Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Language -Edward Sapir

Peter Metcalf in his book  Anthropology states that one of Boas's most outstanding students was Edward Sapir.His overview of the field of linguistics called Language (1921)where he expanded on the basic insight that the sounds of language form a system at several different levels.At the most fundamental level any given language makes use of only some of the noises that a human mouth can make.But competence in speaking does not consist of getting noises exactly the same every time which is not human but rather of observing certain distinctions between noises.

For example there are languages that make no distinction between the popping noises that can be made with the lips what are technically called plosives.For speakers of those languages it would be hard to even hear the difference between the English words plot and blot.In their own language a plosive in any particular utterance might vary between p/b without risk of misunderstanding.That is the contrast is not significant.These examples show that each language has its own sound system the crucial feature of which is a set of contrasts between sounds.Moreover as pronunciation gradually changes over time any modification in one sound has knock on effects on all the others transforming it into a new system.

Sapir noticed that the conventions of conversation and formal speech making and telling stories and so on constitute particular genres in many Amerindian languages that he studied.He contrasts the way that the poetry of Latin,Greek,French and Chinese produces their effects.He argues that each of these rhythmic systems is part of the unconscious habits of the language.Sapir draws together within one framework a broad range of cultural behaviour that might be called semiotic or message bearing.

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