Cultural Contact and Linguistic Relativity Among the Indians of Northwestern California
University of Oklahoma Press
One of the most perplexing problems in the field of anthropology over the last hundred years has been the relationship between language and culture. Does language shape culture? Does culture shape language? Further, and perhaps more interesting, does language shape our cognition, effecting the very way that we see the world? Similarly, does culture shape our language in such a way that the very words, concepts, and semantic structures within a language are the direct result of the culture’s physical manifestation? These questions and many others have been the subject of debate within anthropology, linguistics, psychology, and other fields of inquiry for well over a century. Out of this interdisciplinary debate, however, one theory has been of particular interest to all parties – the theory of linguistic relativity.
Developed primarily by Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf (Sapir 1949; Whorf 1956), linguistic relativity originally focused on controlled comparisons between contrasting linguistic traditions and related patterns of behavior in a culture, often with an emphasis on the historical impact of cultural categories on the evolution of language. The reason that the theory has been the subject of debate for so long, however, is because of the lack of good, solid evidence to support it. Although anthropologists, indigenous scholars, and a few psychologists have long recognized the deep interconnection between language, culture, and cosmology, in-depth studies of indigenous languages and their grammatical and semantic differences has been lacking. Likewise, comparisons of different indigenous languages across similar cultural patterns has been hard to achieve. Contributing to the debate, and adding much needed data and evidence, is the recent book by Sean O’Neill: Cultural Contact and Linguistic Relativity Among the Indians of Northwestern California.
Approaching the principle of linguistic relativity via the works of Boas (1896/1948), Sapir (1949), and Whorf (1956), who all argued for the role of language in guiding human perception, especially in the culturally charged settings of everyday life, O’Neill’s book is a data-rich, theoretically expanding contribution.
Read the rest of the review here: Cultural Contact and Linguistic Relativity Among the Indians of Northwestern California.
Saturday, October 4, 2008
Cultural Contact and Linguistic Relativity Among the Indians of Northwestern California
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Five Important Indigenous People's Issues for the Week of September 24 - 30, 2008
Philippines: Are Lumads Left Out in the Quest for Peace in Mindanao?
“No one informed us, nobody consulted us.”
Timuay (tribal chieftain) Nanding Mudai was adamant as he explained why his people refused to come out in support of the controversial Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) which would have created the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity, a sub-state led by the local Muslim community in Mindanao.
The proposed entity would have covered most of the Subanen ancestral domains in Zambonga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte and elsewhere in Western Mindanao.
Timuay Nanding’s complaint is not an isolated case. On August 27, more than 200 other tribal leaders representing 18 major ethno-linguistic groupings in Mindanao and Palawan have signed up to a joint declaration opposing the BJE at a tribal gathering here.
But the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) insists there was proper consultation among the indigenous peoples who would have come under the BJE jurisdiction.
In news reports, MILF vice chairperson for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar maintained that consultations went on for two years as part of the process that finally led to the jointly-initialed MOA-AD. Read more about the Lumads struggle here....
Malaysia: Department: Give Land Titles to Orang Asli
SUNGAI SIPUT: The Orang Asli Affairs Department has called on other states to emulate the state government's move to allocate individual land titles to the indigenous community in Perak.
Despite objections from Orang Asli activists towards the proposal, department director-general Mohd Sani Mistam said it was a move in the right direction.
He said because Orang Asli customary land was not recognised under the law, alienation of land and forests by state governments for the community was the only way to ensure that it could practice its indigenous lifestyle.
Although the community favored its traditional land-sharing concept, it must learn to adapt to the modern concept of individual ownership of property, he added.
"The department will meet with the community and have dialogues with it to enhance its understanding of this concept (of individual ownership).
"It is for the betterment of the community... it can work together on land or forested areas gazetted for it as a group, and at the same time, own individual titles to the land," he said at a buka puasa function at the Orang Asli village of Kampung Kenang here on Thursday. Read more about Orang Asli here....
