In my second post, I explained why I started my blog. I have decided to do an updated post because there are other things I’ve thought about that I would like visitors to this blog and to my Twitter homepage to know. However, I am going to keep the old post up, which you can view here, though most stuff there will be repeated in this post.
This post is a blog post I needed to write for my International Conflict Resolution Class. I used strikethrough to indicate a change made based on the professor’s recommendation.
The Basic Human Needs model can be used to analyze a number of conflicts. On the surface, we see various positions differing parties can take, which are often mutually exclusive. However, parties have interests in taking these positions, and these interests are the why of the positions. Interests are motivated by Basic Human Needs, which we need as humans. Interests and positions are negotiable, but needs are not. Johan Galtung classifies Basic Human Needs as
physiological welfare needs, security, freedom, and identity/meaning. For example, we can see the role of Basic Human Needs in various conflicts involving free speech on college campuses. On the one hand, those leaning towards absolutism in free speech appeal to freedom, while their opponents feel that free speech absolutists are not sufficiently taking into consideration identity and security needs, and fear that an absolutist approach will lead to unapologetic bigotry. When you look beyond position to interests and needs, you see overlap, particularly since freedom needs are closely tied to identity needs. Basic Human Needs also is reflected in controversies involving race in USA: many of the systems set up to ensure security, such as the police, contribute to the deprivation of security needs for Black people in USA. (It can also be said that critics of Black Lives Matter also value security.)
I will also discuss Basic Human Needs as they relate to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel has a need for security, as expressed by the building of a security fence. The threat of attacks from Palestinians on Israeli civilians (such as in suicide bombers) threatens Israelis sense of security. Palestine has a need for freedom, security, identity, and physiological needs, as the rules imposed under the occupation hinder the fulfillment of many of those needs. The restriction imposed on Palestinians’ movement by the fence and by various rules imposed by Israelis and by the checkpoints limit Palestinians’ movement and thus their freedom. This also makes it harder to earn a living, increasing the number of people living in poverty and struggling to meet physiological needs. The lack of self-determination affects identity needs (and many turn to extremists groups to meet those needs), and the possibility of an Israeli attack affect security needs. To return to Israel, their identity needs are also involved in this: Israel was established as a safe haven for Jews after centuries of anti-Semitism which saw its denouement in the Holocaust. Thus, this greatly affects the Israeli mindset and has made people have a strong anti-Semitism detector, and contributed to fears that criticism of Israel may be motivated by old-fashioned anti-Semitism (which is an attack on identity needs).
Some ways of addressing this may include addressing anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and anti-Brown racism around the world, since all of these have a role in how third parties approach the conflict. Additionally, the specific application of identity needs for Israelis and Palestinians (Christians and Muslims, as well as atheists and agnostics in both groups) need to be taken into consideration. It would also be helpful to make sure that the discussions are not limited to the elites in the societies, as the elites may not give due consideration to the needs of those at the bottom of society. One problem is that recognition that we all have the same needs can lead to the imposition of the dominant party’s framework, which results in a denial of the minority party’s identity needs. This is where it is useful to make sure more marginalized members of all parties are included, rather than the most privileged. This helps make sure that the powerful don’t benefit at the expense of the powerless.
Thus, as we see, in conflict situations, we can look beyond the stated positions to see what the parties’ interests are, and, even better, what they are indicating are their unmet needs. From there, we can move forward to find ways in which all those needs can be satisfied in a win-win for everyone.
Abu-Nimer, M., “Basic Human Needs”, ch 9 of Conflict Resolution and Human Needs, edited by Avruch, K. and Mitchell, C. , 2013
Fisher, S., et al, Working with Conflict, ch. 2, “Tools for Conflict Analysis”, 2000
Galtung, J., “International Development in Human Perspective”, ch. 15 of Conflict: Human Needs Theory, edited by Burton, J., 1990
In her article “Intersectionality”, Brittany Cooper discusses Kimberlé Crenshaw’s article on intersectionality and some of the responses and critiques to the concept. In this paper, I will discuss my reactions to this article and how it relates to conflict resolution.
First of all, the thing that I thought about upon reading this article is that some of the critiques could be solved by intersectionality itself. First of all, Cooper references (pp. 7-8) allegations that intersectionality colludes with US imperialism (a claim I will return to later). Another example concerns the applicability of intersectionality across borders (p. 8) and a third involves a debate between universalizing the theory or keeping it particular (p. 10). In all these cases, the theory itself addresses the concerns, in that the point of the theory addresses how Black women face sexism and racism at the same time, not separately, and critiqued the tendency to focus on the otherwise privileged. Thus, this can include US imperialism and concerns beyond US borders. The way to address this is to not focus on the otherwise privileged in these discussions, but to note how differing marginalizations affect how people experience, say, US imperialism. Additionally, since structures vary, one should take into account how structures vary across cultures, and how crossing borders affects these structures. (Again, do not limit the focus to the most privileged, but be aware how axes of privilege and marginalization operate across borders.)
