Language and Communication

Now that you have some idea about the various ways in which one can study language, what do you want to know? Here are some ideas to get you thinking.

Are there points made in class, either in lecture or in the video, that are unclear to you? Is there anything that stands out to you in the assigned reading that impressed you or that you felt was lacking?

What did you make of the notion of linguistic determinism? What role do you think language plays in human cognitive ability?

If you were to propose some study, whether on the evolution of language or the ethnography of speaking, what would you chose to investigate?

Feel free to write about anything at all.


About Matt Thompson

Matt Thompson is a project cataloger at The Mariners' Museum library. He has a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill and was formerly a professor at ODU. You can find him on Twitter @m4ttTh0mps0n.
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41 Responses to Language and Communication

  1. Colleen Peterson says:

    I found it highly interesting that a primate could only be tought a few words, but another grasped sing language. I’m inclined to believe that gestures transformed into language because of this.

    • Brad Glavin says:

      i’m curious if this is just the ability to mimick or if they really understand the few words that are taught to them. i’m thinking in relation to some of the bird species like parrots.

  2. Colleen Peterson says:

    *sign language

  3. Travis Ragsdale says:

    Language itself is very unique tool. Language is a form communication and communication is what all living things must do in some way between its species and other species to survive or co-exist.

    It’s funny how in some languages, you can say one word which may mean another thing in another language or a certain gesture in your culture means one thing in that culture but something completely different in another culture. Depending on what continent you’re in or from, the language varies and evolved depending how the people lived. To support that theory, as a culture dies, the language itself seems to die because the culture dies. And then, slang…slang is in every language and it completely adds a whole new twist on that language and broadens the complexity of it.

    Si= means yes is Spanish, See=to perceive something visually in English, sounds the same but means something different.

  4. Tyler Ricci says:

    As a linguistics student I really enjoyed reading this section on language and communication. I was reading the article “Social Motives for Syntax” and I was nodding my head at the idea that language may include hand gestures and facial grimaces. It’s obvious when watching people talk at the mall or when eating food at a restaurant that the hands and face are important for communication and “getting the point across”. Of course different gestures mean different things in different cultures. That is why sometimes ideas are misinterpreted because of cultural boundaries.

    • David Meyer says:

      Further, have you thought about how people’s language changes when you start removing their ability for nonverbal signals? For instance, have you ever tried to solve a relationship problem over the phone, or even through instant messenger? It really just…doesn’t go as well as face-to-face communication.

      Mind, this subject also involves the disciplines of Communication and Human-Computer Interaction, and those fields have been actively working on making mediated communication easier, while I think linguists just try to explain it.

  5. Chris Cummings says:

    How do we learn and analyze a language that hasent been studied and analyzed by the majority of the world such as spanish, italian or french? ( and so on)

    Why is it that there are so many different languages instead of maybe 5 international different languages?

    • La'Teef Evans says:

      Maybe the reason for so many different languages relates to the idea of how different languages affect thoughts, dreams, etc. Since there is so many different cultures and ways of thinking, a wide variety of ways to communicate resulted.

  6. Michal Barnett says:

    I really enjoyed the video we watched in class today. Observing the different dialects around the United States was definitely interesting, I was especially intrigued by the French English mixed language. I will also note that after leaving class today I have tried incredibly hard to break the teenage norm of saying the word “like”. After watching other teenagers all talking similar to my friends and I, its easy to see that to other people its actually very annoying. I know a girl who says ” um” or “you know” every other word, and her mom does the exact same thing ( this just backs up how the environment and family that a person grows up in effects a persons speech dialect).

  7. Callyia Collins says:

    I realized after watching the video today that because I’ve lived around my grandmother who lives in the mountains in North Carolina and visiting my dad’s family in Texas, living the early part of my life in Florida and from 8th grade on in Southwest Virginia I slip into the normal language of the area when I am around it. After talking on the phone with my family I noticed I had a Southwest Virginian accent but when talking to my roommate here I don’t have one at all. It’s very interesting.

