, blending, derivation, back-formation, eponym, and trade names.
Compounding is a common way to label a new thing or activity. Examples of this will be, cross-trainer (a sports shoe used for a wide range of athletic activities), mallrat (a young person who hangs out at shopping malls).
Acronyms are words formed from the first letter of a series of words and create one word that is pronounced. For example NASA is pronounced how it sounds and stands for National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Borrowing is a method through trade, travel, and conflict, words from one language enter other languages. They typically are spelled the same in both languages or undergo small changes. Examples are: The French word chauffeur is spelled the same in English, and the Spanish word estampida was changed slightly to become stampede. This borrowing is due to two words being cognates, a word that sounds similar to another word. Cognates can exist inside of languages ex: whole and hole, and through different languages.
Clipping is snipping a section of a word to form a shortened form. For example, we recognize that gas is clipped from gasoline, phone is clipped from telephone, and gym is clipped from gymnasium.
Blending is the process of taking two or more words, clipping parts off one or more of the words, and then combining them. Blends are often used for results of technology, such as the words nylon and betatron. Nylon is a hybrid of vinyl and rayon, and betatron is from beta ray and electron.
Derivation is a word that has been coined by adding a derivational affix. The word plane serves as the root for deplane. Other examples of derivational affixes are pre-, anti-, -able, etc.
Back-formation is used to coin a new word through the process of analogy by removing an affix or what appears to be an affix from that word. For example, the word donate comes from the word donation.
Eponym is a person, whether real or fictitious, after whom a particular place, tribe, era, discovery, or other item is named or thought to be named.
Trade name sometimes become so widely used that they become the generally used term. For example, a Ford is car named after Henry Ford.

Slang Vocabulary[edit]

The coining of new words varies among social groups. Some new words break out from the original group and reach out to other groups due to the word's functional use for multiple social groups. In most cases, new words that form only have significance to a specific social group. In this case we would call the coined word or phrase "slang". The American Heritage Dictionary defines slang as: A kind of language occurring chiefly in casual and playful speech, made up typically of short-lived coinages and figures of speech that are deliberately used in place of standard terms for added raciness, humor, irreverence, or other effect.[30] Slang terms are usually less permanent than a term we would call a "new word". Slang terms are used to replace outdated or dull sounding words in a vocabulary to make it sound more modern or cool.

Contact Language[edit]

When communities with their own distinct native language come into contact with each other, variations of those languages combine to create a single new language. Contact languages may be divided into two categories: pidgin and creole[31] The study of language contact is called contact linguistics.The distinctive line between a pidgin language and creole is the first generation of a language versus the second more developed generation.[32]


A pidgin is distinguished as a contact language with no native speakers. When two cultures with their own languages must communicate for the first time, a reduction or simplification of the languages occur along with changes in meanings. The structure of the language fluctuates and does not necessarily remain constant. Pidgin language may only be carried throughout one generation, but may also be used through multiple generation - an example of this being Tok Pisin, the pidgin language of Papua New Guinea. One of the main uses of pidgins is for the purpose of communication between two linguistically distinct groups of people, often for use in a shared activity such as trading. Throughout time, the pidgin may die out or become established for use by further generations to create a creole language. [33] Africans who were enslaved and brought to the Americas were deliberately kept isolated from others who spoke the same African language, to prevent them from organizing a rebellion. In order to communicate with each other, they developed a pidgin language with the overseer's language as the superstrate. Over the years, they developed a language community of their own, with the pidgin language as the means of communication among themselves and with their offspring born into slavery.[34]

Tok Pisin[edit]

Tok Pisin is a pidgin language used within the area of Papua New Guinea, an area of staggering language diversity with over 900 different languages spoken within that region. The origins of Tok Pisin began when Europeans came into contact with the inhabitants of Papua New Guinea in the 1800s due to the spread of whaling into the area. The basis of the pidgin was the over-simplified English used by the whalers in their attempts to communicate with the natives. The start of (sometimes forcibly) recruiting of island natives for use as laborers in Queensland in 1863 contributed to the further development of Tok Pisin as the only common language that the laborers could use to communicate with one another was the simplified English they had picked up from the European whalers. When the laborers returned home after their plantation contracts expired, they spread the developing pidgin back to Papua New Guinea where it spread across the island rapidly as a useful form of communication between the linguistically diverse tribes. Today, Tok Pisin acts as the lingua franca of Papua New Guinea and is known by almost three-quarters of the country’s four million inhabitants and is the language used for debate within the Parliament of the country.[35]

