Symposium on Language and Culture; Proceedings

By Viola E. Garfield; Wallace L. Chafe | Go to book overview

THE SEQUENTIAL DISTRIBUTION OF THANKING IN AYMARA CULTURE

John T. Cole

THE INFORMATION on which this paper is based was obtained during field work among the Aymaras in Bolivia. The work was done in the village of Untavi near Lake Poopó. 1

The purpose of the paper is twofold. On the one hand, I wish to demonstrate the importance of studying the distribution of linguistic forms in concrete contexts as a means of determining the perceptual organization of these contexts. On the other hand, I wish to demonstrate the importance of logical analysis for increasing the psychological realism of ethnographic reporting. To illustrate these points, I shall examine at some length a detail in the use of the expression "thank you" 2 in Aymara culture.

First, I would like to give a brief sketch of the ideas which led to my interest in the data. As I use the term culture, it refers to a shared pattern of experience. The purpose of ethnography is the construction of a conceptual pattern which mirrors this experiential pattern. Ethnographic methodology, therefore, centers on the twofold problem of conceptualization. On the one hand, we have the problem of clarity-the problem of constructing a logically coherent conceptualization. On the other hand, we have the problem of fidelity-the problem of constructing a conceptualization which faithfully represents the experience of the people we are studying.

This approach leads to a definite criterion of methodological significance for ethnographic problems: The most important problems are those which seem trivial in themselves but are highly resistant to our attempts at forming a conceptualization which is both clearcut and realistic. These are the problems which reveal the weaknesses of our conceptualization in the most striking manner.

The problem which I wish to discuss has just this combination of triviality and difficulty. I noticed that one of my Aymara friends would eventually drop the "thank you" 3 if I gave him a sufficiently large number of cigarettes during the course of a visit. 4 His behavior on these occasions seemed to be completely natural and spontaneous. There seemed to be no uneasiness in the way in which he accepted the cigarettes.

This situation seemed confusing from two standpoints. From a descriptive point of view, the pattern seemed vague since it was apparently impossible to predict exactly when the "thank you" would disappear. From a theoretical point of view, the pattern seemed paradoxical since one might expect the gratitude to increase as the series of gifts became longer. The behavior seemed completely understandable from an intuitive standpoint, since I was familiar with the same sort of behavior in our own culture. And yet, from a conceptual standpoint, it did not make sense.

We might interpret this behavior as idiosyncratic rather than cultural. However, unless we are willing to make the farfetched assumption that his behavior is unintelligible in the framework of Aymara culture, the problem remains: How can such behavior be intelligible? The difficulty cannot be disposed of by saying that he was "discourteous"

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Symposium on Language and Culture; Proceedings
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Preface iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction vii
  • An Evolutionary Sketch of Russian Kinship 1
  • Notes 22
  • Bibliography 23
  • Culture Geography at a Distance: Some Problems in the Study of East European Jewry 27
  • Notes 36
  • Bibliography 38
  • Linguistic Evidence for Salish Prehistory 41
  • Notices to Aes Members 51
  • Notes 57
  • Bibliography 58
  • Inconsistencies in Cherokee Spelling 60
  • The Sequential Distribution of Thanking in Aymara Culture 64
  • Notes 67
  • Lynching the Lexicographers 69
  • Notes 94
  • Notices to Aes Members 96
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