This is also tied in with whether or not intersectionality should remain about Black women or go universal. This is linked to conflict resolution in that, according to Tatsushi Arai, conflict is an incompatibility of goals. In this case, there could be a conflict if someone wants to universalize and another does not. However, conflict resolution seeks to find both/and solutions, something that is possible in this case, again using the theory itself. In this case, we can recognize the universality of Black women and, to return to Crenshaw’s original point, to not focus on the most privileged Black women. To return to US imperialism, Black women exist in many countries targeted. Cooper mentions that Crenshaw included Latinas (p. 2). It is noteworthy that Latin America also has a history of slavery (because Spain, France, and Portugal imported African slaves, just like USA did) and racism. Thus, some Latinas are Black as well. The way USA has behaved towards Latin America indicates that Black women are also victims of US imperialism. Following intersectionality’s point helps ensure those women’s voices are heard as well, and not just (educated, middle class) Anglo-African-American women.
One thing I noted is that Cooper includes Black femimists who critique intersectionality (pp. 4-5). I like this because this helps resist attempts to homogenize Black women, which I sometimes fear white liberals have a tendency to do. (In fact, I once participated in a Twitter chat on race led by a white guy, and he asked participants of color what they needed from white people and asked white people to sit the question out. Considering my background as Biracial but having largely grown up in white circles, I debated whether to reply or not. I decided to reply and request that white people not homogenize Black people.) I think this is also important for conflict resolution purposes. Social justice activists on social media often ask white people to listen to people of color (and that people who are privileged listen to those less privileged). In cases of disagreement, those who are more privileged could listen for the interests (reasons behind the positions) and needs of the differing parties and why each side has the position they have.
I would also like to return to the critique of intersectionality concerning US categories’ not being applicable across borders (p. 8). I previously suggested adjusting the categories and applying the theory to the specific marginalizations of other societies. Another view I heard was the limited applicability is irrelevant since US activists are focusing on issues specific to USA. However, my critique is that people cross borders and the world for decades has become increasingly connected. Thus, it would be useful to take this critique into consideration, since people will bring their biases with them. However, as I noted, intersectionality can be adjusted to ensure the most privileged are not the sole focus.
And, to return to the debate over the universal vs the particular, theories and frameworks are rarely static: they spread. For example, Christianity started among Middle Eastern Jews and is now a worldwide religion. Irshad Manji (a reformist Muslim feminist lesbian of South Asian descent and former refugee from Uganda) notes that Henry David Thoreau (a US thinker) was influenced by Eastern thought. Later, Gandhi was influenced by Thoreau, Dr. King by Gandhi, and Middle Eastern activists by King. To add to her idea, if an idea is relevant, people will adopt it for their own struggles, and it does not necessarily erase the original people who developed the idea. In fact, I would say this approach allows for solidarity across borders, and for various marginalized peoples to compare notes with each other and support each other’s struggles for liberation.
In sum, Brittany Cooper discusses some of the critiques of intersectionality, many of which could be addressed by intersectionality itself. Even though social structures vary across cultures, the framework can be localized to different locales and this can help make sure, even if we retain the focus on Black women, that that focus is not limited to the most otherwise-privileged. In short, perhaps, to paraphrase former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan in reference to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “We do not need to adjust intersectionality any more than we need to adjust the Bible or the Quran. What needs to be adjusted, is not so much the theory itself, but the behavior of its disciples.” Perhaps the theory does need slight adjustments, but, overall, it is the behavior and biases of followers of intersectionality that needs the most adjustment, and the tools to do so are provided by intersectionality itself.
CN: racism, lynching, rape, sexism
This post is actually a reflection of a reading I did for one of my classes that I would like to share with the world:
In her article “Demarginalizing the Intersection”, Crenshaw talks about how racism and sexism are compounded to create unique barriers for Black women and critiques the failure of courts to acknowledge this, and she comments further on this in “Why Intersectionality Can’t Wait”. In this paper, I will reflect on some of the things Crenshaw said, describing my reactions, how the materials affects conflict resolution, and offering a critical analysis.
On p. 140 in her article “Demarginalizing the Intersection”, Crenshaw says, “Single-axis models favor the otherwise privileged”, and notes that anti-racism focuses on Black men and anti-sexism on white women. In “Why Intersectionality Can’t Wait”, she notes how the concept has been expanded to include LGBTQ, immigrant, and disabilities issues (p. 2). I thought of other examples: how class issues focus on working-class white men (like how, when social media discussions blame Trump’s election on liberals’ supposed failure to connect with the working class in Middle America, it is assumed white working class men are referenced). Elsewhere, I have noted that Western intersectionalities tend to get the most attention (and most privilege checklists are geared towards Western cultural frameworks [Ferguson]), and that (in Anglophone countries like Canada, UK, USA, Australia, etc) Anglophones are seen as representative over those with limited English abilities.