An Example of Tok Pisin Vocabulary and Grammar:

Link to Language Varieties: Tok Pisin

Hawaiian Pidgin English[edit]

An example of a pidgin is the Hawaiian pidgin language that was developed when immigrants from other nations began settling in the islands to work on sugar plantations. A single form of communication was needed throughout the different cultures, therefore a type of English slang was used to accommodate different understandings. The different cultures included Portuguese, Japanese, Filipino, and Chinese.[36] Most of the vocabulary of Hawaiian Pidgin is derived from English, the language of the dominant group. Hawaiian Pidgin syntax is similar to the subordinate Native Hawaiian language, as well as other subordinate immigrant languages. The structure of the Hawaiian pidgin English language varies from person to person seeing as the language is based on a few key vocabulary words.[37]

Growing up in Hawaii, I was surrounded by many Hawaiian Pidgin speakers. The language continues to evolve four generations after the first immigrants arrived in Hawaii, and today each individual has their own way of speaking the language. Some people, myself included, use only a few Pidgin words mixed in with standard English, while others speak a form of Pidgin that is almost unintelligible to visitors. Hawaiian Pidgin is only one aspect of the "Local" island culture which reflects the mixed heritage of island residents today. Many foods and customs seen in Hawaii today were also brought with the immigrants. Local people are proud of their 'melting pot' heritage.

In recent years, Hawaiian Pidgin has become more accepted in academic and institutional settings. Historically, Hawaiian Pidgin speakers were viewed as less intelligent and 'lower class' by those who spoke standard English. Today there are entire dictionaries, not to mention a plethora of novels and plays, being published in Hawaiian Pidgin.

Several words in the Hawaiian Pidgin vocabulary resemble their English translations:

  • Any kine (pronounced: any kyne). Translates into the English: "anything". Ex: "No listen to dat tita, she say any kine, brah."[38] The resemblance to the English translation may be seen with the pronunciation of the word kine sounding like the English kind. Usually this word is used with a descriptive noun afterwards, stating what the 'kine' is in reference to. Ex: "Eh, sistah, you got any kine flowers smell ono (delicious) like dat?" This makes it a little more subject specific than the english 'anything.'
  • Kay den translates into the English: "alright". Ex: "Kay den, I no show you mine."[39] Kay being a shortened version of the Enlgish okay and den being a slang term for the English word then.
  • One translates into the English: "a". Ex: Eh, can get one ride foa da beach, brah?[40] For this pidgin term, an actual English word is used with its corresponding meaning, the word however is one less used in the English language for the intended interpretation (saying one in place of a).

Some words of Hawaiian Pidgin however do not correlate with English vocabulary:

  • Akamai (pronounced: ah-kah-mai). Translates into the English: "smart, intelligent". Ex: "Dat Jimmy Boy plenny akamai. He wen mek one computah."[41] Akamai is an actual Hawaiian word therefore does not resembled the English translations.
  • Pau (pronounced: pow). Translates into the English: "finished, done".[42] Ex: "Eh, you all pow so we can go?" There is no actual translation into english of the word 'pau,' as it is a real Hawaiian word. Growing up in Hawaii and moving to the states, this was the last word my family and I abandoned in daily speech, though we still use it around each other. Many islanders and former islanders will frequently interchange the word pau with finished, done, and through. Usually used in reference to eating.

Pidgin Sign English[edit]

An example of a pidgin language is Pidgin Sign English or Contact Sign. PSE is the combination of American Sign Language and English. It is usually ASL signs in English word order. This language differs from person to person. People who learn or use sign language later in life most often use a form of Pidgin Sign Language. People who use Pidgin Sign English usually consider English to be their first language. [[21]]


Once a pidgin language is passed on to another generation and taught as a first language, it becomes a native language, also known as a creole. Creole languages are more refined and complex versions of the original pidgin language. The vocabulary of the language is expanded and the grammar rules become more stable, enabling speakers to communicate more fully. [43] The creation of a creole language occurs when stable communication is necessary for a group.[44]

A great example of a creole speaking culture or group would be Belize. The native Belizeans speak a creole that is called Kriol. It is a mix of English, African based Garifuna, Moskito Indian, and a little bit of Spanish and Maya. Many linguists have recognized Kriol as a full-fledged creole, because it has met all of the rules that set it apart from a pidgin and other contact languages. [45]

