Communication 370 – Psychology of Language


Updated 4/6/09


Week 11: Culture


Note: In 2009, we are actually about 1 week behind, what with CSCA, and falling behind a day here and there. So we are beginning Week 12 on 4/6/09. On that day, we will actually discuss all of these readings to some degree, and move on from there.


The Readings:

·        Steinfatt, T. (1989). Linguistic relativity: Toward a broader view. In S. Ting-Toomey, F. Korzenny (Eds.), Language, communication, and culture (pp. 35-75). Newbury Park: Sage.

·        Goddard, C., & Wierzbicka, A. (1997). Discourse and culture. In T. A. van Dijk (Ed.). Discourse as social interaction (pp. 231-257). London: Sage.

·        Carbaugh, D. (2005). Cultures in conversation. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. [Ch. 5: “Self,” “Soul,” and “Sex”: Russian and US American cultures in a televised conversation]


I.                Linguistic Relativity


[I will fill in notes more later!]


The main questions to ask yourself as you review this essay (which, is, admittedly hard to read in some spots!) are:

·         What is the notion of “linguistic relativity” (Sapir-Whorf hypothesis), and what are “strong” and “weak’ versions of the hypothesis?

·         What are different types of relationships between language and reality? Which are “stronger” and “weaker”

o   LR-GCS: ________________________________

o   LR-CA: ________________________________

o   LR-LO: ________________________________

·         We are not as worried about what each of 20 famous philosophers and writers say about linguistic relativity as much as the overall argument(s) of the article. How do these areas of research, specifically, support or not support certain types of relativity?

o   Intralanguage evidence (e.g., Hopi linguistic notions of time; Bassa notions of color)

o   The “deficit-different culture” debate of co-cultural languages within the U.S. (like AAVE)

o   Bilingualism (e.g., the Chinese-American studies)

o   Other evidence (e.g., from Deaf, aphasics)

[Some of my own notes, starting part of the way through the chapter]

Linguistic Relativity: What are the options?


Views of Dialect Difference and Cognition

·         The deficit explanation

o   Lower SES linked to poor linguistic performance, linked to poor exam performance, lower IQ

o   “restricted” rather than “elaborate” code for lower SES

o   “Mother-child” method of control

·         The difference explanation:

o   Black school-age children able to be quite verbal, depending on circumstances

o   BE (or AAVE) as a “quasi-foreign language”; more distant from SAA (SAV) than lower SES White English; influence from Creole? (or African dialect)?)

o   Some studies show the differences in ability relate to experiences, concepts with which lower SES or different-“race” children are not familiar

o   Teaching differences? [social structure?]

o   Self-fulfilling prophecy?

o   Differences?

§  Phonology only?

§  Negative concord (agreement of negatives): He don’t know nothin’

§  Cf: “Don’t you want to go to the movies?” “No.”: Responding to the logic of the question, rather than the logic of the proposition (Japanese)

o   Labov: “What is termed ‘logical’ in standard English is, of course, the conventions which are habitual.” (in Steinfatt, p. 53).

·         The “Other Children” Position: Children learn their first language (esp up to age 4) largely through dialects of other (and older) children. Thus, “if White children learn their language through a Black dialect does that make them ‘think Black’?”

·         Main point: If small differences in dialect do not make a difference in thought, how much of a difference is necessary? (And what can we say of the bi-dialectical child?)



·         Original argument: Bilingualism in young children delays language learning (and cognitive thought). Evidence proves otherwise

·         Some studies show that a skill learned in one language (e.g., arithmetic) can be transferred and done in another language with no problem.

·         Other studies (Chinese-English) show difficulties in Chinese in use of counterfactuals (“If I had been….I would not have…), definite generic article (“The buffalo is becoming extinct,” using “the buffalo” to refer to a whole class of things rather than an individual thing), and entification (moving from a complete sentence (“Bush will be elected”) to an abstract phrase “the election of Bush”).

