Social Interaction, Social Context, and Language: Essays in Honor of Susan Ervin-Tripp

By Dan Isaac Slobin; Julie Gerhardt et al. | Go to book overview

generally recognized by the River folk. Those in the lowland sometimes refer to the transitional community of Bavícora as "half Tarahumara."


SUMMING UP

Among the Shoshoni, the dialectical variation is almost family by family, while among the Guarijío the smallest unit of appreciable variation is a cluster of rancherías of some fifty or so families. Further, there are no sharp boundaries among the Shoshoni dialects, whereas there are two very distinct Guarijío dialects. To the question: How many dialects are there? one can give an answer for Guarijío, but the question has no meaning for Shoshoni. For most features of variation in Guarijío, there are usually only two variants, a Mountain and a River variant, even in those cases for which the variants do not respect the exact dialect boundaries.

Why the differences in the two situations? It is impossible to reach firm conclusions based on only one example each, but we can speculate that the differences are linked to the difference in demography and its effect on interaction patterns and the context for language socialization. The Shoshoni child was in contact with a much smaller number of individuals (both children and adults), but there was also much more linguistic variation in that small number.

But these two small scale societies share certain characteristics that are lacking in modern large scale societies. First, there is no standard or prestige dialect. As we saw with the example of Rafael, a speaker of the River dialect of Guarijío, one can be influenced to shift dialects, but in this case it was because it was the dialect of the community, not because it was the prestige dialect. Similar shifts took place in Shoshoni speaking communities.

Even though the enculturating group is larger among the Guarijío than among the Shoshoni, it is still very small when contrasted to modern large scale societies. The two Guarijío dialects, with only about a thousand speakers, are well differentiated and probably would, if it were not for the acculturating setting they are now in, develop into two languages. It is not uncommon to find viable languages in small scale societies of only a thousand speakers, and in aboriginal California there were even some with only five hundred speakers. A viable language of such small size is unthinkable in modern urban societies.


REFERENCES

Hill, J. H. ( 1978). "Language contact systems and human adaptations". Journal of Anthropological Research, 34,1-26.

Miller, W. R. ( 1970). "Western Shoshoni dialects". In E. Swanson, Jr. (Ed.), Languages and cultures of Western North America: Essays in honor of Sven S. Liljeblad (pp. 17-36). Pocatello: Idaho State University Press.

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