Creoles are grammatically rule-governed, and both the syntax and lexicon develop rapidly during Creolization. For example, as Tok Pisin creolizes, it has developed the morphological marker ol before a noun to indicate plurality; in the pidgin, one can determine plurality only by context or the presence of a numeral or qualifier before the noun.[46]

Creoles are also known as a specific group or culture with mixed French, African, Spanish, and Native American descent. Many of them live in Louisiana or are tied by family to Louisiana. This culture began as an offspring of the Old World and the New when this country was still being colonized. Creoles are not one thing or the other, and have lived their lives misunderstood, misrepresented, and misinterpreted. In the past, under White government, Creoles were not allowed to be an equal part of society. Blacks, free and slaves, did not feel Creoles were part of their world either. Because of this rejection, Creoles had a strong bond with one another and had to create their own world and culture. They were self-sufficient and relied on each other. Creoles were landowners, artists, teachers, and business people. [47]


The Oral Tradition[edit]

Oral Tradition is the transmission of cultural information and material through vocalization. It is one of the oldest forms of communication of cultural values, histories, and symbolism due to its independence from written language. While stories and songs are the most pervasive examples of the oral tradition, it also encompasses speeches, jokes, and uttered rituals—things that are catalytic to the transmission of learned cultural components such as religion and ceremony. This also includes other things that are important to cultures, such as symbolism and an emic understanding of the creation of the world. This makes it important to impoverished cultures that do not have the knowledge nor the means to write down their traditions. To these cultures, the only way to keep their ways of life alive is to transfer the knowledge orally. This, however, makes it harder for anthropologists and historians to understand isolated and otherwise extinct cultures.

These stories can be understood as both truthful narratives that encompass events in the ancient past, as well as folk lore tales that are told across generations but are not necessarily believed to be a literal truth. In the cases of narratives and stories, it is not up to the teller of the story to make clear what is truth or myth, but to the listener to make their own judgments about truth. On the same note, there are often many different stories that detail one particular event. However, many oral histories and stories are only thought to be appropriately told at a certain time of year or in a certain circumstance. This creates a huge problem that those documenting these stories and songs into writing do not often deal with—the problem of the oral story verses the written story.

In many cases, an anthropologist or someone else interested in preserving or publishing oral stories, histories, poetry, or jokes runs into problems when they do something that the original “owners” of the story deems disrespectful or wrong—be it that they didn’t ask before they published the stories, or that they simply wrote down something that had a different meaning in writing than the meaning in telling (see Morphology). This often stems from that problem of the oral verses the written; many oral artists believe that, when written, a story or tale loses significance because it is not being spoken.

This is especially true in the transference of American Indian oral traditions into written works. American Indian cultural learning occurs mainly through living oral traditions, whereas European-Americans learn from written formats that emphasize linear thinking and logic. It is difficult to put American Indian oral traditions into writing because of these differences; holistic, American Indian ideas are hard to fit into a linear and “logical” format. Many American Indians believe, as well, that much of the essence of the story is lost in the translation between oral and written. This is especially true when treaties were negotiated between the US government and Indian tribes. [48]


In many cultures, written history is something new, and much of a culture's tradition and history is orally transmitted to the next generation by a specific group of people. In many present-day West African countries, tradition is passed down by a group of people know as Griots. Griots are known as "Les maître de la parole," or "The Masters of Speech." Griots have many roles in West African culture, acting not only as historians, but filling the roles of entertainers, genealogists, singers, poets, storytellers, and even counselors to kings. They primarily passed down history through the ages by transmitting their knowledge in the forms of songs, stories, and poems.

The historical knowledge of a Griot and the power they wield through that knowledge is formidable. They command admirable musical talent as well, traditionally playing a 21-stringed instrument known as the Kora. A Griot is essentially a walking, talking historical record, and in West Africa, the historical record of a people's culture was often entirely dependent on a Griot's memory, as there was little to no written history. The position of Griot is genealogical, passed down through bloodlines over the ages. Good Griots possess remarkable memories and musical talent, and are ever ready to recite long histories, sing traditional songs, or recall genealogies.