·         Bi-linguals see more meaning in “function and content words” than monolinguals

·         The unfamiliarity hypothesis (versus different cognitive structure): Key summary suggests that these studies “do not provide evidence that Chinese speakers cannot think in terms of counterfacutals, definite generic articles, or entifications, but that they do not normally express thoughts using such constructions” (p. 57).


Evidence from Speech and Hearing Impaired:

·         Aphasics: If linguistic relativity: if one loses a language and has to relearn it, then the language relearning should rely on early language. Evidence supports this (the “rule of Ribot”), but more for compound than for coordinate bilinguals.

·         Deaf children: Sensory-motor cognition actually about the same b/t deaf and hearing, but four years behind for blind children. “Deaf have the same semantic or categorizing competence as the hearing” (p. 59).


·         “Language affects representational thought, not logical operations.”

·         General Claims RE:

o   General Cognitive Structure (GCS)

o   Cognitive Areas (CA)




II.               Culture and Discourse


·         [I will fill in notes more later!]

Some things to watch for:

            Goddard & Wierzbicka:

·         What is the “ethnography of communication”? Know the SPEAKING framework! (p. 232)

·         What is the “cultural scripts” approach? Bring an example of a cultural script to class to share during discussion! J

·         What are “routines” and “genres,” and how might these vary from culture to culture?

·         Make a chart: comparison and contrast: What are some characteristic aspects of Japanese, Malay, and Polish styles (watch out—there’s some Polish stuff in the end, too!)? Yankunytjatara (Australian Aboriginal), Ewe (routines, genres)


·         What are the main similarities and differences between how Russians and Americans treat social problems publicly, as seen on Donohue?


Note: Be able to spend a brief time in groups to summarize what you have read, and then share with the class! (as follows):





































Skit example: Let’s imagine that Colombia is one of the cultures. I know there is a communication ritual that Kristine Fitch calls “salsipuede” (leave if you can), in which someone tries to leave a social gathering, but the acceptable social norm is that others try to keep the person from leaving. If the person leaves too brusquely or too soon, they will be seen as socially incompetent. There are also other aspects of Colombian communication, such as the balancing of hierarquía  (social status difference) and confianza (trust, connectedness to others), and these play out in the names one uses in direct reference (e.g., Titles in formal situations, nicknames among peers).

·         When I get to my group, I will share my TTE and other things I learned about the specific culture that I read about. We will fill in the “chart” above with things we think the class should know about this culture and assign someone to share them.

·         We would work together a skit about a party. Tom is trying to leave the party, but Chris and Eric won’t let him. Narrator says “a half hour later…” Tom tries to leave again, offers stronger excuse. Chris & Eric give response to the resistance (e.g., offering him a ride home, if the buses aren’t running anymore; saying he can miss a class now and then and it won’t hurt him). Narrator says “and still an hour later.” Tom tries to leave a third time. C & E try to keep him there, but finally let him leave. Throughout, all of them might call each other nicknames to show connectedness.

·         Someone else in our group will tell what we found out about communication in Colombia.



We will all discuss the Donohue article (by Carbaugh) together


·         Questions and thoughts for Carbaugh (2005) on Donahue in Russia

1.      Note that, while Carbaugh does not explicitly use Hymes’ SPEAKING framework for analysis, much of what he does could be interpreted through the framework (who are the participants, what are the norms, what are the “ends” of speaking in the two different cultures?)

2.      About: Cultural views of

·         Personhood (self)

·         Media (what is shown, how it is shown, the relation of media to reality and social life). Media is like a “plant” (p. 56)

3.      Ethnography: What is it?! What does it mean to “ground” the analysis of some form of talk (here, audience research, appropriate mediated discourse) in “a community’s discourse system” (p. 57)? What is the specific method Carbaugh uses for this study?

