講座主題

語言與文化主體性

主講人

Gunter Senft

德國馬克斯 · 普朗克
心理語言學研究所

講座簡介

Gunter Senft 教授將講述語言、文化與認知的多樣性及變化性,主題包含:空間概念與文化、名詞類別與文化、情緒與文化、語用與文化、語言與文化意識。

  • 空間概念與文化
  • 情緒與文化
  • 名詞類別與文化
  • 語用與文化
  • 語言與文化意識

Introduction of the Lecture Series

In this series of five lectures, Prof. Senft will introduce some anthropological and linguistical perspectives on the study of the relation between language, culture and cognition. Prof. Senft’s main subject of research is the culture of the Trobriand Islanders and their language, Kivilila, one of the 40 Austronesian languages spoken in the Milne Bay province of Papua New Guinea.

By presenting the results of his long-term field research with the Trobrianders, Prof. Senft addresses crucial questions for linguistics, anthropology, philosophy and other fields of human sciences. For instance: Is there evidence for the hypothesis of “linguistic relativism”, i.e. the idea that language influences (or determines) thought? How does language influence perception (for instance, how do different linguistic categorizations of space influence the way we perceive space)? What is the role of language in the expression and control of human emotions? Do natural languages rely on universal categories? Or are linguistic categories rather culture-related?

Prof. Senft’s lectures will not only provide with rich insights into possible answers to all these questions, they will also address relevant methodological suggestions for the researcher in the Humanities. Above all, Prof. Senft’s research stresses the importance of being “on a common ground” with the researched communities: that is, to be able to understand the complexity of categories and linguistic strategies developed by native speakers. Only then will it be possible to reduce the impact of the linguistic and cultural presuppositions of the researcher.

In this lecture, Prof. Senft invites us to reflect on how language influences our knowledge of the world, namely the way in which we categorize and conceptualize space. Experiments with speakers of different languages (mostly non-Indo-European) show that there is a correlation between linguistically constructed spatial concepts and non-linguistic experience of space.

The starting point of this research is a threefold typology of ‘frames of spatial reference’: 1) relative systems: those in which space is conceptualized with reference to the speaker; 2) absolute systems, in which space concepts rely on stable reference points, such as ‘north’ or ‘south’, and 3) inherent systems, in which space is considered with reference to an external object. Although most languages contain these three frames of spatial reference, research shows that in certain contexts speakers of a certain language tend to prefer one frame to the others. This preference has also an impact on the way in which they represent space and resolve non-linguistic spatial problems.

From this perspective, experiments provide evidence for a ‘weak’ version of Sapir and Whorf’s linguistic relativism: while language does not simply determine thought, it plays however an important role in human cognition.

Prof. Senft’s second lecture explores the problem of nominal classification. The main question is to determine how humans use language to organize, categorize and communicate about the perceived word.

In order to understand the relation between language and world, Prof. Senft will discuss different typologies of nominal classification found in natural languages. Then, by studying the Kilivila language of the Trobriand Islands, he will raise some questions that are relevant to Cognitive Linguistics: Are the systems of nominal classification universal or culture-related? What do linguistic categories classify: extralinguistic referents or intralinguistic categories such as ‘nouns’? Also, given that classifiers also carry their own meaning, does their meaning influence what is classified or does the meaning of their objects influence them?

Although many of the classifiers in the Kilivila language seem to rely on universal categories, Prof. Senft will show that these categories are always expressed in a cultural-specific way and that, from this perspective, language influences thought.

This lecture addresses some crucial methodological difficulties encountered in the study of the relationship between human emotions, facial expression and language. By exposing a group of Trobriand Islanders to two different experiments, Senft attempts to answer three questions: Can emotions be expressed through language or are they rather ineffable? Do speakers agree on the ways they name expressions? Do facial expression or context give better clues than language to the labeling of human emotions?

The answer to all these questions shows the limitations of existing research methods. The “Ekman faces method”, for instance, relies on the belief that human expressions are universal. The reaction of the Trobriand Islanders to a set of photographs representing allegedly basic ‘universal’ expressions, proves the inaccuracy of this method: There is almost no coincidence between Ekman’s typology and the answers provided by the consultants.

Another more sophisticated method, the film-based “Mind Reading Emotions Library,” provides better result and higher coincidence. While this method develops a categorization of human emotions based on English, Trobriand Islanders seem to categorize a big number of expressions in a similar way. However, methodological doubts persist insofar as the MREL provides with staged emotions; further research is necessary in order to reach evidence on the relation between emotions and their linguistic expression.

This lecture discusses the role of emotions in the construction of social reality. Prof. Senft is interested in the way in which ritual communication allows the members of a community to control their emotions. By “ritual communication” he understands forms of verbal and non-verbal repetitive performances that, in a given context, allow the participants to anticipate the consequences of their actions. It is a form of strategic action that allows a community to prevent violence and ensure social harmony. 

In his lecture, Prof. Senft will present and discuss the way in which the Trobriand Islanders rely on ritual communication in order to control their emotions in public, thus constituting a crucial aspect in the construction of their social reality. In particular, he will analyze the way in which emotions are either displayed or hidden in contexts such as mourning rituals, sexual life before marriage, interaction between married couples in public and response to provocation and aggressive behavior. From this perspective, ritual communication is related to the preservation of taboos through so-called “safety value customs”: that is, allowing forms of public discussion of taboos as a way to ensure their observance, such as the meta-linguistic “big sopa” used by the Trobrianders.

From this perspective, Prof. Senft puts into practice a premise of linguistic-anthropological research that he will have methodologically introduced in the previous lectures, namely that the researcher must be on a common ground with the research community: She must understand the way in which a community of speech constructs their common social reality.

In his last lecture, Prof. Senft elaborates on linguistic manifestations of ideology, understood as “commonsensical” frames with which a community interprets reality. Prof. Senft will present and analyze a speech addressed by his Trobriand informant Keda’ila to a group of schoolchildren. In his speech, permeated by Trobriand Islander’s education ideology, Keda’ila stresses the relation between the acquisition of knowledge (“kabitam”) and the traditional principle of competition coupled with cooperation (a form of competition whose basis are cooperative actions) that characterizes Trobriand society.

The educational-ideological background of Keda’ila’s speech offers meaningful insight into the way in which the Trobrianders conceive education in a globalized context. Keda’ila puts traditional matrilineal and community relationships in relation with a nation-wide and international context of competition. His speech illustrates how ancestral ideology is adapted in order to reinterpret local customs in the light of globalization, thereby ensuring the survival of the community.

講座資訊

聯絡信箱: nccuccs@gmail.com

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講師資訊

Prof. Gunter Senft

德國馬克斯 · 普朗克心理語言學研究所

Gunter Senft 教授是德國馬克斯.普朗克心理語言學研究所的資深研究員。身為南島語系專家,他的研究重點為語言、文化與認知、名詞類分、空間概念化、人類語言學與瀕危語言,並特別關注語言和言說行動在文化、社會與人際網絡構成的現象與力量。

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