  8. Rachael Leckey says:

    i liked the video that we watched in class because it was interesting to hear about the different types of languages, their orgin and what different states had different ways of speaking. My favorite part of the video was with Jeff Foxworthy and the Valley girls talking. The role that language plays in human cognitive notion is a big part of our culture and how each person speaks differently. We also learn from other cultures and in return we develop new languages or words and begin to understand their language. If we weren’t exposed to different cultures we wouldnt be as diverse as we are now. As the years go on, I feel we will learn and find new ways of languages and new words throughout the years.

  9. Michael Williams says:

    I found the video very interesting, seeing that there are many different dialects to the American language across the country. Is it the same way in other countries? Do they have different ways of speaking their language?


      The video was very interesting. I was amazed at how people talk with the southern accent even to this day. This accent is almost to the point were they are barely able to understand and I always though I talked like I’m from the deep south. Most interesting is that some still talk that way.

      • James W. Anderson says:

        I often find myself restricting my southern accent simply because of the negative connotations. Just as I stopped saying “like” years ago because of the assumption we make about the intelligence of 15 year old girls, I am afraid people may make the same assumption of southerners, which sadly still happens. The things we automatically think upon hearing one’s voice!

  10. NiYoko Bell says:

    1. I found the video that we watched in class were interesting. I liked the fact that it highlighted AAL in some school districts in California. I think that people tend to forget that social and economical backgrounds tend to impact language. I applaud California for recognizing that this is an issue and trying to address it. So that leads me to ask, why don’t people take AAL seriously? Why isn’t it being addressed in other school systems?
    2. At what point did English become the most learned language in the world?

  11. Sean Murray says:

    I think the video took the California language a little too far. It didn’t seem like those teenagers actually talk like that because they laughed every time a word would be discussed. Every teen around the world seems to say the word “like” quite frequently and I know I have heard a lot of people say “word” around here so it’s not just a west coast thing. The California lady also seemed to just be talking like any ditzy girl would talk when trying to gossip about somebody. It just wasn’t very realistic to me. But to argue my point I have seen Laguna Beach on MTV and those girls do pretty much seem to talk like the lady was but I think that has more to do with them being dumb, spoiled, and rich as opposed to just living in California. Just my thoughts.

  12. Austin Lubore says:

    I find the whole concept of language and communication interesting and it is my major as well. I think that for humans to be the species to have the option of spoken word as well as nonverbal and gestures is amazing. Communication is not just limited to humans but to a variety of species, but humans have the capability of language. With that, I am also very interested in the cultural aspect of language and how it much they directly relate to each other.

    1.) If languages are dying and being loss so much more now, then why aren’t people that study a language and devote their life to one not making books and materials available for people to study the language? Why haven’t people brought materials together so that people can learn the language and keep it alive?

    2.) Does the documentary “Do You Speak American?” go to places around the country where the language is “neutral” and ask them how they feel about the way the rest of the country speaks to see the perspective from an outsiders view who does not study language for a living?

  13. Christin Carter says:

    “Do you speak American” was very interesting, but I’d like to watch a video on “Do you speak Australian”. The slang and terms I’ve heard on television makes it seem like a very confusing language. I would also like to see how well a conversation would flow with people that spoke all forms of english were joined together in one room. Standard english, southern, Austalian, Spanglish etc. Would they try their best to speak standard english so the other people could understand? If each were told to speak as they normally would in their hometown, would there be confusion and frustration between conversations or would people be able to catch on to each others form of english? I know for sure that spanglish would lose me completely.

  14. Teneisha says:

    Language stands to determine a great deal about a person. Language can tell you where a person is from and also whether a great deal of education was implemented in their lives. The dialect that humans choose to speak can also determine what form of a job that they will gain and the people that they attract.

  15. Christal Rabalais says:

    The diversity of language is fascinating in itself but within our borders we find that there are a variety of ways to speak American English. I mean, there are so many dialects that stretch over separate regions and then within the region language is fragmented into further forms & dialects. I wonder how many variety of dialects there are?? Probably too many to count.

    The video on, “Do you speak American?” was a bit sad for me at times because some of these variations of English reflect much pain and suffering. The gentleman that was being interviewed in Texas spoke an antiquated form of English associated with his roots from the days of slavery. If I’m not mistaken the narrator mentioned that the gentleman’s parents were slaves and that his grandparents may have come over from Africa. (I may have missed a generation) His vernacular is a direct result of poverty, no or minimal education and survival. When he spoke the simplicity and the honesty of his speech was soothing to me.