4.      Some foundational principles:

·         Conversation is “a culturally situated accomplishment” (p. 59)

·         Culture is “a system of expressive practices that is fraught with feeling, and grandly implicates beliefs about persons, places, and patterns of living” (p. 60).

·         Face (and face restoration). Note Goffman’s quotation, p. 61.

1.      Incident

2.      A necessity—a situation calling for immediate action (“exigence” for some action). Here, “direct and official attention” (Goffman, in Carbaugh, p. 61)

3.      “Ritual disequilibrium,” with effort to correct effects of incident (restorative facework)

4.      Re-established “satisfactory ritual state” or of the “expressive order

5.      Comparing and contrasting the role of media in public discourse of problems.

·         In America, “face restoration” may actually work through media:

1.      Incident (e.g., Mosh Pits; NY Hardcore kids)

2.      An “exigency” for direct attention (here, public discourse of problems)

3.      Corrective processes: Response/redress through public dialogue [but what is the solution…or is a solution really in mind?] Talk as remedy! (Note Carbaugh’s earlier work, on which many Americans see “Talk” as both representative of reality and as a remedy to most relational and social problems, as opposed to other cultural views of “talk”) and Talk a self-presentation [ultimate goal of talk: To express one’s own personal desires, thoughts on an issue—freedom of speech and all that).

American “rules of speaking” and “script” for public talk of problems

Russian “rules of speaking” and “script” for public talk of problems







Public Talk of problems


Underlying values, beliefs









Some notes from COM 372 files. . . These might be useful!


Fun Links:

Ø American Sign Language and other varieties: A simple introduction:

Ø  Zompist—An interesting cultural, linguistic, and everything website. Check out, for example, intros to linguistics,

o   Hou tu pranownse Inglish

o   How to make your own language (a growing pastime among my son, his friends, and readers of Tolkien!)

o   You know you’re an American (French, Canadian, Brazilian…) if….

Ø  Obscure Trivia: A word on Tolkien languages and Klingon

Ø  Sapir-Whorf is NOT a Klingon!

Okay…Now get back to work.


·         It is important to note that linguistic equivalency—either in interpersonal translation (as you are learning a language) or in the translation of scientific social surveys—may involve language equivalency at any of these levels, and misunderstanding may occur at any level! However, in communication, we are usually less interested in errors of pronunciation (morphemic) and even grammar, than we are of symbolic meaning (semantics) and the use of language to accomplish goals (pragmatics). For an essay on the role of language equivalency and how it operates in the research design for cross-cultural research, read: Levels of language (class notes): Be able to give an example of each


Some Important Language Concepts (class notes): Be able to give an example of each


·         Once we understand the basics of language, we can understand some key aspects or terms associated with the study of language:

o   Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis: The main idea here is that Dr. Jude Iheoma being interviewed by Oliver Mbamara, Esq. of African Events .com language not only describes reality but works to shape the way we see, experience, our social world. If we have different verb forms (like future subjective, as exists in Portuguese) or different “lexical choice” (more words to describe colors, camels, snow, etc.), then we actually experience the world differently. That is, a groups language “creates” its world or reality (at least its social reality). This is quite contrary to traditional notion of language merely describing our world. BTW, while originally widely accepted, the hypothesis is now a little controversial for different reasons!

o   Bernstein Hypothesis (not in book): Social situation dictates language usage. In different situations, we use different “codes.” Specifically:

§  Elaborated versus restricted codes. (Neuliep, pp. 258 ff). Elaborated code is where everything is spelled out in detail (no jargon) in a language that can easily be understood by most people in the situation. Restricted  ode is a sort of linguistic “shorthand” or short-cut that allows people familiar with a situation to speak in limited terms (ex: Emperor Palatine, in The Revenge of the Sith, tells clone soldiers, “Initiate Code 66”). This could be cultural dialect or organizational jargon.  In brief:

1.      Restricted code: highly predictable, shorthand speech based on shared meaning

2.      Elaborated code: low predictability, meaning in words

o   Code-switching: The act of switching between codes. Can refer to switching between elaborated and restricted code (a necessary skill for good communication—and basis of Communication Accommodation Theory!) or change between languages (say, going back and forth between Spanish and English in the same conversation).

o   Gratuitous concurrence


Thought Box: Tell about a time that you moved back and forth between elaborated code or restricted code. This may have happened in a workplace, where you had a specific jargon and you had to change to the code of the customers, or if you spoke a “restricted code” among a group of friends and then had to “code switch” to elaborated code for your parents.


