Wednesday, December 23, 2015

what's so great about human language?

cross-posted from CARLA (Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition); source, The Guardian newspaper online.


 it looks as if kids don't learn language in the way predicted by a universal grammar; rather, they start with small pockets of reliable patterns in the language they hear, such as Where's the X?, I wanna X, More X, It's a X, I'm X-ing it, Put X here, Mommy's X-ing it, Let's X it, Throw X, X gone, I X-ed it, Sit on the X, Open X, X here, There's a X, X broken … and gradually build their grammar on these patterns, from the "bottom up".

...Importantly, these same basic processes of intention-reading are necessary not only for language, but also for discerning what someone is communicating when they simply poke their index finger out in a particular direction for the purpose of communication. To understand why someone is pointing to, for example, a bicycle leaning against a tree, one must share some background experience and knowledge with that person to determine why on earth they would be directing one's attention to this particular situation at this particular moment.

       The idea is that something (we don't precisely know what) in our evolutionary history placed pressure on us (but not chimpanzees) to evolve the kind of mental machinery that allows us to read communicative intentions. One of the consequences of this was that it provided a key mental capacity for language. But it also put in place the potential for us to take part in ever more complex and large-scale cooperative ventures that form the fabric of our different cultures.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Migration data - interactive, online allows you to display IN-migration or OUT-migration for any country pictured on the map.
Just move the slider from IN to OUT and then click a country to populate with color data. Hover your mouse over the groupings of dots to pop-up the source country and headcount estimates (UK example, here).

Monday, December 7, 2015

language + mannerisms to portray diverse voices on stage

Feature story this morning at National Public Radio's "morning edition" 
- intro: Through powerful monologues, Anna Deavere Smith has tackled race riots, integration and health care. In Notes from the Field, she's using her characters to explore the school-to-prison pipeline.

- or look for transcript 6 hours after air time

Saturday, November 21, 2015

language and cognition - color domains

example of Himba (Ethiopia) 5 part division of the spectrum, excerpted from infographic at
[creative commons lic.]

Friday, November 13, 2015

USA Veterans' Day - parade photos 11-11-2015

Annual commemoration of the people who joined the military or were killed in wars, "Armistice Day" (in Europe: 11-11 at 11:11 a.m. --cessation of WW I in 1918) but in USA, "veterans' day."
The town's high school marching band and the local association of veterans, some in original uniforms or riding in original vehicles, are the main features in the event. Nearby school children come to watch, along with family or friends of those marching in the parade. When the weather is not inclement the people watching will be 100-200. But with rain or sleet or snow, with or without strong November winds, the people who attend and stay for the speech making will be only a few dozen, very often.

Monday, November 2, 2015

death & dying studies; video - San Diego 'death cafe'

A place to talk about end of life pathways -
Uploaded and accessed late October 2015

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

customs of bodies; body parts

Current technology allows matching of body parts to bodies and their kin, but customs still play a leading role in assigning significance to the physical fabric of personhood.

For centuries in Europe, some aristocrats had their bodies dismembered after death, in an echo of the practice of separating and distributing the body parts of Christian saints. Galileo's finger was removed from his hand 95 years after he died, and ended up in a science museum. Chopin's heart was separated from the rest of his body and buried in Poland. This veneration of limbs occasionally made its way Stateside, as well: Stonewall Jackson's arm has its own memorial.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

cemetery culture

Handling the remains of one's own dearly departed varies by century and language-group (ethnicity).
This photo in Finland seems to indicate cremation, judging from the compact arrangement of marker stones.
Curiously the granite material seems to signify eternal memory, but the metal identifier plates will oxidize and either fall off or decay before the stone is broken by natural processes. But whatever becomes of the markers in the course of time, at least for the duration that memories attach to the cremains planted there the function of marking memory will suffice.
Thumbnail attached

Thursday, July 9, 2015

classroom language of instruction (and textbooks; websites) - English?

concluding lines of blog article illustrated with campuses using English instead of own language in NL and KR,

What lessons can other countries learn from the debate in the Netherlands?

  • Internationalization of higher education does not necessarily imply the need to teaching in English
  • There has to be academic rationale for teaching in English rather than economic and ideological motivations
  • Decisions about teaching in English have to be considered in an open debate between internal and external stakeholders
  • Teaching in English is more than simply translating a course or program from one language to the other but must consider implications for content, teaching strategy and learning outcomes
  • Foreign language education should not focus exclusively on English and should find a stronger base in primary and secondary education
  • Teaching in English should not replace the importance of providing national and international students with opportunities to learn and use the local language and culture.

These arguments apply to countries where the national language has limited global presence but also in countries where the primary language is Spanish, Mandarin, French, German, and even English. The fact that half of the UK universities allow foreign students to use dictionaries during exams but not local students is an illustration of how absurd we are in addressing language issues in higher education.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

the people of each state in USA

patterns in the naming of babies during the 20th century,
Distinct pools of intermarriage seem to be indicated by the color representations of popular choices for baby names.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

nvc - Non Verbal Communication (personal space)

Contributor in Ann Arbor, Michigan grew up in India where uses and expectations and allowances for personal space differ to USA ones, 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

chrono-culture, how to organize & communicate time shows this map of calendrical systems in force across various national governments. Among these it seems that Canada accepts all and any syntax, which can lead to misunderstandings unless months and years are spelled out fully. After all 03-03-03 could mean very different things if year vs. month vs. day begins the string of numbers.

