Ottenheimer Chapter 6 Language in Action



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Linguistic communities and speech communities

  • Communicative competence and symbolic capital do not operate in a social vacuum.

  • Both are linked to the fact that language in used in specific groups and situations by specific groups of people.

  • To describe these kinds of groups and situations linguists use the terms linguistic community and speech community

  • A group of people who share a single language variety and focus their identity around that language is called a linguistic community

  • A group of people who share one or more varieties of language and the rules for using any or all those varieties in everyday conversation is called a speech community.

  • Might code-switch between languages or dialects.

  • Remember that in many settings that multilingualism is the norm.

    Competence with Languages 3

    • Linguistic communities and speech communities (continued)

    • Example the relationship between English and Spanish use in Texas.

    • Chicanos overestimate knowledge of English; Anglos minimize knowledge of Spanish and are passive.

    • Necessity of Chicano to learn English, but not the reverse.

    • Three-generation passage from Spanish to English dominance: Grandparents resist moving to English; parents as uneasy translators, and third generation use English.

    • Community of practice

    • Related to the idea of a speech community is the concept of a community of practice.

    • A community of practice is a group of individuals who interact regularly, developing unique ways of doing things together.

    • Examples of communities of practice could include choir groups, sailing clubs, study groups.

    • For me, one community of practice are my colleagues in anthropology.


    Ethnography of Speaking 1

    • Ethnography of communication

    • Also called the ethnography of speaking.

    • Developed in 1960s by Dell Hymes, this methodology is a way of describing and analyzing the ways people use language in real situations.

    • By doing fieldwork, linguistic anthropologists learn the basics of communicative competence in a new speech community.

    • Doing an ethnography of communication

    • The importance of fieldwork:

    1. What are the rules for speaking?

    2. For not speaking?

    3. How do children learn the rules?

    • Immersion into the culture is the best way to understand how people think about and use language.

    • SPEAKING: An acronym to guide research

    • S-P-E-A-K-I-N-G is the acronym developed by Hymes to discuss the basic areas of research needed to understand language in speech communities

    • The acronym stands for seven basic arenas of research: Setting, participants, ends, act sequences, keys, instrumentalities, norms, and genre.

    • Setting/Situation/Scene refers to the place in which the conversati0on is taking place in the broadest sense & the overall psychological feeling of the place.

    • There will be specific and unwritten ideas about what is ‘normal’ conversation.

    • Lecture expectations: 1) Professor will lecture or engage students in a discussion; 2) students will not interrupt the professor or fellow students; 3) professor will be prepared. Difference: Americans ask questions during class (American) and Japanese after class.


    Ethnography of Speaking 2

    • SPEAKING: An acronym to guide research (continued)

    • Setting/Situation/Scene can also affect the specific kinds of responses people are likely to make.

    • “How are you?” will solicit a different answer in the doctor’s office than in other locations.

    • “Whew, it’s hot!” may be a comment on the weather (when there is not control) or a request for turning on the air conditioner.

    • Participants refers to who can or should be involve in various speech events or conversations and what is expected of the various individuals.

    • In North America, children when present are expected not to contribute to the conversations of adults. [Children should be seen and not heard.]

    • Adults, in this same community, are expected to be very careful what they say in front of children, so that the children will not repeat what they heard! [Little pitchers have big ears.]

    • In some cultures, non-humans can be considered conversational partners.

    • Ghosts and spirits can speak through individuals.

    • Deities can also speak through individuals.

    • Famous example of 2 female lecturers, one European American and other Asian.

    • The same dress, hair and such were worn and each women lectured to one of two separate groups.

    • The listeners of the Asian woman reported she had an accent and that they comprehended less.

    • Gender stereotypes are still popular among Westerners.

    • The idea that men and women speak in different speech styles.

    • Men speak less and more directly, women speak more and indirectly

    • Most recent research shows it is the perceptions of them speaking differently because of expectations, not that they actually speak differently.


    Ethnography of Speaking 3

    • SPEAKING: An acronym to guide research (continued)

    • Ends refers to the reasons for which the speech event is taking place, or the goals that people have in speaking in a particular situation.

    • Bargaining may be appropriate in some social situations, but not in others.

    • The example of bargain in Mexico

    • Never bargain in the Solomon Islands!

    • Asking for (and giving) directions

    • Author says that most New Yorkers will give directions whether they know them or not

    • Your goal is to get to Place A, theirs is not to sound ignorant.

    • Deborah Tannen suggests that there are 2 types of speech styles: report-talk and rapport-talk. These styles do not mesh well.

    • Report-talk: Each person speaks in turn, using eye contact to signal each other to flip speaker.

