Symposium on Language and Culture; Proceedings

Symposium on Language and Culture; Proceedings

Symposium on Language and Culture; Proceedings

Symposium on Language and Culture; Proceedings

Excerpt

Currently very popular as the title of a course or the theme of a symposium, "language and culture" seems, nevertheless, to define a motley and limitless collection of disparate subjects, tied together only by the fact that in one way or another they have something to do with both language and culture simultaneously. The term itself is misleading, for most people would agree that language stands to culture in the relation of part to whole. We cannot, then, interpret the phrase as one composed of coordinate items like salt and pepper, but must understand it as we would "the earth and the solar system" if we found an astronomy course so labeled.

I believe that language relates to culture in three fundamental ways, which are represented among the papers here in various mixtures and proportions. There are, first, the inherent ties between language, sounds, and meanings. The cultural significance of speech sounds, aside from their significance in language, has never been demonstrated, but linguistically structured meanings have long been felt to bear an intimate relationship to nonlinguistic culture. A decade ago the "Whorf hypothesis" was the center of attention, and today we have a fruitful concern for "folk taxonomies." This broad and exciting field of "semantics and culture" is represented in this volume in the paper by Friedrich, who takes the uncommon step of tracing changes in a semantic pattern through time, and in the bearing which Weinreich's paper has on meanings in their geographical distribution.

Second, there are the parallelisms between language structure and the structuring of other human activities. Writing, for example, evidently has a patterning of its own, attached to language only as language is attached to meanings. Hall's paper is one of several recent expressions of a lively interest in the theory of writing which we hope will continue, and it is at the same time an example of the application of linguistic techniques of analysis to patterns of nonlinguistic behavior. Chafe and Kilpatrick consider the interaction between language and writing patterns in a specific case, and their findings clearly show the independence of the two in the matter discussed.

The third kind of relationship is that which we find between languages and their speakers. Here may be considered the implications of linguistic facts in the study of population movements and interinfluences, with which Suttles and Elmendorf are concerned as is Weinreich and ultimately Friedrich as well. Here belongs also the question of how and when language is used, and Cole supplies a logical solution to an instance in this category. Here, finally, we may consider the attitudes of speakers toward their language, and toward those who study their language. Sledd's paper on this subject is a worthy descendant of Bloomfield 1944 "Secondary and Tertiary Responses to Language" (Language 20:45-55).

There are certainly aspects of language and culture which are not covered in this volume, but I hope that we have provided a representative sample of the variety of subjects and approaches which the field permits.

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