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Date: Tue, 20 May 2003 15:13:42 +1000 From: Dennis Alexander <email@example.com> Subject: Enfield, ed. (2002). Ethnosyntax: Explanations in Grammar and Culture
Enfield, N. J. ed. 2002, Ethnosyntax: explorations in Grammar and Culture, Oxford university Press, Oxford.
Reviewer: Dennis Alexander, School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics, University of New England
This book is a collection of papers exploring the interaction of culture and grammar. There is an intuitive and emergent logic to the sequence going from Part I: Theory and Scope, though Part II: Culture, Semantics and Grammar, to Part III: Culture, Pragmatics and Grammaticalization. Reading the papers in the presented sequence, a reader moves from theoretical and cautionary aspects, through specific types of studies and finishes with a paper that describes and applies a particular procedure for ethnosyntactic studies. The papers also stand alone and can be read in any order.
Chapter 1, Introduction, N.J. Enfield
Enfield's introduction locates the discourse firmly within mainstream linguistics and extends the reach of the topic to the interfaces of linguistics with anthropology and psychology. By way of preparation Enfield identifies some potential bumps between the theory and practice of ethnosyntactic studies. In particular, some of the problems besetting the culture concept are addressed briefly in the introduction. There is also a discussion of the continuum from 'narrow' ethnosyntax - referring to the direct encoding of cultural meaning in the semantics of morphosyntax - to 'broad' ethnosyntax - encompassing a wider field of possible relations between grammar and culture. Enfield highlights the joint importance of both care in cultural description and care in linguistic description as necessary foundations for studies in ethnosyntax. The concluding remarks of the introduction highlight the value of exploratory studies. He situates these explorations of the culture - language interface alongside psycholinguistic investigations into the mind - language interface.
Chapter 2 Syntactic Enquiry as a Cultural Activity, Anthony V. N. Diller and Wilaiwan Khanittanan.
Diller and Khanittanan start from the 'ethno-' of the linguists studying a language, rather than from the 'ethno-' of the speakers of a language being studied. One major message of this paper is that grammaticality judgements are strongly influenced by the cultures of both linguist and their informants. Diller and Khanittanan then provide a case study of grammaticality and acceptability judgements using coreference for zero anaphora pronouns, lightly in English and in depth for Thai. Diller and Khanittanan make an important point about the interaction between cultural attitudes to a language, diachronic processes and about how non-linguist, naïve native speakers make grammaticality and/or acceptability judgements which differ from those of linguists. There is also an interesting point about the affect of training, imagination and context on grammaticality judgements.
Chapter 3, Ethnosyntax, Ethnopragmatics, Sign Functions and Culture, Cliff Goddard
Goddard's develops and elaborates the distinction between 'broad' and 'narrow' ethnosyntax. He then illustrates the 'narrow' sense of ethnosyntax with an example from Russian. At the end of this example he notes the commonality of semantic content that goes with the set of constructions described. Goddard uses this to go on to identify some connections between ethnosyntax in the broad sense and ethnopragmatics. The adaptation of Givon's aphorism to be "Today's ethnosyntax is yesterday's ethnopragmatics." is echoed later by Burridge. Goddard goes on to approach the study of culture- language interactions through the application of Peircean sign functions to distinguish semantic from iconic and indexical meanings. In this way a semantic meaning can be distinguished by being expressible as a paraphrase in universal semantic primes.
Chapter 4, Culture, Cognition, and the Grammar of 'Give' Clauses, John Newman This is a cross linguistic study of a particular domain of syntax. Newman identifies two levels of linguistic interaction as 'language - cognition' and 'language - culture'. He notes that in Cognitive Linguistics, language and culture are viewed as aspects of cognition. Newman analyses three specific languages in some depth in relation to aspects of give clauses: Japanese give forms and societal hierarchy (acknowledging that this cultural analysis is, to an extent, controversial). Chipewyan and encoding of the culturally significant "in control" versus "out of control" contrast. Nuahtl encodes different aspects of human interaction through morphosyntax. Newman also includes discussion of what might be cultural and what might be if not universal, then cross- linguistically very general, and what might be language specific but not culturally motivated.