A few miscellaneous things I noted include Crenshaw’s mention that Black women have the dilemma of whether or not to include men or advocate for their own interests. This made me think of the Anita Hill case involving a sexual harassment claim against Clarence Thomas: people the author has talked to (including Black women) expressed skepticism and felt that Black people should stick together, and even thought the whole incident was a white supremacist conspiracy theory (anonymous). It seems that Hill chose to advocate for herself, and was criticized for it.
Another point of discussion involves the feminist narrative on rape and how, historically, whites found it incomprehensible that Black women could be violated, because they couldn’t grasp that Black women could be chaste (p. 159, “Demarginalizing the Intersection”). This reminded me of something I read in Southern Horrors by Ida Bell Wells-Barnett (an anti-lynching work) mentioning how, while allegations of a Black man’s raping a white women were enough to incite a lynch mob, a white man’s raping an eight-year old little Black girl was seen more flippantly (chap 2). Wells-Barnett notes that Southern white mobs would gather to protect white men accused of raping Black women or girls from alleged African-American lynch mobs (which never showed up).
Crenshaw also references a fear that anti-rape agendas may undermine anti-racism agendas (p. 160). This also ties into what Wells-Barnett says, as alleged rape was used as an excuse for lynching. One example I thought of was the Kobe Bryant case, in which a white woman accused Bryant of rape. Some anti-rape activists could see skepticism of the charges as sexism and dismissing victims, whereas some anti-racism activists could see this as but another example of white women falsely accusing Black men of rape, something that often was used as an excuse for lynching.
Crenshaw mentions that white women often identify as women and don’t mention race, whereas Black women are more likely to list their race first and their gender second. This reminds me of the 2008 Democratic primary of Hillary Clinton vs Barack Obama, and how Oprah Winfrey drew criticism for endorsing Obama, because some people thought that, as a woman, she should endorse Clinton (Friedman). To expand on this, there has been claims on social media that Clinton was more qualified than Obama and that Obama’s election was an expression of sexism. (One could also claim that, under that logic, supporting Clinton over Obama is racist.)
Crenshaw, at the end, says to “Center the marginalized” (p. 167). This raises the connection to conflict resolution. Tatsushi Arai defines “conflict” as “an incompatibility of goals”, and differing marginalized identities can have conflicting goals. One such incident the author witnessed firsthand occurred in #Exvangelical Twitter in May 2019: a statement was issued saying that Exvangelicals (former Evangelicals) were continuing patriarchal norms. However, the document used terms like “AMAB” (Assigned Male At Birth) and “AFAB” (Assigned Female At Birth) in such a way as to erase trans people and to imply that trans women benefit from male privilege. Chrissy Stroop, a former Evangelical and critic of the Religious Right who was assumed to be a cis-man, felt forced to come out as a trans woman before she was ready. People started taking sides, and each side appealed to their membership in a marginalized identity. (One Black lady who had endorsed the document claimed racial bias in her being removed as a moderator from a private Facebook group, considering the group was mostly white, whereas the admins claimed it was due to discomfort with her having signed a TERF-y document.)
This case, which the author witnessed in real time, and the above-mentioned conflict between anti-rape and anti-racist agendas, represents dueling goals. It seems that, for the most part, the conflict is ignored and people every so often shout at each other on social media. However, a better method is to look at interests, the reasons behind positions, and basic needs. In the conflict between anti-rape and anti-racist agendas, there is a mutual need for security and dignity. Rape survivors do not want to be dismissed, and Black men don’t want to have to risk lynching for false charges. What would be best would be for activists to meet together, note where their interests overlap, and brainstorm to find ways to find win-win situations.
As for the Twitter controversy, the author was not that informed on conflict resolution at the time. All he did was share an article on how social justice can be weaponized to abuse, and keep his head down. Now, however, he realizes a better approach would have been to summarize the different sides in such a way that expressed the interests of the varying parties, and encouraged them to brainstorm as to how the gap could be bridged.
In sum, the Crenshaw articles describe how different axes of oppression could combine to affect marginalized people and how focusing on the otherwise privileged could cause more harm. Sometimes, the differing marginalizations can conflict, but, creative solutions can be generated when people think together to come up with creative solutions.
Anonymous, personal communication
Tatsushi Arai, personal communication
Crenshaw, Kimberlé; University of Chicago Legal Forum, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracism Politics”; 1989
Crenshaw, “Why Intersection Can’t Wait”, 2015
Ferguson, Sian; Everyday Feminism, “25+ Examples of Western Privilege”, https://everydayfeminism.com/2014/09/examples-western-privilege/; 2014
Friedman, Emily; ABC News, “Women Angry Over Oprah-Obama Campaign”, https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/story?id=4167650&page=1; May 7, 2009
Wells-Barnett, Ida Bell; Southern Horrors; 1892
“Ugh, stuck!”, Barbara shouted in frustration as the wheels of the car just turned while she pumped the accelerator with her high heels.
“You’re pumping the gas with pumps!”, Jerome remarked with a smirk.
Barbara glared at him and replied, “You’re not helping!”