Despite their many talents and their important role in society, it is believed that Griots were a part of one of the lowest castes in their social hierarchy. There are speculations that they were defined by their speech patterns; the high-pitched, fast paced speech of the Griots was more similar to that of the 'ñeeño' (middle and lower castes) than the low pitched, steady speech of the 'géer,' or nobles. Singing and storytelling were considered inappropriate for higher social classes. Griots were only allowed to marry within their caste were often subject to abuse and discrimination from other castes. In many communities, Griots were not allowed to even enter the homes of higher-class families. This social injustice often did not stop at death, as many Griots in central Senegal were not given burial rights, as it was thought that burying Griots would result in a poor harvest, so their bodies were often placed standing up inside baobab trees instead. It was believed that this practice would increase rainfall and result in a good crop season.

An ancient baobab tree in Senegal's Réserve de Bandia, where many Griots have been lain to rest.

Modern-day Griots have managed to move up in society as much of West Africa has moved from a caste-based system to more of a modern income-based system. In spite of the social injustices they once faced, Griots have managed to significantly shape the form of society and popular culture, often occupying their birthright roles of musicians and storytellers. As playing music and singing were activities deemed inappropriate for nobles and restricted to the ñeeño class, Griots were the first people to become both financially and socially successful by producing popular music. They are considered 'manufacturers of a considerable part of the Senegalese artistic production' ^ , and even today, non-Griot singers often find success covering traditional songs traditionally sung by Griots.

Johnson, John William and Fa-Digi Sisòkò. The Epic of Son-Jara: A West African tradition


Linguistic Diversity

Every Country has its own unique way of speaking, whether it is a different variety of the language spoken to the north or south, or a completely different language all together. Language diversity is what makes our world unique: it gives character to different cultures around the world and it is what makes us human as well. No other living organisms have what humans have; they have communication, but none have language.

In America we have plenty of different accents and dialects, but there are four main regions into which the country is divided. The Western, North, South, and Midlands dialects are the four regional dialects of America. This diversity is important to know and study because its what makes America what it is, in some sense. America is known as the “Melting Pot,” because we have people from all different countries. This shows when one travels around the country and listens to people speak. The differences could be as simple as saying “soda” instead of “pop,” or as diverse as elongating certain vowels to the point of what would be seen as 'unintelligible' speech for outsiders of the community.

A diagram showing variation in the English language by region (the bottom axis) and by social class (the side axis). The higher the social class, the less variation.

Gender Speech Contrasts

There are many differences between the way that men and women speak. One may not realize this during everyday conversation, but the difference is very apparent once looked into and studied.

Social dialect research has focused on differences between women’s and men’s speech in the areas of pronunciation and morphology.In Western societies, women typically have a more standard way of speaking than men. They are more likely to change the way they speak in order to elevate their status in the community. Women are more conscious of this social status, which explains their use of standard speech forms. They use language which reinforces their subordinate status. Women’s subordinate social status in American society is indicated by the languages women use, as well as in the language used about them. There are a number of linguistic features used more often by women than by men, which can express uncertainty and lack of confidence. Women use a feature called a “hedging device,” with such words as, “you know, sort of, well, you see.” These phrases make the speech of most women seem weaker than men’s speech, and therefore makes women in society sound less sure of themselves. There are also cases, like with the Weyewa people, where both men and women participate in ritual ceremonies but the role of each is very different. The rituals require very elaborate speech patterns in the form of poetic rhythm which the men are responsible for reciting and it is the responsibility of the man performing the ritual to be as precise as possible so as to prevent angering the ancestors. While the men are central to the ritual women are responsible for high-pitched ululations during the mens reading in order to encourage them to recite the ritual correctly and energetically. [49] Sociolinguistics (speech) in Japanese culture is very gender separated.
Due to certain words, phrases or mannerisms being assigned to 'masculine' or 'feminine,' genders have been divided by the way they speak. This division is indicated by revealing the speakers' rank in society, education level, financial standing, etc. During typical Japanese conversation, this separation of the genders is expressed in every sentence because every verb must be conjugated in a manner of the speakers choosing. The speaker can strengthen or weaken their dominance or submission during conversation and relay their status in regards to the person with whom they are speaking.[50]


For example:

“Domo arigato, Sensei” simply translated means “Thank you, Teacher;" the use of ‘domo’ implies the formality or politeness, rather than just saying ‘arigato’ by itself, which is equivalent to 'thanks' in English. It is also implied that the speaker is of a lower social status and education level than the person to whom they are speaking, and they address that difference respectfully by referring to their teacher by his or her title and not simply, and rudely, ‘omae,’ which is a less polite way of saying ‘you.'