Chapter 5, Masculine and Feminine in the Northern Iroquoian Languages, Wallace Chafe. Northern Iroquoian languages express gender in pronominal prefixes whereas Southern Iroquoian languages (Cherokee) don't. The Northern languages have an elaborate system for marking third person for masculine, feminine and neuter. The masculine and feminine forms are treated conspicuously differently within the language, with masculine being required and feminine being conflated in many situations with neuter or non- specific forms. Chafe offers a plausible hypothesis linking the morphology and the aspects of Northern Iroquoian culture that depict males as conspicuous, flamboyant and independent and feamles as stable, undifferentiated and in the background. Chafe notes that the pattern is now a relic but is still used - and influences some of the current of native speakers of Northern Iroquoian. Chafe also notes that just because this pattern is visible and plausibly causal for Northern Iroquoian does not mean it will explain other similar instances of similar patterns
Chapter 6, Using HE and SHE for Inanimate Referents in English: Questions of Grammar and World View, Andrew Pawley. Pawley is looking at a basilectal vernacular variety of English known as Tasmanian Vernacular English (TVE). Pawley identifies some rules for animation and gender assignment. Once animation is chosen, some objects have fixed gender while others have variable gender. Pawley considers the motivation for choices where variable assignment is possible and adduces both his own hypothesis and Wierzbicka's. Finding that more corpus data would be needed to falsify either, Pawley proceeds to describe and analyse gender assignment in TVE. He then compares this with work by Mathiot in two regions of the USA. Pawley reanalyses Mathiot's data and finds that it accords well with the rules developed for gender assignment in TVE. His final commentary is on the possibility of a blind spot in linguists' awareness of what is happening all around them. As a native speaker of this particular variety, I can certainly attest to such lack of awareness until I read Pawley. I also find much to consider in his exposition.
Chapter 7, A study in Unified Diversity: English and Mixtec Locatives, Ronald Langacker. Langacker identifies spatial paths and locations as relatively uncontroversial candidates for domains to be found in all languages. He also reasonably uncontroversially asserts that each language will have a rich inventory of conventional symbolic resources for expressing spatial relations. These represent the two poles of universalism and diversity around the axis of which his description and analyses revolve. Langacker also persuasively cautions against the assumption that surface differences between languages represent deeper divides. Langacker gives a substantial exposition of the use of bodypart compound locatives in Mixtec. He also uses an exposition of English locatives to explain relevant aspects of the theorey of Cognitive Grammar. These are then applied to the Mixtec constructions as analytical tools. There is, perhaps, a question as to whether the analysis of associated regions and bodypart constructions in Mixtec is one of metonymy or of synecdoche. Langacker then goes on to consider the possible grammaticization of the Mixtec bodypart components of the compounds in relation to the theory of Cognitive Grammar. He does not claim that the Mixtec locative nouns are adpositions but that they will become adpositions. However, his demonstration that this was what occurred in English, which appears to be the basis for his prediction, is not fully convincing.
Chapter 8, English Causative Constructions in an Ethnosyntactic Perspective: Focusing on LET, Anna Wierzbicka. In this paper Wierzbicka does two important things. First she shows how the English LET causative is semantically different from the German LASSEN causative and that this difference encodes a cultural difference. She then goes on to show how particular syntactic environments can affect the meaning of LET - what is preserved and what is altered and how the range of constructions for English LET differs from the range of constructions for German LASSEN and for Russian DAT'. Wierzbicka also shows how this range of constructions and their meanings is related to the cultural motivation of the constructions. In her conclusion Wierzbicka makes some trademark points about the importance of semantic analysis of the cultural dimensions of grammar and about the need for a consistent semantic metalanguage for cross-cultural comparison of meanings whether encoded in the lexicon, grammar, or pragmatics.
Chapter 9, changes within Pennsylvania German Grammar as Enactments of Anabaptist World View, Kate Burridge. Burridge examines two recent developments in Pennsylvania German grammar that "^Ê go against usual pathways of grammatical change and appear to be driven by the cultural and religious preoccupations of the speakers." The changes are the evolution of a lexical word WOTTE [to wish] out of a grammaticalized modal verb and the development of a lexical verb ZEHLE [to count] into a marker of future. Burridge opens with a substantial description of the cultural context of the Mennonites, the speakers of Pennsylvania German, and their religious and linguistic heritage. Following this groundwork, Burridge identifies the linguistic background to grammaticalization and Pennsylvania German modal verbs. She then describes the evolution of WOTTE against the usual paths and against the patterns of other Pennsylvania German modal verbs followed by an analysis of the cultural forces shaping this occurrence. A broadly similar approach is worked through for ZEHLE. Burridge's title for the conclusion, with footnoted credit for the form to Givon, is salient: "Today's Pragmatics is Tomorrows Semantics." (Cf Goddard above.)