    • Rapport-talk: People may insert words of encouragement and other examples for showing you are in tune.

    • Act sequence refers to the actual sequence of events.

    • What words are used, by whom, who begins, who continues, how are turns taken, what exactly gets said?

    • One example is what are called adjacency pairs:

    • The greeting and response exchanges that are expected

    • Good evening!  Good evening?

    • Hymes and others have suggested 3 concepts to help provide additional focus and specificity for analyzing language in real situations.


    Ethnography of Speaking 4

    • SPEAKING: An acronym to guide research (continued)

    • Hymes and others have suggested 3 concepts to help analyze language in real situations.

    1. Speech Acts

    • Single uninterrupted utterance, usually by one individual.

    • Promises, commands, apologies.

    1. Speech Events

    • One or more speech acts, defined and governed by the rules and conventions of the community.

    • Exchanging greetings, telling jokes, giving speeches; also status, type or order of greetings.

    1. Speech Situations

    • The setting and circumstances in which people speak.

    • Classrooms, conferences, parties, ceremonies.

    • Key refers to the mood or spirit in which communication takes place.

    • Mourning

    • A funeral in the US is generally hushed and solemn, people speaking in quiet tones.

    • In some highland Ecuador cultures, loud wailing crying is respectful.

    • Whether the situation is formal or informal may change the tone of speech.

    • Informal: May use contractions (ain’t, goin’ fishing) , by condensed pronunciations (coulda, gonna, hafta), by prepositional endings (Where you gonna be at?).

    • Formal tone generally requires more ‘careful’ speech.

    • Joking and teasing

    • This may be appropriate among some individuals or in some situations.

    • In the Comoro Islands teasing is among close friends OR used to test the newcomer.


    Ethnography of Speaking 5

    • SPEAKING: An acronym to guide research (continued)

    • Instrumentalities refer to 1) the channels that are used (speaking, writing, signaling with flags, and so forth) as well as 2) the varieties of languages speakers use (language, dialect, register).

    • The standard way to determine the difference between a language and a dialect is to test for mutual intelligibility.

    • Dialects are mutually intelligibility means that the speakers are using dialects of a language.

    • Lack of mutual intelligibility means that the speakers are using different languages.

    • A register is a variety of a language that is appropriate to specific situations.

    • For instance, a language may have a formal register to be used in a speech versus an informal register for ordinary conversation.

    • A scientific register to talk about laboratory work.

    • A joking register to teach each other.

    • Think about the case where one says, “I’m so gonna kill you now!”.

    • There is a certain register used by South Dakotans when uttering an “absolute opposite” joke. I get in trouble all the time on the West Coast as this is not a common register here.

    • Norms refers to the expectations that speakers have about appropriateness of speech use.

    • Expectations

    • Speaking vs. silence.

    • Directness vs. indirectness.

    • Lying vs. politeness.

    • Taking turns and interrupting.

    • Taboos and avoidances.

    • Genres refers to different kinds of speech acts or events. For instance, Lectures, poetry readings, joking, gossip, storytelling.


    Other Approaches

    • Conversation analysis

    • It was developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s for analyzing talk-in-action.

    • Its focus is the close study of actual conversational exchanges.

    • Concentrating on the act sequence part of Hyme’s model.

    • Use tape recordings between people who are conversing, which are then transcribed to study the act sequences.

    • When I was an undergraduate, I was encouraged to visit places such as restaurants where the booths had high partitions.

    • There, I was to record what I heard, both the words and the paralanguage. Of course, I was missing the nonverbal communications aspect but the idea was to be covert. We do NOT do this today.

    • Discourse analysis

    • Is broader than CA and takes in all aspects of Hyme’s model.

    • Takes real language in real situations as its focus and emphasizes understanding how authority and power are distributed and negotiated.

    • Includes looking at sounds, intonations, gestures, syntax, words, style meanings, speech acts, and so forth.


    Intercultural Communication

    • When things go wrong

    • Remember different communities = different rules. Easy for misunderstandings to occur.

    • Michael Agar uses the phrase rich points.

    • Rich points are kinds of moments where things go wrong in a speech situation.

    • They depend on contrasts between two cultures.

    • Rich points signal differences in rules.

    • Develop communicative competence: Michael Agar’s ‘MAR’.

    • Recognize/acknowledge ‘Mistake’ in using rules.

    • Develop Awareness of different rules. Ethnography of Communication as a method.

    • Repair understanding of rules.

    • Finding appropriate ways to say ‘no’.

    • Learning to take turns without ‘interrupting’.

    • ‘Hearing’ and responding to a request for a ride.





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