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Anthropology: Shan Wareing and David Thomson Report (Assessment)

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Updated: Jun 16th, 2020

Shan Wareing introduces the basics of why anthropologists study language as part of their holistic examination of human behavior, and why other disciplines should be interested in their results (Salzman and Rice 15). He relates the different uses of language directly to daily life. He describes language as a system – meaning that is usually logical and therefore can be analyzed. It consists of signs with specific meanings for speakers of that language. The author distinguishes between the meanings of these signs, and the way that they are used in public and private speech. The author asks whether what we name things is relevant, and then demonstrates, through examples drawn from literature, business correspondence, and media, that language can be used to exert power, whether political or expert power (Wareing, Singh and Peccei 2-16). This reminds the reader of the way that different interest groups name things, for example, abortion versus reproductive choice, or death taxi versus estate tax.

Ishtla Singh takes up the task of introducing why anthropologists are so interested in language. Singh suggests that language we learn and speak shapes the way we see the world. To illustrate this, he presents a hypothesis from Sapir and Whorf. They suggested that different language speakers would perceive colors differently because of the different vocabulary they have for colors. Then, Singh offers examples of how word choice actually affects behavior and attitudes. These include instances of “nukespeak’ and ‘warspeak’ (Wareing, Singh and Peccei 18-34). The aim of anthropology seems to be to find patterns in linguistic differences (Salzman and Rice 12). This reading suggests to the reader that if people can identify instances where words shape behavior negatively, they can perhaps change that behavior. An example could be the Pans of India. For example, would stopping the use of the word unclean or untouchable change the way that other people treat the Pans? (P. C. Salzman 47)

David S. Thomson goes into greater detail regarding the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis introduced by Singh (Wareing, Singh and Peccei 24). Describing the experiments in color identification, Thomson makes a strong case that the areas of our language that include many options for vocabulary prepare us for the world that we have to deal with. He suggests that a culture dependent on rice will have many useful words to describe it, but few words to distinguish between different varieties of car brands (Thomson 65). This reminds the reader of the way that older people say cell phone, but younger people specify iPhone 5C (or 6…) versus Galaxy Note 3 (or 4 or ….). Such differences in word use can also affect behavior 1. Thomson also examines the way that words for what qualifies as a person can affect the way people perceive and treat one another (Thomson 71)2.

Kenneth Guest examines how societies end up unequal. He describes egalitarian societies, as well as ranked societies, and the implications of both. The author draws on the work of other anthropologists and economists such as Marx, Weber, and Bourdieu, to illustrate how inequalities develop (Guest 399-405). The work of Mullings is used to illustrate the intersection of inequalities with race, gender, and other characteristics (Guest 405-410). The chapter goes on to examine inequality in the USA/the world including the work of Goode and Low. He notes the way media ignores poverty, which became more of a media topic after the 2008 crash. The author then discusses of the evolution of the Indian caste system into a class system, especially regarding the dalits or ‘untouchables’ (similar to those referred to by Salzmann (P. C. Salzman 47)). The author concludes that global inequalities reduce the overall effectiveness of the human race.

Works Cited

Guest, Kenneth. Cultural Anthropology: A Toolkit for a Global Age. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2013. Print.

Miner, Horace. “Body Ritual among the Nacirema.” The American Anthropologist 58 (1956): 503-507.

Salzman, Philip Carl and Patricia Rice. Thinking anthropologically: a practical guide for students. Print. Upper Saddle River: Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2004. Print.

Salzman, Phillip Carl. Understanding Culture: An Introduction To Anthropological Theory. Prospect Heights: Waveland, 2001. Print.

Thomson, David S. “The Sapir – Whorf Hypothesis: Worlds Shaped by Words.” Spradley, James and David W. McCurdy. Conformity and Conflict: Readings in Cultural Anthropology. Ed. James Spradley and David W. McCurdy. 14. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2006. Print. 113-125.

Wareing, Shân, Ishtla Singh and Jean Stilwell Peccei. Language, society and power: an introduction. Ed. Ishtla Singh and Jean Stilwell Peccei. 2nd. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 2004. Print.

Footnotes

  1. Consider when a policeman correctly and swiftly identifies a get-away car by color, style, model, trim, and perhaps even year so that another policeman can find it.
  2. If one’s name for one’s own community is “real people”, others may not be real or worth treating well.
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