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This data exercise requires you to choose an animated Disney movie and

This data exercise requires you to choose an animated Disney movie and

This data exercise requires you to choose an animated Disney movie and analyze it utilizing critical discourse analysis. Your learning from Module on Discourse Analysis and Critical Discourse Analysis will help you to conduct necessary analysis.You will primarily examine the way societal power relations are reflected and reinforced through language use (verbal or nonverbal means) in your chosen animated movie. You will pay special attention to issues of power asymmetries, and structural inequalities that has been explicitly or implicitly portrayed in the movie.

When watching the movie pay attention to the following:

-Language choices concerning accent use

-More specifically the use accents to express the nature of the characters

-Language-based stereotypes

-Gender roles and/or stereotypes

-Ethnic or racial-based stereotypes

-Pay attention to word use, nonverbal cues (clothing, colors, body postures, gestures, etc.), who is the main character, the ones that holds power, the ones that represent kindness, etc.

Your research report will be 3-4 pages at minimum. 11 or 12-inch, 1 inch margins, double-spaced. Report will include the following:

-Introduction (You can use the articles assigned for this module here)-1 paragraph

-Analysis and discussion of the findings (use excerpts from the movie to support your arguments and findings, cite articles assigned for this module in these paragraphs, each source needs to be cited one time at minimum)- Multiple paragraphs

-Conclusion- 1 paragraph

Part I Language: Some Basic


Living Language: An Introduction to Lir;{lu1'.,ticAnthropology, First Edition. Laura M. Ahearn. © 2012 Laura M.Ahearn. Published 2012 by Blackwell Publishing Ltd.


The Socially Charged Life of Language

All words have the 'taste' of a profession, a genre, a tendency, a party, a

particular work, a particular person, a generation, an age group, the day

and hour. Each word tastes of the context and contexts in which it has

lived its socially charged life …

Bakhtin 1981 :293

Words do live socially charged lives, as Bakhtin observes in the epigraph

that opens this chapter. Language is not a neutral n1edium for con,­

munication but rather a set of socially embedded practices. The reverse

of Bakhtin's statement is also true: social interactions live linguisti­

cally charged lives. That is, every social interaction is mediated by

language – whether spoken or written, verbal or nonverbal. Consider

the following three examples.

Example 1: Getting Stoned in San Francisco During the 1995-1996 school year, a special anti-drug class was run

as an elective in a large high school in the San Francisco Bay Area. 1

Students were trained as peer educators in preparation for visiting

other classes to perform skits about the danger of drugs and tobacco.

The class was unusually diverse, with boys as well as girls and with

students from many different class ranks, ethnicities, and racial groups.

On the day that the students were preparing to perform their skits in

front of an audience for the first time, they asked the teacher, Priscilla,

Living Language: An Introduction to Lir;{lu1'.,ticAnthropology, First Edition. Laura M. Ahearn. © 2012 Laura M.Ahearn. Published 2012 by Blackwell Publishing Ltd.


6 A� IN 11,Mo �10 "L 11t-%.,c, fl/�

The Socially Charged Life of Language

N6 l<'.ON6, Al'l'lTt11N6 Gf'atJ5 oiJ Tile W<>"1T, ,1(, !'o0f{£ Mlour t;o � St.</ITCH6"0 1o

? ii-' �A!ZWN' AtlO f� E -'1:':'��.–1

Figure 1.1 Cartoon demonstrating how certain styles of speech can both reflect and shape social identities. Source: Jump Start (':) 1999 United Feature Syndicate, Inc.

what they should say if someone in the audience asked whether they

themselves smoked marijuana. Priscilla recommended that they say

they did not. Then the following exchange took place between

Priscilla and the students:

Priscilla: Remember, you're role models. Al Capone: You want us to lie? Priscilla: Since you're not coming to school stoned – (students


Calvin: (mockingly) Stoned? Priscilla: What do you say? Calvin: I say high. Bombed. Blitzed. Brand One: Weeded. Kerry: Justified. Brand One: That's kinda tight.