Chapter 10, Cultural logic and Syntactic Productivity: Associated Posture Constructions in Lao, N.J. Enfield Enfield opens by highlighting the importance of conventions which act as premisses in cultural logic for interpreting utterances. This is done in relation to serial verb constructions and the notion of 'ready- recognizability of event' as a precondition for use of these constructions. Enfield then outlines process whereby cultural logic gets encoded into ideas of 'grammaticality'. Next Enfield moves into serialization and associated posture constructions in Lao. Two approaches to investigation are used: requests for grammaticality judgements; and elicitation events using pictures of actions performed in various postures. Enfield's findings and conclusions describe five general observations on how interaction between culture and grammar can be realized: - the dependence on cultural logic requires personal searches for salient cultural representations, - the notion of grammaticality makes constant and direct reference to the heuristics of cultural typifications, - the extent to which complex expressions encode sub- components as culturally normal events affects the accessibility of those sub-components to certain productive morphosyntactic processes, - construal of the semantics of verb serialization is contingent upon cultural typifications, and - the choice as to whether to employ a certain syntactic form at all is contingent upon cultural typifications. He does not claim these as exhaustive but sees his results as a motivation for further joint investigation of the interface between culture and grammar.
Chapter 11, Aspects of Ku Waru Ethnosyntax and Social Life, Alan Rumsey. Rumsey begins with a "potted ethnography" of the Ku Waru. he highlights the importance of 'pairing' across a number of domains and social dimensions to the Ku Waru in particular, and across the Western Highlands of Papua New Guinea in general. Rumsey's discussion includes existential clauses, person and number categories, the use of parallelism and the form and meaning of some pairing compounds. Of these, Rumsey regards the existential clause constructions as the strongest candidates for being examples of ethnosyntax in the narrow sense. His description and discussion of parallelism with reference to Ku Waru to oratory and poetic skill. His discussion of paring compounds as a category formation device is also very interesting.
Chapter 12, From Common Ground to Syntactic Construction: Associated Path in Warlpiri, Jane Simpson. In opening her paper, Simpson makes several important points about the claims of ethnosyntax that the meanings of some syntactic constructions involve underlying cultural concerns and that these cultural concerns can be identified. Simpson also narrows the arena of investigation from a kind of culture at large to a narrower concept of 'common ground' which is identifiable from common topics of conversation, shared expectations and assumptions, and, shared assumptions about how to build conversations. Simpson then develops a procedure for carrying out ethnosyntax. Simpson then follows her procedure in analysing associated path constructions in Warlpiri, an Australian language. The example is particularly useful because Simpson has chosen a construction which she judges to be a candidate for grammaticalization in the relatively near future. The analysis is succinct and, within the bounds of the paper, a thorough demonstration of the procedure in action.
Overall, this is a collection of very readable and very interesting papers. Enfield's selection, introduction and arrangement emphasises the exploratory nature of the papers and sets the investigatory tone of the collection.
It is the two-way nature of the interaction between culture and grammar that emerges from reading this collection. The balance between simplicity and complexity is maintained across the papers and both informs and invites dialogue with and between the authors.
There is some significant tension between the views of the authors and this is productive. For example, Goddard adduces Geertz and Shore in his discussion to show that there is significant cognitive development occurring under the influence of culture and language. This contrasts with the view of Cognitive Grammar that culture and language are aspects of an independent cognitive faculty. Also, whereas Simpson includes a cross-linguistic checking component in her procedure, Chafe appears to suggest that similarity of culture is not necessarily going to have similar effect on different languages.
In summary, this volume is a significant and important contribution to the exploration of ethnosyntax.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Dennis Alexander is a mature age PhD student at the
University of New England. His current research is in
the relationship between the semantics of abstract
expressions and figurative language. More generally his
interests include semantics, figurative language,
sociolinguistics, cognitive linguistics and the
philosophy of language.û