South America: Peruvians Defy Land Grab Laws
Riots by indigenous groups in Peru have led to the repeal of controversial land laws, supported by President Alan Garcia, that sought to ease corporate access to the Amazonian jungle.
According to two new legal decrees, foreign oil, logging and mining companies could be sold whole swathes of aboriginal territory without first consulting the inhabitants. Saul Puerta Peña, of the Peruvian indigenous association AIDESEP, helped to organize the protests. He says that while the menace has been driven back there is still a long way to go before the rights of native Peruvians are recognized.
I’m an Amazonian leader and I am leading the fight against the Peruvian government after it tried to sell our land to foreign investors. I don’t really speak Spanish. I'm Awajun and my native language is Awajun. I come from San Ignacio, a village in northern Peru, right in the middle of the Amazon jungle.
These native lands are the entitled properties of the Amazon people, and to sell them off without even consulting us is a violation of our ancestral rights. This is why we rioted on August 9. Well, how would you feel if all of a sudden some authority came to tell you that you had to get out of your house because a rich company wanted to settle there, and you had to find yourself another place to live?
The national nature reserves in the very heart of the Amazon jungle, where the uncontacted tribes live, are supposedly "protected" by the state – but even these places are not safe from the large corporations. Read more about indigenous people in Peru here....
South America: Missionaries accuse Brazil of allowing infanticide
Evangelical Christian missionaries have launched a campaign against what they claim is the widespread practice of infanticide among Amazonian Indians. The missionaries, associated with the U.S.-based group Youth With A Mission, say the Brazilian government is turning a blind eye to the killing of babies born with birth defects, many of which are treatable by western medicine.
Brazilian government officials say the missionaries are exaggerating and exploiting the issue to justify their attempts to convert Indians to Christianity, destroying ancient civilizations in the process.
The fight has spilled into American churches and Brazilian national politics. It has reached the point that the Brazilian Department of Indian Affairs accuses the evangelicals of enslaving Indians and disguising their intent to evangelize.
At the center of the debate is a girl named Hakani, a member of the Suruwaha Indian tribe, who has been adopted by evangelical missionaries, Marcia and Edson Suzuki.
The Suzukis say members of the tribe tried to kill Hakani by burying her alive because she was disabled.
"When she was born, she looked normal," Marcia Suzuki says. "But when she was 2, she couldn't walk or talk, so they thought she had a monkey's soul, not a child's soul."
The Suzukis say Hakani was rescued by an older brother, who carried the girl out of the jungle on his back. When they first saw Hakani, they say, she was 5 years old but weighed only 15 pounds and had scars all over her body. Read more about the Suruwaha indigenous people here....
Philippines: Lumad Demand Self-Determination
Indigenous people in south Philippines want protection of their rights enshrined in any future peace agreement.
By Ma Cecilia L Rodriguez in Cagayan de Oro City (PHR No. 7, 24-Sep-08)
“No one informed us, nobody consulted us,” said Timuay Nanding Mudai.
The tribal chieftain is a Lumad – a generic term that refers to members of the 18 major ethno-linguistic groupings of indigenous peoples in Mindanao.
He was adamant as he explained why his people refused to come out in support of the controversial Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain, MOA-AD, which has now been scrapped by Manila.
The agreement, which was intended to bring peace to the region, would have created the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity, BJE, a sub-state led by the local Muslim community in Mindanao in the south Philippines.
The proposed entity would have covered most of the Subanen –a Lumad tribe – ancestral home, including in Zambonga del Sur and Zamboanga del Norte, in Western Mindanao region.
The MOA-AD was scuttled after the Supreme Court in Manila ordered a temporary restraining order on the eve of its scheduled signing in Malaysia on August 5.
Renewed clashes between Muslim separatist group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, MILF, and government troops broke out after the authorities refused to sign the MOA-AD, saying they would not agree to it in its current form. Read more about the Lumad struggle here....
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