    One thing that irks me to no end is when the focus is on Latino’s/Hispanics there is a comical pinata party style way that is depicted and it just seems like a joke.
    I thought that the message of just getting by without learning English because you’re able to is negative. How ironic that the person putting out that message is fluent in both English & Spanish.


    • Mark Hall says:

      I feel like children who learn multiple languages at a young age (and continue to speak them regularly) develop their communication skills far better than children who only learn one language. This allows them to see the connections between languages and certain ways of speaking them. In addition, as these children grow older and encounter others, they can oftentimes determine where they are from based on their dialect, same as we can with, for instance, a New Yorker. Their knowledge is more broad.

      An example of this was when I went to Aruba this past year and took a jeep safari of the island. My tour guide’s son, age 7, spoke 6 languages fluently, as did his father. They were English, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, French, and Papiamento (their native language). The way he shifted amongst the languages based on who he ran into and talked to was astounding. The more languages one knows, the more barriers which are brought down in my opinion.

      • Language itself is so personal, an intrinsic part of our make-up. It is who we are. By sharing and expressing it with others we are giving of ourselves.

        In the same token, the effort in learning a different tongue…the stumbles over unfamiliar sounds and the vulnerability that just comes with opening yourself to new speak is always a wonderful way to pay homage to another culture.

  16. Zach Jones says:

    I’d like to pipe in on what Callyia was saying as I too have found myself throughout various parts of the country growing up and have also noticed a correlation between my speech patterns and the dialect of the areas that I lived in. Growing up, my family always made a trip at least once a year to see our relatives from New York and as we all know, New Yorkers are infamous for their “northern” accent. For me, it was interesting to spend a week or two around my relatives find myself talking like a yankee (not because I was trying to imitate them but I just naturally picked it up when I was around them). However, my family also has relatives from down south and I also noticed I would pick up a nice southern accent the whenever I was around them. So, are all individuals like this or are some just more apt to do so than others. If so, how is it that individuals can adapt so fast to their cultural environments?

  17. Brad Glavin says:

    I there are a couple things i took away from the video…. the first being about Steve Harvey and the way he explained how when he announciates certain words, his mouth has to stretch in a funny way. I took this as dialect almost being culture in the sense that japanese never learned how to move thier mouths in the position to announciate the R sound… This is the same with the californians. Culture definately effects the way people speak. Being from Sacramento CA and living in virginia since 04′ i’ve dropped most of the californian lingo and slowly but surely am starting to develope the “country” sound so i’m told.

  18. Lindsay Lewis says:

    I actually found it really interesting how Viki the chimpanzee could even say mama, papa, cup and maybe up. I just can even imagine a chimpanzee talking…even if it is only those few words. I wish there was a video of that!

    I also thought the video we watched in class on Wednesday was interesting. It’s neat how some cultures will combine languages together to make their own language, like French and English or Spanglish.

  19. kara rochester says:

    Language is such a beautiful thing. I feel like it was human nature to develop a system of communication like linguistics. Often we try to rely on nonverbal communication to communicate between one another, and while it sometimes works, this can occasionally lead to miscommunications and misunderstandings, resulting in conflict. Thankfully we have developed lingual systems to clarify expression.

    • Leslie says:

      I agree. Even with sign language and things such as that, sometimes we need people who can speak to clarify.

  20. Leslie says:

    I would choose to investigate languages. I’m not sure as to which one I would choose, but I would because all languages change overtime. New words are added, slang phrases and terms arise as more things change, so language especially with certain cultures has its own evolution. I’ve always thought the use of language was interesting because there are so many different styles even for just one specific language.

  21. Remus Borisov says:

    I spoke only Romanian until I was five years old, so I think that’s why my syntax while speaking English gets reversed mid-sentence. I also grew up in NORCAL and SOCAL (northern & southern California) which in turn, carries two separate catalogues of colloquialisms. For example, NORCAL is known for the usage of “hella” meaning “many” and SOCAL is known for “grippah” meaning “many.” I always thought it was funny!

  22. Taylor Trask says:

    I would choose to study the ethnography of speaking. After watching the video and seeing all the ways people speak I would love to study how language evolve over time into distinct dialects and entire new languages. I have a friend from Portugal that I joke with sometimes because of the similarities of Portuguese and Spanish. It would be interesting to see how a language evolves (bad pun intended) over a period of time.