“I can’t help it; I work in languages!”
“Well, make yourself useful and push this car! We have deliver the documents you translated!”
“Barbara, we could just walk; it’s just over there”, Jerome said, pointing to the town.
“But, Jerome, we have another delivery hours away, and there could be dire consequences!”
Jerome got out and pushed the car. As he tried to get in, Barbara accelerated, dragging him along a few meters. Finally, she stopped and let him in. As he was buckling his seat belt, she showed him his picture and said, “I’m gonna put this where it belongs!”
She then taped it to the accelerator and floored it. She then slammed on the brakes.
“What was that for!?”, Jerome shrieked.
“That was for focusing on my shoes instead of getting unstuck! And don’t give me that sexist nonsense stereotyping women as shoe crazy!”
In chapter one (“Approaches: Understanding Intercultural Communication”) of Intercultural Communication: A Reader, Larry Samovar gives an explanation of culture (pp. 12-15). In this, he describes the function of culture, which is to help us find our bearings in the world (p. 12); a definition of culture, namely “the deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions acquired by a group of people in the course of generations through individual and group striving” (pp. 12-13); the ingredients of culture, which are artifacts (physical objects), concepts (beliefs and value systems), and behaviors (actual practice of beliefs and concepts, Almaney and Alwan, qte in Samovar, p. 13); and the characteristics of culture, that culture is learned, transmissible, dynamic, selective, interrelated, and ethnocentric (pp. 13-15, to be explained more and discussed below).
I think it is best to start with the characteristics of culture and tie them to the other aspects. Samovar, in mentioning that culture is learned, says that people learn culture by growing up in it and learn the culture in which they grow up, a process called enculturation (p. 13). Samovar says this happens through “interaction, observation, and imitation” that produces competence in a particular culture (ibid). That causes me to wonder if we are all brainwashed by the cultures in we were raised in. I will come back to this when I discuss the selectiveness of culture.
Concerning transmissibility, Samovar mentions that “the symbols of a culture enable us to pass on the content patterns of a culture”, and lists “the mind, books, pictures, films, videos, and the like” as means by which we pass on such content (p. 13). This makes me wonder to what degree can we get an understanding of another culture through their literature and media, even through things that violate a society’s norms or is in some other way controversial. I can see a potential problem in that historical literature may represent values that have changed (tied to the idea of culture’s being dynamic), or that some media may be controversial and defy societal norms. (An example in US society is The Howard Stern Show, which violated a number of taboos of US society.)
Another aspect of this is national flags as symbols, which Samovar mentions (p. 13). This ties to the aforementioned idea of artifacts, concepts, and behaviors. The flag is a symbol of a nation (ibid), and is an artifact. A US flag’s symbolizing USA and freedom is a concept, and norms regarding its use reflect behaviors (such as flag etiquette, the pledge of allegiance, saluting the flag, etc). Even violation of such norms (such as flag burning) is tied to concepts, in that the offensiveness of such behaviors is tied to the concepts that the artifacts symbolize, and is sometimes tied to protests (which is tied to a culture’s being dynamic). Thus, would this render wrong a smart aleck who insists the flag is “just a piece of cloth” and that those offended by desecration need to quit bellyaching and that flag desecration is “no big deal”?
Samovar also discusses culture as dynamic, meaning it changes. He lists three sources of change: invention (something new), diffusion (something imported), and cultural calamity (events which affect culture, p. 14). Samovar notes that the deeper level of values tends to be more resistant to change than the surface level (ibid). With invention, one thing I can think of is Islam in the Arabian peninsula, whereas paganism had previously been the dominant religion. In addition, Islam brought a change of values to the society, though many customs persisted to this day. However, many Muslims believe some of these surviving values are out of line with Islamic values. Could a reason these values survived be because they are deeper-level values, and thus more resistant to change.
An example of diffusion I can think of is Europe’s adoption of Christianity starting in the fourth century. Previously, Europe was pagan. However, even here, many values from pre-Christian Europe survived, and have influenced USA. Many Christians feel these values are not in line with the teachings of Jesus, similar to the situations Muslims face with pre-Islamic values. Another example of diffusion was how Thoreau (an American thinker) was influenced by Eastern thinkers, and how Thoreau later influenced Gandhi, who later influenced MLK, who influenced the Dalai Lama. The influences go back and forth between East and West.
When Samovar mentions how deeper level values resist change, I thought of how activists who want to change a society’s values tend to appeal to other values. An example of this is how anti-racist activists in USA appeal to USA’s mythology of being a place of opportunity for everyone, particularly quoting the Declaration of Independence, which says “all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with…life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. An example of this type of protest goes back to artifacts, concepts, and behaviors, and my previous comment that even behavior defying social norms reflects the concepts. Consider #TakeAKnee, in which people kneel during the National Anthem. The National Anthem is an artifact, and its use as a sign of respect for USA is a concept, and standing is a behavior expressing support for that concept. Kneeling violates those norms and is done to protest USA’s valuing whites over POC. This is an attempt to raise awareness for his cause.
