Anthro 350 Exam Essay

March 9, 1997
Anth 350

Question One
Languages become related when they develop near one another and have common traits in their constructions. Languages that are related share common traits in sound, grammatical structure, and spelling– and in most cases, the geographical location the languages were found. Languages that share these common traits show us how languages can develop in parallel ways. Usually, the closer a comparison of two words, taken from two different languages are, the closer their grammar, spelling and sound structure of these words will be. Those that are truly related can be said to form a family and the development of each individual language within the family is said to share similarities within how these languages were formed. For example, English is part of the Indo-European family’s Germanic branch, and because of this we say is related to German.

They are related because many of the sounds, grammar and spelling constructions show similarities to one another. In English, father begins with an f, yet in German this f becomes a v (vater). However, when we say “father” and “vater”, they sound alike and because they are used to describe the same object, a man who has children, we can determine that the two descended from a common language. Usually related languages develop internally or phylogenetically. This means that the language develops slowly, over time, and that most of the changes are made internally. The two most common internal changes include morphological changes in grammar, and semantic changes which deal with the significance of what the words and sounds mean. Sometimes when one language comes into contact with another, the languages change by means of borrowing other words. When this occurs often the meanings change while the spelling and sound of the word stays the same.

Dr. Sting, in order to prove her hypothesis that the RUREAL alien language is related to the others in her area of research, needs to use the Comparison Method to determine whether or not these languages form a family. First she needs to collect field data from the RUREAL tribe and another language found in the same area, finding cognates from each language to determine if the RUREAL language is truly related to the others. By comparing this data, if a pattern of similar sounds and word constructions is found then she has determined that RUREAL is related to the others and if this relationship might form a family. Yet, if the two show considerable differences from one another, then Dr. Sirius’ claim that the RUREAL language developed as a pidgin might be correct.

Dr. Sirius’ claim is that the Dr. Sting’s RUREAL is not related, that in fact is a pidginized creole of another language. If what he says is true, then the languages being surveyed have little to nothing in common then the RUREAL language she is studying may have developed from 2 (or more) separate languages due to trade or other relations between it and the surrounding communities. The language would have developed very rapidly, going from what it was in the past to a pidgin form and then a full creole. In the pidgin stage, the language would not have any native speakers because it was learned by all as a second language. There would have been at least one target language that contributed most of the pidgin’s grammar and vocabulary and a native language that contributed the semantics and some grammar. When the pidgin develops native speakers, then it becomes a creole. According to Dr. Sirius, RUREAL had more than enough time to develop into a creole because of the close proximity of the other tribes. Instead of being a language developed because of two (or more) cultural needs, this creole would be a language that encompasses the whole range of alien experiences.

Each of these different approaches to classifying the new language will have cultural and historical implications. If Dr. Sting is correct then the cultures in the surrounding areas that created RUREAL are related and may have a common ancestor. Their language family might provide other insights into why the original language stemmed off into the new forms as well. Yet, if Dr. Sirius is correct then RUREAL can be classified as a completely new branch that developed out of a specific extra-cultural need. This would mean that the culture of RUREAL was also developed from a mix of the parent languages and continued to grow and mature on its own.

Question Two
The old adage “how you talk affects your whole life” is true. From the very day we are born, the sounds we create to communicate, the language we use to communicate, as well as the regional dialect we speak with and our personal style all affect how others relate and interact with us. Ervin-Tripp states, “everywhere it seems to be the case that information about social identity is contained in speech variables” (Ervin-Tripp 352). The reason this information can easily be conveyed through speech patterns and language has to do with the way that cultures define the rules and patterns for social order. Social rules for speaking and understanding are used to help people convey messages so that they won’t be misinterpreted.

Each culture has their own rules that govern the many ways that speech events are to be handled. Some of these rules are universally known and some of them are known unconsciously. Each person within a speech community is said to share these social conventions in order to interpret others’ speech. Sometimes one’s identity is based upon personal judgements made towards how well the speaker can relay his message. These judgements made by the listener, are based upon their set of cultural knowledge and competency, and their set might differ from the speaker’s set. Hymes states that we acquire of these competencies or “conventional sequences, both idioms and routines,” throughout our life (Hymes 273). Therefore, each individual person becomes identified or judged on new criteria based on the changing information throughout all of their life. For example, if two people engaged in a conversation are not using the same conventions then the message won’t be interpreted correctly between them. And if the wrong set of social assumptions are used, then the message sent might make no sense or be offensive to the listeners causing them to pass certain judgements upon the sender.

One’s social status also determines one’s place within a conversation or society. In some cultures, the position within society that you are born into determines the type of language you will speak. For example, the Indian caste system determines the status of all people. If a person is born into the Brachman position, they may speak a more formal or polite form than someone who is born into a lower caste. A class designation also determines who you can speak with and how informal the language used can be and this too affects the way one’s identity is constructed. In some cultures, lower status people aren’t even allowed to initiate a conversation with others unless the person they are going to talk to has an equal or lower status. Those with a higher social status are said to be able to choose topics and language style, while being able to take longer turns and interrupt more.
People use their varied linguistic and cultural competencies to communicate, conceal or
enhance their social identity in different ways. Speaking and understanding different registers, inflections, dialects or other languages can help a person to communicate better or boost their social identity. They say knowledge is power and in our society. The more languages and cultural competencies you know, the better you can communicate with different types of people. In our culture, where English is the standard language, being able to speak it with the right inflections will help a person gain what they want in life and be understood by others. For foreigners, knowing their native tongues will also benefit them to continue conversations with those who do not know English while still allowing them not to be perceived as “being better than them, or forgetting where they came from,” just because they now speak English.

Code-switching from one language to another also serves many functions for control of cultural competency and personal identity. Where one language may fail to communicate an idea, switching into another language might offer a better chance to express that idea. Code-switching does not prove that one person is better than another because he can speak another language; rather, it gives us another tool to communicate ideas effectively to others because it regulates the total information that is shared between certain individuals according to the ability to understand what is meant within each language. Depending on what languages each individual has knowledge of, code-switching also determines who’s in and who’s not.