  23. Taylor Trask says:

    Also, I found it extremely interesting that some chimps can learn a few words (3-4). I knew some apes could use sign language but I had no idea about verbal communication. Another thing that I found interesting is that humans and apes may use the same parts of their brains when they’re pointing at something. The article “Animal Communication Helps Reveal Roots of Language” really makes me wonder how much communication some animals really have.

  24. Rachel Amado says:

    I am taking an intro to art therapy class and in my reading this week it discusses how many thoughts/ideas/dreams are formed in visualizations before they are verbally expressed. I think this idea is quite interesting from taking the pictures that are developed into the mind first and then being translated into verbal speech. I am now thinking about how different cultures visualize differently before they form their thoughts into speech.

  25. Jacob Rankin says:

    The “Words Of Money” exercise at the beginning of class was really interesting in the way people use other words for the meaning of money. I find it interesting that in the human language we sometimes get bored with a word so people take another word and develop a new meaning for the original word. Take the “Words Of Money” exercise and how the word Gaup which is a slang for gape and means to stare stupidly, acourding to and know people use it for another meaning of money. Sometimes I think slang can get ridiculous, especially Guap, but it is a natural part of the human language.

  26. Matthew Graziano says:

    I think it’s interesting that chimps have the ability to learn just a small amount of words. Of course it should not be surprising that chimps have the capacity to do this since they use their brains similar to the way we humans use ours. They’ll never be able to communicate with humans since they don’t have the capacity to create full sentences like we do, but it’s definitely intriguing to see that they can grasp the concept of making sounds like we do.

  27. Adam Shaker says:

    Its so interesting to see how American lingo and dialect is so unique and different from location to location. I thought the most interesting dialect came from California, where the glitz and glam of hollywood seems to have an effect on launguage. Young people repeat the world “like” and the tone is a tad higher then most. What I thought they missed on was how Californians sometimes have a “chill” tone that sounds very beach like and could be defined as “surfer-dude” lingo. the word “brah” is thrown around alot along the west coast as a relative term meaning either brother (biological) or just a friend. Not sure if movie picked up on this. All in all a very interesting lecture.

  28. Chelsea Rodriguez says:

    I actually was sick and missed class on wednesday therefore, I’m not quite sure what to say exactly. But if I were to do a study on either the evolution of language or the ethnography of speaking, I would most likely choose the African clicking languages just because they are very interesting and theres so many different variations of the language.

  29. Andrew Penrose says:

    I thought it was interesting how people try to force the to learn English when yet they can’t even understand each other a lot of the times

  30. Sam Murphy says:

    I think that its interesting when it comes to the US about how many different accents there are though out the nation. And that these different speaking styles are actually really close to one another. In the video they brought up an interesting point of how some people fear that English is apparently threatened by bein taken over by spanish. I never reliezed this fear until I saw this. I find that kind of odd that there are people that believe the English language is in danger.

  31. Stephen Nary says:

    I thought the concept of linguistic determinism was rather interesting, and from my own experiences, I can see that language has an impact on the way I think. When I am trying to write a composition in Japanese, I find it much easier to start the composition in Japanese, rather than planning it out in English and then translating it. Sometimes, what might be a very natural way of expressing something in English may not have any equivalent expression in Japanese and it’s just easier to avoid trying to convey my information in that way.

  32. Aminata Kanneh says:

    Since indigenous languages are constantly becoming extinct and being replaced by different more dominant languages, over the next few centuries I feel like all minor languages are similarly going to be extinct thus making way for a handful of dominant languages including English, French and Spanish thus bring countries closer together.

  33. Zac Coverstone says:

    In response to Altruism in action. This concept begs the question of why would one individual who is in competition with another individual help that individual. I believe one reason could be for the same reason that if someone lets you win a game its not the same as actually earning the win. The concept of a true competition may be the driving factor in helping individuals who you are in competition with. Maybe beings have the interest of all of their species and they actually want “the best man to win.” Maybe the greater good of the species is more inportant than the individual and if the one needing help can have a greater success rate for raising childern it is worth endangering your life for the progress of your own species.

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