  • Prestige

Different accents here in America have different connotations when an outsider hears them being spoken. These different accents and ways of speaking have varying levels of prestige in society: much can be said about the speakers social status, politeness and education from listening to their accent. For example, listening to the southern accent with its drawn out vowels and sometimes slower speech, one may assume that the speaker is easygoing and friendly; on the other hand, some may believe that the speaker is less educated and belongs to a lower social class. Each accent in English has a stereotype and therefore has a level of prestige or status associated with it. The accent with the highest prestige in America is known as the ‘Standard Accent.' The speaker of this accent is from the West Coast, where there is the most standard speech without much of an accent. Other accents to keep in mind that have lower levels of prestige are African American Vernacular English, New York dialect and the Southern accent.

  • Standards in Language

When looking at sociolinguistics, it is important to understand how different languages are judged against each other. The standard of a language is the variety seen as the purest and essential variety of the particular language. Although this term is used in different ways in sociolinguistic studies, one of the defining characteristics of a standard language is that it is codified in some way, a dictionary being an instrument that codifies language. This regulates the language and stabilizes it across a wider range of society. Because they are written and usually more stable than a contact language, such as a pidgin or creole, standards are used for higher functions. These higher functions often involve governance, ceremony, and education.
Although differentiating standard and vernacular varieties of a language might seem unnecessary, it is extremely important to understand the distinctions made between the standard and other varieties of language. Because the standard is used in higher functions of society, those that speak the standard regularly are often seen as more prestigious than those who speak a vernacular, or a less formal variety. Because a minority of the world languages are written, few can survive long enough to become a standard at all. Often, they are overshadowed by languages that are already established and codified. Relying too much on the standard used for the highest purposes of a society can lead to what is called linguistic ethnocentrism, where different groups and classes are marked through language. The standards of a language also have a history in imperialism, where natives are discouraged from using their own language in favor of the colonizing language.
One historical example of this phenomenon is the boarding schools established throughout America in the middle of the nineteenth century. Created as a way for American Indian children to assimilate more easily into the mainstream of American society, these schools enlisted young children, took them away from their reservation, and attempted to educate them in a traditional Western manner. Although there were many concerns on children assimilating, such as dress and hairstyle, one of the most constant concerns regarding American Indian children retaining their culture was using their native language. Therefore, they were taught English and beaten if they spoke their native language. As a result, many children lost the ability to speak their native language, and, in doing so, lost a huge piece of their culture. The educators in the boarding school linked language to Indian culture, which, to them, was barbaric, savage, and unfit for American life. This is a prime example of linguistic ethnocentrism, where the language is linked with the culture, which becomes linked with harmful stereotypes.
[52] [53]

Social stratification is the hierarchical arrangement of social classes, castes and strata within a society. While these hierarchies are not universal to all societies, they are the norm among state-level cultures (as distinguished from hunter-gatherers or other social arrangements). Two major parts of social stratification are
1. Class Stratification: The differential distribution of linguistics variants by social class, this type of stratification tends to be problematic.
2. Style Stratification: The differential distribution of Linguistics variants by style.

Example of class stratification

Class Stratification develops due to certain economic and physical separation. In the early Middle Ages of British history exemplifies this well. The initial separation began with economic status; people born into royalty were elite and those who were not born into royalty were subject to lower class status of serf. The physical barrio or separation came from the royal class living in castle surrounded by great walls to keep out intruders or “lower-class” persons. The royal classes from this era are able to afford a prober education, thus making the royal or “upper-class” persons more formal in speech. Speech is a huge way people can judge the education and social status of a person.

Style Stratification can be seen in many forms for example “R” is heard more frequently in formal speech than in informal speech. This is seen in people from Massachusetts. Bostonians who have an informal way of speaking tend to leave off their “Rs”. For example “Tomorrow” turns into “Tomora”. On the other hand people from the Midwest tend to add “Rs” to their words for example “Idea” becomes “Idear” and “Washington” becomes “Wrashington”. Style Stratification has a stigma with it however; most styles are for informal language which is not usually accepted in “high society”. In the movie American Tongues. The Center for New American Media, 1988, a man speaking over his brother’s personal Style Stratification said

“Every time I hear my younger brother talk I cringe because it’s fine for the area, it’s fine for your family, but when you travel outside the area and travel outside the family you’re going to have to pronounce your R’s,
you’re going to have to think about what you’re saying and you’re going to have to articulate and all he can do is talk in one manner.”