Another aspect of culture is that it is selective. Samovar describes this as a culture’s representing “a limited choice of behavior patterns from the infinite patterns of human experience” based on “the basic assumptions and values that are meaningful to each culture“, and that we thus know only an abstraction of what there is to know (p. 14). This brings me back to the question as to whether or not we’re brainwashed by our cultures. If we only have limited knowledge based on what we’re exposed to through our culture, could that constitute brainwashing? I have previously referred to Plato’s Cave, and it is the source of my avatar. I found it meaningful as I expanded myself beyond fundamentalism and the cult I grew up in. I thought the church I grew up in was like Plato’s Cave, and wondered to what degree the ideas those around me were so adamant about were mere shadows on the wall they perceived as realities. I also wonder that about growing up in USA: is that a Cave? Also, sometimes conservatives accuse liberals of living in a bubble. The question is being only aware of USA and not of other cultures is living in a bubble. I also wonder to what degree the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy is at play here. This fallacy refers to the idea of a cowboy’s shooting at a barn, and then drawing a bullseye where there is a large cluster of bullets to give the impression he’s a good shot. Thus, the fallacy is to focus on certain things and ignore the larger picture. I wonder how much our cultures do that.
That brings us to another question: can intercultural competence be good for personal development? After all, if our cultures limit our experiences, could exposure to another culture and an open mind provide something that would be a good match for someone, but they were unable to explore it because it was outside the framework their first culture provided? Also, considering that a healthy self-love and a healthy others-love are interrelated, to what degree could these discoveries benefit humanity? I also wonder how such cultural boundaries on experience influence our interpretation of holy books like the Bible, Qur’an, Bhagavad-Gita, etc., considering they all came into being in a certain culture that no longer exists, as the culture of the region in which the events of the books occurred has changed over the centuries. To what degree can intercultural competence help a religious person to understand their holy books, and how much misunderstanding comes from a lack of intercultural competence?
Samovar quotes Hall in his description of the interrelatedness of culture, “You touch a culture in one place and everything else is affected” (qte, Samovar, p. 14). One example I can think of is Marvin Harris’s book Why Nothing Works (1986, originally published in 1981 as America Now), in which he ties the changes that had occurred in US society over the previous 40 years to the post-WWII decline of small businesses and rise of conglomerates. Harris believed that societal changes started at the economic level, led to governmental changes, and finally affected social values.
Finally, Samovar describes culture as ethnocentric, which represents the tendency to center itself, to see itself as “right” and to look down on other cultures. This makes me think of the confirmation bias, which refers to the tendency to only pay attention to info that confirms one’s preconceived notions. I see this in how cultures emphasize their most desirable attributes and others’ least desirable ones (the latter can often be exaggerated and in the case of the former, the ethnocentrist will ignore their own vices or even not be aware of them). One way to combat this is to deliberately seek out disconfirming evidence. Thus, I can see seeking alternative perspectives, including critiques of one’s own culture, as a way of combating ethnocentrism.
This last point affects my own view and causes me to question my own values. I wonder how many judgments made on whether or not someone is an asshole, for example, are based on culturally-specific values, and wonder if they can still be meaningful if they are culturally-specific. I wonder if making judgments based on culturally-specific values is ethnocentric and implies that the specific culture’s values are better. I wonder on what basis are these values considered better that goes beyond cultural biases. Also, if one is to act a certain way due to being present in a particular culture, does that mean that we should just conform to those around us? Isn’t geography an arbitrary measure of morality?
I also wonder if intercultural competence can help one see the shortcomings of their own culture, and can help change things for the better. Extreme relativism (uncritically accepting any practice in the name of “culture”) is undesirable, due to reasons such as human rights. (The strongest case against culture exemptions is that, during the US Civil Rights Movement, segregationists in the American South defended racial segregation as their “way of life”, and that was rejected, because black people’s human rights matter more. This shows how cultural values can be resistant to change in that the battle is still being fought 50 years later.) It is also noteworthy that activism for change exists across cultures, and that the right to agitate for change should not be limited to Westerners, which is what a cultural exemption would imply. However, one thing I think intercultural competence can accomplish is to increase one’s awareness of one’s own culture and the shortcomings of that culture. I noted that folks tend to notice the shortcomings of other cultures more readily than those of their own, and only notice the best of their own cultures. Intercultural competence helps one see other cultures as complex as one’s own, and thus be able to have distance in order to critique.
In sum, I gave Samovar’s characteristics of culture and discussed them.
In this section, Traugott talks about the following aspects of language: symbols, systems, universals, creativity and ambiguity. In this posts, I will summarize her points and give my own thoughts.
Traugott describes language as symbolic and lists three types of symbols, or “entities which represent or stand for other entities” (p. 4): icons, in which the resemblance of the symbol and what it represents is physical; indexal, in which the representation is chronological; and conventional, in which the resemblance has to be learned through a culture. Traugott lists language as conventional and notes that even onomatopoeia is partly conventional (even though it imitates sounds), as the specific representations vary across languages. She also notes how the connection between language and what it represents is arbitrary, and how in place of “fork”, one can say “tenedor“, which is the Spanish word (ibid).