Example 2: Losing a Language in Papua New Guinea In 1987, the residents of the tiny village of Gapun in Papua New

Guinea (a country north of Australia) were son1e of the last speakers

of a language called Taiap, which at the tin1e had at most 89 reniaining

speakers.2 Adult villagers were almost all bilingual in Taiap and in Tok

Pisin, one of the three national languages of Papua New Guinea, and

all children were exposed to rich amounts of both Taiap and Tok Pisin

in their early years. By 1987, however, no child under the age of ten

actively spoke Taiap, and many under the age of eight did not even

possess a good passive knowledge of the language. The usual theories

5 I The Socially Charged Life of Language

about how and why so many of the world's languages are becoming

extinct did not seem to apply to Taiap. Material and economic factors

such as industrialization and urbanization were not sufficiently

in1portant in the ren1ote village of Gapun to explain the language

shift away from Taiap. Why, then, was Taiap becoming extinct? Accor­

ding to linguistic anthropologist Don Kulick, the adults in Gapun

clain1ed that the shift was occurring because of the actions of their

( often preverbal) children. Kulick writes:" 'We haven't done anything,'

one village man explained when I asked him why village children

don't speak the vernacular, 'We try to get them to speak it, we want

them to. But they won't . . . They're bikhed [big-headed, strong­

willed] "' (Kulick 1992:16) .

Example 3: The Pounded Rice Ritual in Nepal On a warn, February afternoon in 1993, a wedding procession made

its way down a steep hill in Junigau, Nepal. Several men carefully

maneuvered the bride's sedan chair around the hairpin turns. At the

foot of the hill, under a large banyan tree, the wedding party settled

down to rest and to conduct the Pounded Rice Ritual. 3 The bride,

Indrani Kumari, remained in her palanquin, while some members of

the wedding party, including the groom, Khim Prasad, approached

her. Taking out a leafplate full of pounded rice, a popular snack in

Nepal, lndrani Kumari's bridal attendant placed it in her lap. Khim

Prasad, coached by his senior male kin, tentatively began the ritual,

holding out a handkerchief and asking his new wife to give him the

pounded rice snack. He used the most polite, honorific form of"you"

in Nepali (tapai), and so his remark translated roughly as a polite

request to someone of higher social status:" Please bring the pounded

rice, Wife; our wedding party has gotten hungry."

But this first request was not very effective. lndrani Kumari and her

bridal attendant poured just a few kernels of the pounded rice into

the handkerchief Khim Prasad was holding. Upon further coaching

from his elders, Khim Prasad asked a second time for the rice, this

time in a more informal manner using "timi," a form of "you" in

Nepali that is considered appropriate for close relatives and/ or famil­

iar equals.This time, Khim Prasad's request could be translated roughly

as a matter-of-fact statement to someone of equal social status: "Bring

the pounded rice, Wife; our wedding party has gotten hungry." But

6 The Socially Charged Life of Language

Figure 1.2 Khim Prasad (left) during the Pounded Rice Ritual, with the

bride, Indrani Kumari (seated at the right, completely covered by a shawl),

and the bridal attendant (standing in the center).

Source: Laura M.Ahearn, Invitations to Love: Literacy, Love Letters, and Social

Change in Nepal. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001.

again, the bridal attendant and Indrani Kun1ari poured only a few

kernels of pounded rice into Khin1 Prasad's waiting handkerchief.

One last time Khim Prasad's senior male kin instructed him to ask for

the rice, but this time he was told to use "ta," the lowest form of"you"

in Nepali – a forn1 most con1n1only used ineJunigau to address young

children, animals, and wives. Khim_ Prasad complied, but his words

were halting and barely audible, indicating his deeply n1-ixed feelings

7 I The Socially Charged Life of Language

about using such a disrespectful term to address his new wife. This

third request translated roughly as a peremptory command to some­

one of greatly inferior social status: "Bring the pounded rice, Wife!

Our wedding party has gotten hungry!" Hearing this, Indrani Kun1ari

and her attendant finally proceeded obediently to dump all the

remaining rice into the groom's handkerchief, after which he handed

out portions of the snack to all members of the wedding party.