Language Ideology[edit]

Language Ideology is a marker of struggles between social groups with different interests, revealed in what people say and how they say it. It is primarily studied in the field of linguistic anthropology. The study of language ideology allows evidence in which that the way we talk will always be embedded in a social world of power differences. They mark the struggles between social groups that do not contain the same interests or beliefs. This is reveled in what people say and how they say it. Language ideologies are very active and effective. We can tell this by the way people monitor their speech to make sure it is appropriate with a particular language ideology. Language ideologies are very important to many fields of study, some examples are anthropology, sociology, and linguistics. Language ideology has become a very good way for us to understand how human groups are organized, despite differences in beliefs and ways of life. For example, many different languages are spoken within one society, proving that the theory of linguistics regarding human societies as monolingual would be very limited help. Instead using language ideology we see speakers of different languages or dialects may possibly share certain beliefs or practice, or even a conflict involving a language.

An ethnographic example of this is the language of African Americans. After studying the language ideology research revealed the perhaps the key element of their language is the importance of indirectness. The reason that indirectness was vital for the African Americans was because they were living under the conditions of slavery and legal segregation for a majority of America's history. Living under the conditions of this extreme inequality, African Americans had to follow a set of unwritten political rules, telling them how they were supposed to communicate with whites. For example only speaking when you are given permission to speak, or without contradicting or arguing over what whites said to them. By having to follow these rules it publicly confirmed the status of African Americans in the racial hierarchy. African Americans spoke differently to each other, and when not in the presence of whites than they did while they were in the presence of whites. This is showing how they change their language based on the audience around them, they are monitoring their speech to make it appropriate to whoever they are talking to.“The most highly valued instances of this counter-language were ambiguous speech performances that were usually puzzling or unintelligible to outsiders, but easily understood by the African Americans who were present”. [54]

  • "Black English Vernacular" or BEV

There are two theories behind the idea of Black English Vernacular and where it originated. The first is the Dialectologist viewpoint which states that Black English can trace its roots back to varieties spoken in the British Isles. The second is the Creolist viewpoint which says that the BEV dialect started as a pidgin language on the slave plantations in the southern United States and evolved into a creole as the next generation of children grew up in the U.S. There are distinct characteristics of BEV that are noticed through the study of speech in the black community. There are five noticeable differences in the BEV dialect Monophthongization, Word-final consonant cluster reduction, Absence of 3rd person singular, Multiple Negation, and the Habitual “be”.

Area where Black English Vernacular began in the United States.
1. Monophthongization: This is where words such as “pay” and “pen” become "pei" and “pin”. This is a linguistic switch from a diphthong vowel sound to a monophthong "pure" vowel sound. [55]
2. Word-Final Consonant Cluster Reduction: In this feature the final consonant in a cluster of consonants is dropped. In words such as “cold cuts” and “best kind” are transformed into “col cuts” and “bes kind”.
3. Absence of 3rd Person Singular: Speakers of BEV tend to drop the “-s” off of third person words such as needs or wants. An example sentence of this would be “He need to get a book from the shelf”.
4. Multiple Negation: This characteristic is the most noticeable and is the insertion of two negative words within one sentence. “I didn’t have no lunch” is an example of double negations and “He don’t never have no lunch” is an example of triple negation. "A traditional prescriptive 'rule' in general American English states that 'double' negatives are not grammatical because they make a positive. The formula multiplying two negatives yields a positive does not work for AAE."[56]
5. The Habitual “be”: This is a replacement usually of the word “is”. In Standard English an example could be “The coffee is always cold” but in BEV it might look like “The coffee always be cold.” It is a simple switch that occurs in the speech of BEV speakers.

In the 1920s jive talk was a form of BEV that resulted in words that were used for decades. Words like groovy, cool, uptight, hip, beat, and hype are only some examples of words from the 1920s that have survived through the decades and have impacted cultures throughout American history. It should be noted that not all people of African descent speak this way, it has been given this term because of how it originated during slavery times and into the modern century. There is also the topic of African American English showing up in white American culture. Over time white America has picked up words from the African community and this is evident by the example of the rappers like Eminem, Pitbull, and Paul Wall who are all white rappers but use different forms of AAE or BEV when they rap. More and more BEV is affecting the younger generation of Americans because of rap and hip-hop. Consonant dropping is occurring more frequently in American youth culture these days because of the influence of BEV. This is the reason they are starting to push the change to Standard English in areas where BEV is strong and the biggest control they have is in schools. Schools are enforcing standard English in the classroom in order move towards language that is used in higher professions.