Some Important Dimensions of Language Difference across Cultures

What are some dimensions of communication difference that you can think of? Fill in the list with others, possibly using charts below. Of course, often, differences are not squarely put into dimensions, but reflect aspects very specific to the individual “speech communities” that make up distinct cultures. Here are some that I have come up with (some based on Neuliep, 2006, pp. 261 ff, but not limited to his discussion).

o   Direct versus Indirect speech

o   Formality/informality:

o   Differentiated/undifferentiated: Differentiated language codes have different “levels” of language depending on some aspect—usually the status but there might be other aspects—of the participants. All cultures will have some level of differentiation (for example, you probably speak differently to your rabbi than you do to your best buddy at the pool hall than you do to a small child at the park). But some cultures have whole different “speech registers,” with different verb endings or even different noun endings, depending on the relative status of the individual. These codes are more “differentiated.”

o   Elaborated/animated/succinct: Elaborated codes (or cultures that use elaborated style) spell everything out (similar or same as “low context”). In these cultures, we would expect to find meaning in the words, so there might be lots of words, with the assumption that language represents or symbolizes reality fairly closely (what some call a representational view of language). [Other cultures do not see language primarily as a tool for meaning transfer (a very mainstream American view, even embedded in many of our notions of communication), but as identity building, as personal expression, or even as resistance to dominance.


o   Animated languages tend to see the purpose of language as expressive. These cultures might include much metaphor, repetition, and so on in language; one will look to language for its artistic, skillful, or aesthetic components (Middle Eastern approach, possibly some forms of African American discourse).

o   Other cultures will actually mistrust language, feeling that it obscures reality. Thus, the appropriate response to a beautiful sunrise, to a loud or obnoxious person, or to true love is silence, not words. In such cultures, language is often understated or “succinct” (e.g., Japan, China, some Native American cultures), although we also see some of this in British communication style, where language is pragmatic (practical), representational, but still more succinct than America’s elaborated style.

o   Neuliep introduces another type of speech, exacting, which he argues is practical—not overly succinct with lots of silence and nuance, but focusing on “what is needed,” again following the representational view of language above. He sees the United States as using this style of language.



o   High/low context

o   Instrumental (goal-oriented, practical) vs. expressive (talk for talk’s sake, relationship-focused, affective)

o   Sender- or message-focused/receiver- or process-focused

o   Personal/contextual

o, Creoles, Universal Languages

Our text does not talk about different categories of a language (e.g., English, but also other languages), but other writers have distinguished between specific types of dialect:

  • Pidgin: Mixture of two or more languages, but generally used for trade (people speak other dialects in the home)
  • Creole: Mixture of two or more language taught to children as a “first” language
  • Patois: Any “nonstandard” language, which can include dialects, pidgins, creoles; see
  • Argot: A language spoken by a group of people, such as criminals, with a restricted meaning; similar to or the same as cant. Like a slang.
  • Cant: A crypto-dialect, or language spoken by a group to exclude others, used to exclude meaning from those outside the group.

Note that some of these could be “restricted codes” (argot, slang), but others, if they are spoken widely and “naturally,” would not be restricted codes. Someone can code-switch between slang/argot/cant and an elaborated code (spoken by everyone generally in a culture) just as one can code-switch from Spanish to English or from AAVE to MAVE. E. T. Hall calls this contexting—switching your level of “context” to match the other communicator.


Some fun links: Pidgin & Other Languages: