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1.5: Culture, Human Language, and Three Ways to Approach Language Study
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1.5 Culture, Human Language, and Three Ways to Approach Language Study
- First, it approaches culture as a list of characteristics, which might end up being too specific and exclusive, because potentially not applicable to all cultures. The more specifics, the more exclusive, when what anthropologists are interested in is finding a working definition of culture to be used as a universal framework to analyze and interpret all cultures. In other words, that definition needs to (inductively) include the universals of cultures (what structures do all individual cultures have in common?) in order to define culture (in the singular).
- Second, Tylor’s definition reflects an understanding of culture and civilization as characteristics that a group of people acquire as they become more civilized. This understanding is in keeping with the beliefs of the time. The “acquired” in the definition (“capabilities and habits acquired”) hints at both the fact that culture is not, well, nature— i.e., it is not innate—but also that it is something that one has, like a type of capital (there are the haves and the have-nots). The process of acquiring culture is part of progress towards civilization, according to that view. This view of culture is linear, with less and more advanced stages of culture and civilization.
- An integrated system of mental elements (beliefs, values, worldview, attitudes, norms), the behaviors motivated by those mental elements, and the material items created by those behaviors;
- A system shared by the members of the society;
- 100 percent learned, not innate;
- Based on symbolic systems, the most important of which is language;
- Humankind’s most important adaptive mechanism; and
- Dynamic, constantly changing.