[57] [[22]]

Historical Linguistics[edit]

Historical Linguistics is the history, interrelations, and evolution of language. As Contemporary Linguistics says1, Historical linguistics studies the nature and causes of language change. The causes of language change find their foundation in the physiological and cognitive makeup of human beings. Sound changes usually involve articulatory simplification as in the case of the most common type, assimilation[23]. Analogy and reanalysis are particularly important factors in morphological change. Language contact resulting in borrowing is another important source of language change. All parts of the grammar, from Phonology to semantics, are subject to change over time. Any slight change over time in either sound or form will spread word by word by means of lexical diffusion[24]. Sociological factors are used to determine if the majority of a linguistics community adopts the language change. Using sets of cognates, comparative reconstruction lets us reconstruct the properties of the parent or proto-language on the basis of systematic phonetic correspondences.

Studies in historical linguistics help provide valuable views into relationships among languages and give light on prehistoric developments. Historical studies of language have great importance to our understanding of human linguistic ability. It has been said that language change provides one of the most direct windows into the workings of the human mind. The study of language change adds to our understanding of how social, cultural, and psychological factors work together to shape language. The combination of studies on language change, language acquisition, and language universals remains one of the most important challenges facing linguists today. ‘requirement 2a anthropological key term or concept’

An ethnographic representation of Historical Linguistics is the evolution of the English language itself. The English language is Germanic and has its early origins in the tribes of North Western Europe, The Jutes from Jutland peninsular in Denmark, The Angles from Southern Denmark and the Saxons of North Germany before they invaded the Romano -Brythonic speaking Isle of Britannia in 449AD when it became known as Englisc. The tribes were so closely linked that up till the mid 11th century Norwegians, Danes, English and Icelanders could still make themselves understood to each other. English today greatly differs from English when it was originated. The language has transformed through the process of lexical diffusion and fits the cultural needs of today society.‘requirement 2b ethnographic example’

[58] [59]

Semantics, Pragmatics, and Ethnopragmatics[edit]

Semantics is the study of the meaning of linguistics expressions such as morphemes, words, phrases, clauses, and sentences. Often semantics is more narrowly defined as the meaning of expressions divorced from the context in which these utterances are produced, and from various characteristics of the sender or receiver of the message. The study of meaning derived from context and features of the communicators is called pragmatics. Pragmatics is the study of the effect of context on meaning. It is about the practical use of language. It includes the study of how people use language to establish their identities through cultural meaning, to express their emotions through effective meaning, to perform speech acts with performative sentences, and to carry on conversations with others. Ethnopragmatics is a different way of studying a language that focuses on the effect of one's cultural context and history to the meaning of words and language used.


Symbolism is the occurrence of something that stands for or means something else.

Symbols are devised to help remind people of their significant insights and their connections. They signal the company and importance of given domains of experiences. Two types of symbols are summarizing symbols and elaborating symbols.

A summarizing symbol represents an entire semantic domain, as a whole, as well as encourages us to consider the elements with those semantic domains. An example of a summarizing symbol is the American Flag to Americans. This is a summarizing symbol because the flag stands for a number of things including patriotism, democracy, hard work, free enterprise, progress, national security, apple pie, motherhood, and strength. This is what the flag symbolizes in the eyes of Americans however in the eyes of others who it can symbolize things such as imperialism, opposition, and racism.

An elaborating symbol represents only one, single element of a domain and encourages us to better understand the element in a wider semantic context. The are analytic in that they allow people to arrange and label complex and undifferentiated feelings and ideas into language and action which can be understood and communicated. The elaborating symbols offer categories to help them think about how the rest of the world is structured. An example of this is the cattle-herding community in East Africa known as the Dinka. The Dinka use metaphors with understanding their personal experiences. The way which they understand colors, lights and shades come from the colors they see when working with their cattle. I am a makah Indian, and in my culture the swastika symbol represented power; as opposed to the Navaho's meaning of representing the wind. My tribe discontinued the use of this symbol after world war two as well, as the Navajo Tribe.

Symbolism can vary from culture to culture. Colors, for example, hold mounds of symbolism depending on where one is from. For Western Culture red, white and blue symbolize patriotism. While colors such as green and red symbolize Christmas, and orange and black symbolize Halloween.The yin-yang is an example of symbolism because the equal parts black and white in the circle symbolizes the intertwined duality of all things in nature, a common theme in Taoism. Symbolism can also hold a special meaning to a certain individual. For example, a child's attachment to a beloved teddy bear could symbolize, in later life, her love for her father that gifted this toy to her when she was very young.