As different as these three examples are, they all describe situations in

which neither a linguistic analysis alone nor a sociocultural analysis

alone would come close to providing a satisfying explanation of the

significance of the events. The purpose of this book is to show how the

perspectives and tools oflinguistic anthropology, when applied to events

as wide-ranging as an anti-drug class in a San Francisco high school,

language shift in Papua New Guinea, or a ritual in Nepal, can shed light

on broader social and cultural issues as well as deepen our understand­

ing of language – and ourselves. As we move through the chapters that

follow, we will be addressing a nun1ber of questions, including:

• What can such situations tell us about the ways in which language

is enn1eshed with cultural values and social power? • How do dimensions of difference or inequality along lines such as

gender, ethnicity, race, age, or wealth get created, reproduced, or

challenged through language? • How can language illun1inate the ways in which we are all the

same by virtue of being human as well as the ways in which we

are incredibly diverse linguistically and culturally? • How, if at all, do linguistic forn1s, such as the three different words

in Nepali for "you" or the various slang words for "stoned," influ­

ence people's thought patterns or worldviews? • How might people's ideas about language (for example, what

"good" language is and who can speak it – in other words, their

"language ideologies") affect their perceptions of others as well as

themselves? • How does the language used in public rituals and performances

both differ fron1 and resen1ble everyday, mundane conversations? • What methods of data collection and analysis can we use to deter­

n1ine the significance of events such as those described above?

8 The Socially Charged Life of Language I

The starting point in the search for answers to all of these questions

within linguistic anthropology is this fundamental principle: language

is inherently social. It is not just a means through which we act upon

the social world; speaking is itself a form of social action, and language

is a cultural resource available for people to use (Duranti 1997:2) .We

do things with words, as the philosopher J.L. Austin (1962) reminded

us decades ago. Even when we speak or write to ourselves, our very

choices of words, as well as our underlying intentions and desires, are

influenced by the social contexts in which we have seen, heard, or

experienced those words, intentions, and desires before. Linguistic

anthropologists therefore niaintain that the essence of language can­

not be understood without reference to the particular social contexts

in which it is used. But those contexts do not stand apart from lin­

guistic practices or somehow "contain" them, as a soup bowl would

contain soup. 4 Rather, social contexts and linguistic practices nmtu­

ally constitute each other. For this reason, language should be studied,

Alessandro Duranti writes, "not only as a mode of thinking but, above

all, as a cultural practice, that is, as a form of action that both presup­

poses and at the same time brings about ways of being in the world"

(1997:1) .

This approach to language differs from the popular view of lan­

guage as an empty vehicle that conveys pre-existing meanings about

the world. Language, according to this view, which is held by many

n1ernbers of the general public as well as many linguists and other

scholars, is largely a set of labels that can be placed on pre-existing

concepts, objects, or relationships. In this mistaken way of thinking,

language is defined as a conduit that merely conveys information

without adding or changing anything of substance (Reddy 1979) .

Within the field of linguistics, a similar approach to language is

dominant: one in which language is reduced to a set of formal rules.

Such reductionism extends back hundreds of years but was made the

don1inant approach of the field oflinguistics by Ferdinand de Saussure,

a famous Swiss linguist who lived a century ago. De Saussure main­

tained that it was not only possible but necessary to decontextualize

the study of language: "A science which studies linguistic structure

is not only able to dispense with other elements of language, but is

possible only if those other elements are kept separate" (Saussure

1986 [1916] :14) . 5 This perspective was reinforced by Noam Chomsky,

9 I The Socially Charged Life of Language

an American linguist who revolutionized the field and has dominated

it for the past 50 years. Chomsky and his followers are interested in

discovering Universal Grammar (UG), which they define as: "The

basic design underlying the gran1n1ars of all hun1an languages; [it] also

refers to the circuitry in children's brains that allows them to learn the

grammar of their parents' language" (Pinker 1994:483) .

This is not to say that linguistic anthropologists are uninterested

in gran1n1ar or believe that linguistic forms cannot be studied

systematically – on the contrary, many build upon the "considerable

progress in the understanding of formal properties oflanguages" made

by scholars in the field of linguistics (Duranti 1997:7) , but they ask

very different kinds of questions that explore the intersections between

grammar and social relations, politics, or emotion. Even linguistic

anthropologists who value the work done by linguists believe that in

order to acquire a comprehensive understanding of language, it nrnst

be studied in real-life contexts ( cf. Hanks 1996) . Gran1n1ar, according

to linguistic anthropologists, is just one part of language's "socially

charged life" (Bakhtin 1981:293) . 6

So, What Do You Need to Know in Order to "Know" a Language?