Traugott goes on to describe language as a system, noting that languages are comprised of grammar rules, and gives examples of how grammar varies across languages, and continues this discussion in noting that, despite these differences, there are some grammar universals (such as no language distinguishes formal and informal in only the first and third persons, and no language has an object-verb-subject syntax [p. 8]). She also talks about the capacity to produce an infinite number of sentences and the ability to not be clear. The latter refers to the fact that some sentences can be unclear when taken out of context or that some things can be unambiguous but vague.
I have noted what Traugott notices on the arbitrariness of language and how symbols vary across cultures, even with onomatopoeia. Some examples I know that she does not mention are how a dog’s bark in Spanish is not “bow-wow”, but “guau-guau”, and how a rooster’s crow in Dutch is “kukeleku” instead of “cockadoodledoo”. Even hand gestures vary in meaning across cultures: a thumbs up signal is vulgar in some countries, for example. Also tied to arbitrariness, as well as creativity, is the ability to produce languages. Traugott mentions the ability to talk about things not true as a feature of human language and conventional symbolism (p. 5). This is reflected in how Tolkein can make up languages for Lord of the Rings or how Esperanto was able to be developed, and now can express anything a natural language can. (I was read [I don’t remember where] that a professor once claimed one couldn’t make love in Esperanto, and a student said one can, and she had.) Another example of this is code, in which symbols are developed for secret communication that third parties won’t understand unless they crack the code. Furthermore, this is expressed in nicknames, and even how I have, in some circles of friends, turned friends’ nicknames into verbs, to describe actions I associated with them. Another example of arbitrariness is false friends, which refers to words that sound similar or are spelled similarly in two languages, but mean different things. In some cases, the word is vulgar in one language but not the other, or could mean something normal in one but be a slur in the other. (For example, he Dutch work for “Look!” resembles an English language anti-Semitic slur.)
Concerning systems, some examples I noted not noted by Traugott are how Turkish just adds suffixes, not prefixes or prepositions. Also in Turkish, vowels in suffixes must harmonize (based on the tongue’s position on the mouth) with the last vowel of the main word. Also, Turkish and Farsi have a subject-object-verb structure, and lack gendered pronouns, as does Azeri. In Farsi, the singular they is a more formal form, while the pronoun that means “he, she, it” is more familiar. In English, the singular “they” is used to be unclear about gender, or to be gender-inclusive, which also includes those whose gender is non-binary. (However, the use of the singular “they” is controversial in English.) In Arabic, the general word order is verb-subject-object, which other languages use to indicate questions. (In Arabic, there is a particle at the start if the sentence that indicates questions.)
Concerning ambiguity, one aspect I note is puns, and how the ambiguity is part of the point, as both meanings are intended. Another example includes double entendre, in which a risqué meaning and a clean meaning are possible, and this is often used as a code or to give plausible deniability. This is tied to creativity, how ambiguity can be used creatively, or even how puns and ambiguity can be used cross-linguistically.
Overall, I find beauty in our ability as a species to use language, as we use language even in our private thoughts. I find it interesting we can recognize another language as language even if we don’t speak it, and love how after some time learning the words and, for languages with different writing systems, learning the equivalents of the characters, our brains start processing the stuff in the other language, and how we can even tell people in our native languages what we encountered. (I have noted that written skills are easier than oral ones, and that listening is easier than speaking.)
In this section, Illes discusses ethnography, which is defined as “the study of people in naturally occurring settings or fields by methods which capture their social meanings and ordinary activities, involving a researcher participating directly in the setting, if not also the activities, in order to collect data in a systematic manner but without meaning being imposed on them externally” (Brewer, qte in Illes, p. 139). Illes then goes on to describe aspects of ethnography, such as seeking an insider’s (emic) perspective. (However, some researchers recommend a combination of emic and etic [outsider] perspectives [ibid].) Illes mentions that ethnography seeks to study people social life in natural settings (thus adopting a naturalistic approach; p. 140) and then proceeds to list the steps of ethnographic research and points of consideration. She warns that a bias against the group being studied will hinder research and thus a researcher should study groups they are interested in (p. 142).
For me, this raises many questions. Could an ordinary expat and/or immigrant be an ethnographer? Could travel bloggers be ethnographers? Illes said that researchers, upon leaving the setting of their research, should take notes before they talk to everyone and synthesize their notes towards the end of their field work (p. 141). Does blogging violate those principles? From my viewpoint, there is a possibility commenters could help the researcher transcend biases.
Speaking of blogging, is ethnography possible in social media communities? After all, the only difference with social media is the medium and the fact that crossing borders is (theoretically) easier. Communities form on social media, and these are as real for the participants as are those in meatspace. (Sometimes it is even exciting for folks who first met on social media to meet IRL.)