Metaphors can be easily linked with symbolism. They are mainly known as attempts to answer the following question: What must the world be like for my experiences to be what they are? There are four types of metaphors: • Key metaphors are metaphors that serve as a foundation of a worldview. In searching for key metaphors one looks at areas of everyday experience that are most associated with order, regularity, and predictability. • Societal metaphors are worldview metaphors whose model for the world is the social order. A lot of the time human social relations provide great order, regularity, and predictability. Where this is true, the model for the world is the social order; or, put another way the universe and one's own society are understood to operate according to the same principles; a sense of order. • Organic metaphors are worldview metaphors that apply the image of the body to social structures and institutions. Organic metaphors are based on an understanding of living organisms. A number of nineteenth-century theorists of linguistic or cultural evolution used organic metaphors to analyze the life histories of languages or civilizations in terms of birth, youth, maturity, reproduction, old age, and death. • Technological metaphors are worldview metaphors that employ objects made by human beings as metaphorical predicates. This uses machines made by human beings as metaphorical predicates.

Due to comparative research, it has been suggested that there are three important images of order and stability that have regularly provided key metaphors for worldviews. Societal and Organic metaphors are two of the three. The last is known as functionalism. This is a social scientific perspective in which a society is likened to a living organism in which different systems carry out specialized tasks; functionalists identify social subsystems into which a society can be divided, identify the tasks each is supposed to perform, and describe a healthy society as one in which all the subsystems are functioning harmoniously.


Humor is a communicated art, shared, universally, by all of the peoples of the world. It comes in many forms such as simple "slap-stick" humor to more complicated metaphorical satire, working primarily to invoke laughter and amusement from an audience. Humor, though universal, is restrained by knowledge of a culture, as situational humor needs a reference in the cultural framework of a society to illicit the desired response. For example, a joke suggesting Hillary Clinton practices witchcraft would make little sense to cultures outside of the United States. This is an example of cultural relativism. Likewise, certain humorous situations such as a man trying to jump over a stream, but falling in it instead, can be understood by a wider range of people as there is little specific cultural meaning attached to that specific situation. Humor has a tendency to change between audiences, as just as a cultural reference to an outsider would not be understood, humor between different demographics in a culture must be adjusted to allow correct interpretation of that audience. For example, teenagers often shift their humor when in the presence of parents. Adults also change or censor their humor when in the company of young children. Humor also serves several other auxiliary purposes, such as social and political commentaries meant to use humor as a vehicle to promote an agenda. [60]

Varying Categories of Humor[edit]

Across many cultures there are many types of humor. These forms of humor have their own definitions and popularity among different cultures and communities across the world. One popular form of humor in the United States is sarcasm. Sarcasm uses the inflection of certain words in a phrase to indicate that the phrase itself is meant to be understood as the different [sometimes opposite] of the literal meaning of the phrase. Sarcasm requires the spoken language to have enough flexibility to be understood dynamically. For instance, if you do not know english good enough and someone says something sarcastic to you, you will most likely be offended due to the lack of understanding. Languages and cultures that state things bluntly and truthfully may struggle with the concept of sarcasm. The United Kingdom, unlike the United States, is known to be favorable of what is called "Dry Humo[u]r". Dry humor is comedic content that is specifically conveyed without the use of emotion. The content is usually delivered in a monotone voice, with little body movement or inflection of words. This method of humor is more often than not accompanied by a subject matter vastly more significant that the tone and body language would imply. Because these two elements clash with each other, the receivers of the humor find comedic value in the absurdity of the purposeful juxtaposition. [61]


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^ Rowe, Bruce M., and Diane P. Levine. A Concise Introduction to Linguistics. 2nd ed. Los Angeles: Nancy Roberts, 2006.

^ British Sign Language. 19 Dec. 2000. 5 Mar. 2009 <>.

^ "Phoneme." The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 06 Mar. 2009. <>.

^ International Phonetic Association (IPA), Handbook.

(Added By Tyson Kolb) Miller, Barbara. Cultural Anthropology 4th Edition. River, New Jersey, Pearson Education Inc, 2007

Inscribing the Body. 11 June 2004.*

^ Rowe, Bruce M., and Diane P. Levine. A Concise Introduction to Linguistics. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 209.

^ Ngom, Fallou. Popular Culture in Senegal: Blending the Secular and the Religious

^ Non Verbal Communication, 28 April 2009.

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