In order to understand what it means to study language as a linguistic

anthropologist would, it is helpful to ask what it n1eans to "know" a

language (Cipollone et al.1998) . Linguists generally use the Chomskyan

distinction between "competence," the abstract and usually uncon­

scious knowledge that one has about the rules of a language, and

"performance," the putting into practice – son1etimes in1perfectly –

of those rules. De Saussure made a sin1ilar distinction between langue

(the language system in the abstract) and parole (everyday speech) .This

distinction is partly analogous to the way a person might have abstract

knowledge about how to knit a sweater but in the actual knitting of

it might drop a stitch here or there or perhaps make the arms a bit

shorter than necessary. In both the Chomskyan and Saussurean

approaches, it is the abstract knowledge of a language system ( con1pe­

tence or langue) that is of primary, or even sole, interest for a science

of language; perforn1ance or parole is irrelevant.

1 O The Socially Charged Life of Language I

To take the knitting analogy further, if Chomsky were a knittist

instead of a linguist, he would be interested only in the abstract rules

of Knitting (capitalizing the word, as he does with Language) such as

the following: Row 20: P 1, (k 1, p 1) 11 (13-15) times, k 5, TR 2, k 4, TR 2, k 1,p 12, k 1, TL 2, k 4, TL 2, k 5,p 1, (k 1,p 1) 11(13-15) times. 7 Chomsky the knittist would posit the existence of a Knitting

Acquisition Device (KAD, rather than LAD, a Language Acquisition

Device) , a specialized module ofthe brain that allows people to acquire

knitting skills.While he would acknowledge that people require expo­

sure to knitting in their social environments in order to learn how to

knit, he would be completely uninterested in the following:

• How or why people learn to knit in various cultures and com­

munities. • How knitting practices have changed over time. • The gendered nature of knitting and other handicrafts in many

societies (although knitting is often associated with girls and

women in this society, for example, handicrafts such as weaving

were until recently conventionally produced by lower-caste men

in Nepal) . • The role of Madame Defarge in A Tale �[Two Cities, by Charles

Dickens, as she secretly encodes the names of counterrevolution­

aries into her knitting. 8

• The global economics involved in the many different yarns people

use to knit – anything from yak wool fron, Nepal to Icelandic

wool to synthetic mohair. • The many different kinds ofproducts ofeconomic, social, or emo­

tional value that are made by knitters to be worn by themselves,

given to loved ones, donated to charity, or sold to tourists. • The ways in which knitting is viewed by different groups in the

society – as a hip, in-group practice by some, as an old, fuddy­

duddy practice by others, as a useful, money-making skill by yet

others. • How one's individual and social identities can be reflected in and

shaped by whether, how, what, and with whom one knits.

While this analogy with knitting is not by any means a perfect one,

it does nevertheless demonstrate how narrowly Chomsky and most

I The Socially Charged Life of Language 1 1

other linguists view language. Other practices such as playing music,

dancing, or painting would work equally well in the analogy I set up

above because knitting and all these other practices are – like

language – socially embedded and culturally influenced. Of course

there are abstract cognitive and biological dimensions to anything that

we as humans do, including language, but to reduce language solely to

these din1ensions, as Chon1sky and others do when they clain1 they

are interested only in con1petence and not in performance, is to miss

the richness and complexity of one of the most fundamental aspects

of human existence.

Linguistic anthropologists therefore reject the Chomskyan/Saus­

surean distinction between competence (langue) and performance

(parole) , though they do so in various ways. Some deny the existence

of any distinction at all between competence and performance (langue

and parole) , while others give primacy to performance (parole) . Still

others either expand the definition of competence to include the

ability to use language skillfully and appropriately in particular social

contexts (cf. Hymes 2001[1972] ) , and many view competence and

performance (langue and parole) as equally important.What all linguis­

tic anthropologists agree upon, however, is that to know a language,

one nmst know far n1ore than an abstract set of gran1matical rules.