The article takes about insider and outsider views. Is it possible to gain an outsider view of one’s own culture, and if so, how? I think such would be beneficial on a number of levels, including both personal development (such as finding options for life one was unaware even existed) and social well-being (such as finding better ways of promoting human rights). A couple of attempts are the Nacirema study and Marvin Harris’s 1987 book Why Nothing Works (originally published in 1981 as America Now). How would those decades old studies look in 2019? I do think that an etic view is possible. I know that many raised Evangelical Christian have left their upbringing and formed a community around being former Evangelicals (called #Exvangelical). Having left, they can have an etic view of their former subculture as well as an emic view. This enables them, and everyone, to be able to see the shortcomings of the Evangelical subculture. This shows that achieving an outsider view is, in fact, possible. (Also, does this having both an insider and an outsider view of a subculture within a macroculture help the entire macroculture, and perhaps even reveal some of the biases of the macroculture? Would exposure to cultures outside the macroculture enhance this?)
In sum, I summarized Illes’s article and then just asked a bunch of questions. I realize this is unconventional for a blog, but I think perhaps there should be more questions: they help us think and I acknowledge I don’t know everything. Questions also express the value of uncertainty. My questions involved armchair ethnography and gaining an outside view of one’s own societies.
*The article discussed comes from Guilerme, Manvela,;The Intercultural Dynamics of Multicultural Working; 2010; Multilingualism Matters
In this section, Salzmann talks about the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, which states that one’s language determines how one thinks to the degree that we are at the mercy of the languages we speak (p. 52). Salzmann lists the support Whorf in particular used to support this hypothesis: the more reckless behavior around empty gasoline drums (qte p. 53) and comparisons with the Hopi language (pp. 54-55). Two ideas that Whorf describes are linguistic determinism, meaning that “the way one thinks is determined by the language one speaks”; and linguistic relativity, meaning “differences in languages must therefore be reflected in the worldview of their speakers” (p. 54).
This raises questions for language learning. This hypothesis reminds me of claims that learning other languages is learning other ways of thinking. In addition, it has me thinking of the claim by some Muslims that the Qur’an can only be read in the original Arabic, and that the most a translation can be is a commentary. Does the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis explain why this would be the case. This also raises the question of other religious texts, such as the Bible (written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek), Hindu texts (written in Sanskrit), and Buddhist texts (written in Sanskrit and Pali). How does it affect our understanding of holy books if the language one speaks determines how one thinks? Could that lead to misunderstandings?
Another thing I thought about concerning the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis is how some social justice activists controversially promote certain language, such as gender neutrality. (Sometimes such language policies are controversial even among activists, such as “people-first” language, which means saying “people with disabilities”, rather than “disabled people”.) One example of this is use of pronouns, how some activists give their preferred pronouns as a way of supporting the inclusion and equality of trans and non-binary people. (One controversial example of this is the singular they.) Another example is expressing opposition to certain terms that are considered demeaning. Sometimes this is controversial because these change, and terms commonly used in one era become taboo in another. These activists are sometimes criticized with claims that focusing on language only focuses on the outside and encourages folks to be fake, and that, even when using PC language, folks will remain bigoted AF. These activists defend their approach by claiming that changing he language will change attitudes.
Are these activists partly influenced by the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis?
However, at the end of this section, Salzmann notes that there are critiques of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis (p. 55). I am going to discuss some I can see. The first is correlation =/= cause; with Hopi, there could be other causes of the differences between Hopi and Standard Average European cultures besides language. We can also note differences among speakers of the same language.
To refer to the aforementioned social justice activists and their language campaigns, it would be interesting to see comparisons among languages. Advocates of people first language claim that it is demeaning to say “disabled” before “person” and that such a phrase puts the disabled above the person. However, in some languages, nouns come before adjectives, and in some cultures, what comes last is most important. it would be interesting to do comparisons across cultures to see how attitudes differ, compared to with the placement of most important items and whether or syntax.
I mentioned pronouns earlier. Some languages lack gendered pronouns. It would be interesting to do a comparison across cultures for correlations between inclusivity and how gendered the language’s pronoun system is.
Detective Spencer looked at the collapsed tent, taking notes. There had been a string of vandalisms the past night: broken windows, graffiti, etc. He sat in the car, reviewing his notes. Suddenly, his partner, Agent Blane, showed him some tweets:
“Make them pay! #Revolution!”
“We shall rise!”
Agent Blane explained, “It seems that these attacks were tied to…”
Agent Blane’s phone rang. She answered, and, after the call, said, “We need to go!” She turned on the car, turned on the siren, and floored the accelerator.
Their car was going down the street when, suddenly, BOOM!
This is a post for Friday Fictioneers by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields; photo by Jan Wayne Fields.
This post is a paper I did in literature class back in spring 2018, and I’m sharing it for the world:
There are a number of themes in Hughes’s poems and other writings, such as the contrast between the ideal and the real, racial cruelty, and weariness and resignation (Roberts & Zweig, p. 852), and these often intersect. I will illustrate examples of these themes, and how they intersect in Langston Hughes’s works.
