Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Okay? You called me a what?! Gestures and Language

As students enter, look at these two shapes.  One is called a maluma and one is called takete.  Which is which? Even if you don't know, take a guess. Write it down without telling anyone what your answer is.

Homework:  Before our next class, please read Social Time in our packet.

We have been examining the components of culture. The non-material aspects of culture are often the most important but we are often unaware of them.

One type of non-material culture is symbolic culture, or gestures and language.

Gestures are important to understanding and communicating within a culture.  Understanding a culture's gestures can also help us avoid ethnocentrism and culture shock.  Here is a guide for international business travelers to help them understand the impact gestures can have on their interaction with other cultures.  Here is a link to a list of some single hand gestures from around the world.

Gestures are also an example that culture is resut of shared meaning among people.  And among groups of people, meaning can change over time.  Here is a post about the Bellamy Salute, a gesture that has changed its cultural meaning over time.


Another important aspect of symbolic culture is Language.  first studied by Saphir and Whorf. Sapir-Whorf has been critically contested in recent years, but the NY Times ran a story about how there is still some merit to the idea of language affecting our thoughts. See that article here. Also, see this post about politics and how the use of English frames every debate especially the debate over gun violence.   Here is a book that highlights untranslatable words from around the world.
Language is important too as it affects how we think. When we think about something, we are using language inside of our heads so if we use certain words or do not have certain words, it may affect how think about things especially how we categorize something. Here are 11 words that have no translation. When bilingual students think about some ideas they have to shift from one language to another because sometimes it is easier to think about something or express an idea in one language because there are not proper words to describe it in another.

Here (see page 43 of this doc) is a lesson from Carol Mukhopadhyay on classifying in other cultures.  For each of the following sets, choose the item that does not belong:

Set 1. Auto, turtle, basket, bird

Set 2. Laundry, beer, clothing

Set 3. A chair, a spear, a couch 

After you have made your selections, click here for an explanation. 

This New Yorker article explains the research of professor Adam Alter on the hidden power of words and naming.

Also, here is a study explaining that with out language, numbers do not make sense.

Here is a link to Rabbi Heschel who insightfully explained "words create worlds."

Hidden Brain is a social science podcast from NPR and this episode explores how language shapes how we think.


What are examples of symbolic culture? 

Why is it necessary to understand symbolic culture? 

            What is the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis? What are examples of it in our culture?

For more info, see Ferris and Stein page 77-79. 


  1. can we also blog about the Affluenza reading we did for homework??

  2. I think that hand motions are very important to our society because they tell people's emotions, for example, anger vs sarcasm. I think it's more important to learn the hand motions/hand language rather than the verbal language of most foreign locations, because if you can signal what you're talking about, then you don't have to worry about messing up the language and accidentally insulting someone.

  3. Origins of the hookah come from India along the border of around 1500 Years ago. These hookahs were simple, primitive, and rugged in design, usually made from a coconut shell base and tube with a head attached. hookah