What else must one know in order to know a language, then, aside

from grammatical rules? According to Cipollone et al. (1998:8-11) ,

there are five basic components of a language that can be studied, and

one nmst n1aster all five of these areas in order to know a language:

• Phonology. The study of sound in language. In order to know a

language, one must be able to recognize and produce the sounds

that are n1eaningful in that language. In the case of sign languages,

instead of sounds, one must be able to recognize and produce the

appropriate gestures. • Morphology.The study of the internal structure of words. In order to

know a language, one nmst be able to use suffixes, prefixes, or infixes

( depending on the language) . In English, for example, one must

know how to create plurals by placing an "-s" on the end of most

(but not all) words, and nmst know what adding "un-" to the begin­

ning of a word does to its n1eaning. In n1any Native American lan­

guages, these sorts of affixes are placed inside a word to create infixes,

12 The Socially Charged Life of Language I

while in Chinese languages, each morpheme, or unit of meaning, is

a separate word, including morphemes indicating tense or plurality. • Syntax. The study of the structure of sentences, including the con­

struction of phrases, clauses, and the order of words. In order to

know a language, one must be able to combine subjects, verbs, and

objects in a grammatically correct way. • Semantics. The study of meaning in language, including analysis

of the meanings of words and sentences. In order to know a lan­

guage, one must know how to construct and interpret meanings. • Pragmatics. The study ofelanguage use, of actual utterances, of how

n1eanings emerge in actual social contexts. This includes culturally

and linguistically specific ways of structuring narratives, perforn1-

ances, or everyday conversations. In order to know a language,

one must be able to use language in socially and culturally appro­

priate ways.

Most linguists focus prin1arily or solely on one or n1ore of the first

three components (phonology, n1orphology, or syntax) , with syntax

being accorded primacy ever since Chomsky became dominant in the

field. In contrast, n1ost linguistic anthropologists (as well as some schol­

ars in related fields such as sociolinguistics or discourse analysis) study

the final two components (semantics and pragmatics) in ways that

integrate these two components with the first three. Indeed, linguistic

anthropologists consider phonology, n1orphology, and syntax to be so

fundan1entally affected by the social contexts in which these aspects of

language are acquired and used that to consider them in isolation from

these contexts is at best artificial and at worst inaccurate. For the lin­

guistic anthropologist, every aspect of language is socially influenced

and culturally meaningful. To use language, therefore, is to engage in a

form of social action laden with cultural values.

So, How Do Linguistic Anthropologists Study Language as Social Action?

While linguistic anthropologists hold in con1n1on the view that

language is a form_ of social action, there is nevertheless great diversity

in topic choice and research n1ethods within the field. Chapter 2 will

The Socially Charged Life of Language 13

Figure 1.3 "Zits" cartoon about the varying cultural meanings associated

with language use. Source: Reproduced with kind permission of Dan Piraro and

Distributed by King Features Syndicate.

examine the various research methods used by linguistic anthropolo­

gists, so what I present here are son1e exan1ples of the topics scholars

have chosen and an explanation of how these topics contribute to our

understanding of language as a forn1 of social action. These studies

illustrate but by no means exhaust the wide-ranging diversity of con­

temporary linguistic anthropology.

Keith Basso

Keith Basso's (1996) ethnography, Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and

Language Among the Western Apache, explores "place-nuking" as a lin­

guistic and cultural activity.eThis book was written after Ronnie Lupe,

chairman of the White Mountain Apache tribe, asked Basso to help

make some maps: "Not whitemen's maps, we've got plenty of them,

but Apache maps with Apache places and names. We could use then,.

Find out something about how we know our country. You should

have done this before" (Basso 1996:xv) . When Basso took up this

suggestion and traveled with Apache horsemen to hundreds ofeloca­

tions in the region, he began to notice how place names were used

in everyday Apache conversations in ways that were very new to him.

He also spoke with consultants, asking about the stories associated

with various places. Through entertaining vignettes and engrossing

storytelling, Basso explains how the richly descriptive Western Apache

uses of language and place names (such as "Whiteness Spreads Out

Descending to Water," "She Carries Her Brother on her Back," and

1 4 The Socially Charged Life of Language I

"Shades of Shit") help reinforce important Apache cultural values.

For example, Western Apache speakers invoke these place names in

conversations to allude indirectly to cautionary tales from recent or

ancient history that may be relevant to the current speakers' dilen1-

mas. This practice, called "speaking with names," is a verbal routine

that "allows those who engage in it to register claims about their own

n1oral worth, about aspects of their social relationships with other

people on hand, and about a particular way of attending to the local

landscape that is avowed to produce a beneficial form of heightened

self-awareness" (Basso 1996:81) . In this

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