The ideal versus the real is illustrated in the poem “Let America Be America Again” (pp. 857-858). The ideal is expressed in the popular narrative of how America is a land of freedom, without tyrants, and of opportunity, and in the immigrants’ dreams. The real is expressed in the refrain of how this was never true for the speaker. He expresses that, in fact, workers are exploited, Native Americans were driven from their lands, and black people were enslaved. He uses the words, “I am the man who never got ahead/The poorest worker bartered through the years” (p. 858).
The poem “Will V-Day Day Be Me-Day Too?” illustrates how racial cruelty intersects with all three themes mentioned above. We see racial cruelty mentioned when the speaker asks whether or not he’ll have to face Jim Crow and lynching upon return from WWII (poets.org). This also shows the contrast between the ideal and the real, as FDR had said that the war was to “make the world safe for democracy”, and he mentions the liberation of various foreign peoples. However, he observes that African-Americans face oppression in USA. However, there is no resignation in the poem, in that the speaker asks whether or not things will change. In sum, the speaker observes that the reality of racial cruelty falls short of the ideals of liberty and democracy. However, he refuses to resign in despair, and instead asks whether or not the freedom for which he fought for other peoples will be granted to him.
The poem “Negro” depicts racial cruelty, in depicting how black people have been slaves for centuries, from antiquity to contemporary times. Specifically, he mentions the mutilation of the Congolese by the Belgians (when Congo was the private colony of King Leopold II) and lynching in Mississippi (Roberts & Zweig, p. 859).
The work (which is not a poem) “Negroes in Spain” also shows the intersection of racial cruelty and resignation. The work is about black people and Moors fighting in the Spanish Civil War, which occurred from 1936-1939. The author talks of how Franco uses Moors to fight for fascism, which is white supremacist. However, there is a rejection of resignation, in that the writer expresses the hope that the Moors will reject Franco (Modern American Poetry).
Racial cruelty is also depicted in the poem “Remember” (poetryfoundation.org). In this poem, the speaker urges black people, wherever they are, to look at white people, who have all the power and exploited them, and made villains out of black people. This is a concise way to sum up all the cruelty faced by black people in American society.
All three themes are shown in the poem “I look at the world” (poetryfoundation.org). The speaker, representative of any African-American, mentions being assigned to “a fenced-off narrow space”, which references Jim Crow and the disadvantages faced by black people in American society. While this may sound like a minor nuisance, these norms were enforced with the threat of lynching, and this implies cruelty. This is the real. Here the speaker does not give into resignation, but not only dreams of a better world, but states a readiness to work for it, as is stated in the poem, “I can see what my own hands can make/The world that’s in my mind./ Let’s hurry, comrades,/The road to find.” This is the ideal. The real is racism, and the ideal is equality. However, the speaker does not give into despair, but optimistically urges others to join him or her in the fight.
According to the Poetry Foundation (poetryfoundation.org), Hughes’s father was disillusioned with American racism and moved to Mexico, where he became very critical of other African-Americans. The site suggests that this impacted the younger Hughes who decided to embrace African-American society. In addition, Hughes decided to write about ordinary black people, with whom he had grown up and whom he knows. A third aspect of Hughes mentioned by the Poetry Foundation is that Hughes never lost his belief that most people, regardless of race or nationality, are generally good, and his hope for a better world. Also, Hughes had lived in a number of states and countries.
We see this reflected in his writings. His depictions of racial cruelty reflect are tied to his experiences with ordinary African-Americans, for whom such cruelty would have been life. Hughes would have been exposed to a variety of challenges faced by African-Americans because he had lived in a number of states. His conclusion that most people are good would have allowed him to reject resignation, and instead dream of a better world. Because of this, his poems convey appeals to the ideals and calls for people to change the real to match the ideal. Furthermore, we see what actually is versus what should be. Often it is so-called Realists™ who point this out, and they dismiss idealists. However, this is not reflected in Hughes’s poems. There is none of that, “Oh, sure, that would be nice, but you got to live in the Real World™.” Instead, Hughes’s speakers not only committed to working to make the ideal real, but urged the readers to also work to make the ideal real.
In summary, Hughes’s poems show racial cruelty, which were likely inspired by that which those who knew Hughes faced, and even what Hughes himself faced. However, Hughes, who was widely traveled across the States and a number of countries, remained optimistic about humanity. Because of this, his poems also reject resignation and contain calls to make the ideal real.
Hughes, Langston. “Selected Poems”. Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing,
edited by Edgar V. Roberts and Robert Zweig. Pearson Education, Inc. 2015, pp. 849-862
“Negroes in Spain”, from The Volunteer for Liberty. Modern American Poetry.
http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/g_l/hughes/inspain.htm. Accessed 11 April
Poetry Foundation. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/langston-hughes. Accessed 11 April
https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/langston-hughes. Accessed 11 April 2018