Endianness is the sequencing of bytes of digital data in computer memory. The term comes from Jonathan Swift's famous work, Gulliver's Travels. In the story, a society is divided on the lines of where they break their eggs. Those that use the big end are known as the Big-Endians, and vice-versa. While the matter may seem quite unimportant, it resulted in a civil war between the two sides, and the needless deaths of good people.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

book, Manhattan through a primatologist lens

excerpt of news story (transcript),
"It's a body-display culture," says Martin. "Sex ratios on the Upper East Side are quite skewed. There are more women than men. And so at a very basic level, it takes a lot to be noticed. And many women are courting and re-courting their mates."

Martin is a trained social researcher with a doctorate from Yale. She's studied anthropology and motherhood across the world. After her move uptown, Martin decided to aim her academic lens at a new tribe: the women of the Upper East Side.

Martin describes the findings in her new book, Primates of Park Avenue. She speaks with NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates about the new book, the controversial "wife bonuses" and going native on the Upper East Side.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

photo story, Death and Dying; remembering those now dead

This set of images from book 3 in the Memento Mori project shows how it can be surprising to see customs that connect people with their departed; surprising from a distance, but maybe less so when involved in that time and that place and in those relationships.

In the online introduction to the book, the author reflects on possible reasons why death has come to be segregated or estranged from most people's daily life; for example, the establishment of germ theory and association of corpse with contagion in some situations. There is also the marketing pressure for what is new, what is current, what is coming next rather than what has come before, with history and on a personal scale, with death.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

shaping skulls by infant wrappings

Illustrated article of the practices in various times and places of shaping skulls into oblong proportions,

Sunday, May 17, 2015

writing for public, general audiences

Anthropology can be bracing stuff, but too often it is read or viewed only be its own denizens.
This blog essay on the methods of New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell points the way to balancing data and drama; (excerpt)

when I use Gladwell with my students, it's as a reminder of the relationship between narrative and argument. Err too much on the side of narrative and you'll weave a captivating tale that might not hold together at the end. However, if you just pile on evidence
without providing a narrative through line, your reader can miss the bigger, brilliant point you are trying to make.

language localism in USA

from the weekly digest of "most emailed stories" at National Public Radio,

Look for the sample words given for each state, below, to see if you recognize any of them still alive today. 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

visual culture of Type Font

Among the digest of "most emailed stories" at National Public Radio during the final week of April 2015,

Monday, April 27, 2015

slang, a short-lived life

excerpt from

Dingus, 1890s. A nebulous, unspecified object.
Example: Nineteenth century slang may have crescendoed in the 1890s with this report on a new game: Tiddledywinks. "You take a wink, put it on the dingus, press a tiddledy on the wink and make it jump into the winkpot. ... If you succeed, you are entitled to a difficiety and for every wink you jump into the dingpot, from the duwink you count a flictiddledy and you keep on operating the tinkwinkle upon the pollywog until the points so carried equal the sum total of the bogwip multiplied by the putertinktum and added to the contents of the winkpot or words to that effect and you have won the game." From the Tribune in McCook, Neb., on April 24, 1891. And, while writing about operating a coal stove, a Wisconsin person noted this in the Appeal in Memphis, Tenn., on Dec. 28, 1873: "We turned every dingus in the stove that was movable."

Monday, March 2, 2015

wider anthropology - Anthro Day; also - 4 ethnography features

from March 2015 eNewsletter by email to member from E.L. of the American Anthropological Association

A Message from Executive Director, Dr. Edward Liebow

Response to February 19th, the first National Anthropology Day, was nothing short of amazing. A Congressional Proclamation was introduced to recognize the field. More than 80 college campuses, museums and organizations hosted events to participate in the day. Social media was on fire and we congratulate the student anthropology clubs at Minnesota State University - Mankato, El Camino College and Hunter College of the City University of New York, the selfie photo contest winners who each received $100 prizes. We are in conversations with our sister societies in physical, applied, and archeology, as well as the World Council of Anthropological Associations and the IUAES about expanding our horizons for next year. Mark your calendars: February 18, 2016.

from for March 2, 2015, regarding journalist and novel writer, Tom Wolfe:
In an essay published in 2007, Tom Wolfe argued that the newspaper industry would stand a much better chance of survival if newspaper editors encouraged reporters to "provide the emotional reality of the news, for it is the emotions, not the facts, that most engage and excite readers and in the end are the heart of most stories." He said there are exactly four technical devices needed to get to "the emotional core of the story." They are the specific devices, he said, "that give fiction its absorbing or gripping quality, that make the reader feel present in the scene described and even inside the skin of a particular character."

The four: 1) constructing scenes; 2) dialogue — lots of it; 3) carefully noting social status details — "everything from dress and furniture to the infinite status clues of speech, how one talks to superiors or inferiors ... and with what sort of accent and vocabulary"; and 4) point of view, "in the Henry Jamesian sense of putting the reader inside the mind of someone other than the writer."

[perhaps these same elements comprise best practices for ethnographers keen on conveying a multi-sensory experience of "being there"]

Sunday, January 11, 2015

excavating Place Names - what's in a name?
Tells stories of sadness connected to locations around the USA.

More well known is the Welsh town with the very, very long name of 
Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwll-llantysiliogogogoch (or Llanfairpwll, or Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, or Llanfair PG, or just Llanfair as it is known by the locals) is on the Isle of Anglesey (Ynys Môn) in Wales (Cymru). [source page]

or this lake in western Massachusetts

Then there is Keith Basso, "Place Names among the Western Apache," and his book, Wisdom Sits in Places,

Thursday, January 8, 2015

big sculpture - the young Mao Zedong

Pictured around 1925,

This cultural meaning differs in some ways to the oversized heads grouped at Mt.Rushmore and to neighboring Plains Indian leader, Crazy Horse.