Functions in Speech Events
The third aspect of speech events is that of function. Within anthropology
the functions of speech (or language) have usually been discussed in terms
of universal functions. While it is important to know the ways in which the
functions of speaking are the same in every group and for every personality,
our concern here is with the ways in which they differ. One way to approach
this is to reverse the usual question, "what does a language contribute to
the maintenance of personality, society, and culture?" and to ask instead,
"what does a personality, society, or culture contribute to the maintenance
of a language?" Especially if we ask the question in situations of culture
change, we can see the various functional involvements of speech and of given
Some students of standard languages have defined for them functions and
correlative attitudes. These in fact apply to all languages, and serve to
contrast their roles. To illustrate: among the Hopi-Tewa the language serves
prestige, unifying, and separatist functions, and there is great language
pride as well as language loyalty. Among the Eastern Cherokee the hierarchy
of functions seems just the reverse; the retention of the language serves
mainly a separatist function, and there is an attitude of loyalty, but hardly
of pride. Perhaps we think too much in terms of nineteenth-century European
linguistic nationalism to notice that some languages do not enjoy the status
of a symbol crucial to group identity. The Fulnio of Brazil have preserved
group identity over three centuries by giving up their territory to maintain
their language and major ceremony, but the Guaygueries of Venezuela have
preserved group identity by maintaining a set of property relations. Of indigenous
language and religion there has been no trace for generations. One suspects
that the Guayqueries' involvement with their language differed from that
of the Fulnio.
When only a few speakers of a language are left in a community, the survival
of the language becomes almost entirely dependent on its manifest and latent
functions for the personalities concerned. Thus Swanton rescued an important
and independent Siouan language, Ofo, partly by luck; he happened to be in
the unsuspected presence of the last speaker, and followed up a chance remark.
But it was partly due to the personality of the woman, who could be an informant
because she had practiced the language frequently to herself in the years
since all other speakers had died.
These examples of the broad functional involvements of speech, and of languages,
raise questions that can be answered only within general ethnography or social
anthropology. While the same holds for an ethnography of speaking at other
points, insofar as it is a special focus and not a separate subject-matter,
it looms large here because the necessary conceptual framework exists almost
entirely outside linguistics. There are still points and progress to be made,
however, by concentrating on the linguistic discussions of the function of
speech in terms of the constructive factors of the speech event.
Within the tradition of linguistics, functions of speech have commonly been
an interpretation of factors of the speech event in terms of motive or purpose,
obtaining a set of functions one for each factor discriminated. Sometimes
a particular feature, a linguistic category, or literary genre is associated
with a function. For example, the 1st person pronoun, interjections, and the
lyric poem have been associated with expressive function (focus on the Sender
within the speech event) ; the 2nd person pronoun, imperatives, and rhetoric
or dramatic poetry with the directive function; and the 3rd person pronoun,
and epic poetry, with the referential function.8
8 Snell (1952) attempts to subsume all linguistic
features, including parts of speech and grammatical categories, under Buhler's
classification of three types of linguistic function "Auslosung,” Kundgabe,"
"Darstellung," equivalent to Snell's "Wirkungs-, Ausdrucks- and Darstellungsfunktion,"
and corresponding to directive, expressive, and referential function here).
This might be valuable to the coding of personality expression in speech.
But Snell's linguistic base is narrowly within Indo-European, the application
is a priori, and three functions are not enough. His work has been reviewed
as interesting, but not convincing (Winter 1953).
Some conception of speech functions must figure in any theory of behavior,
if it is to give any account of speaking. The same holds for an account of
language in a theory of culture. Indeed, rival views on many issues involving
speech can best be interpreted as involving differing assumptions about the
importance or existence of various functions. For an ethnography of speaking,
then, the question is not, should it have a conception of speech functions,
but, what should that conception be?
There can be only a preliminary outline at present, and, as a guide for
fieldwork, its concern should be for scope and flexibility. It should not
conceive the functions of speech too narrowly, as to number or domain, and
it should not impose a fixed set of functions. While some general classes
of function are undoubtedly universal, one should seek to establish the particulars
of the given case, and should be prepared to discover that a function identifiable
in one group is absent in another.
One can point to seven broad types of function, corresponding to the seven
types of factor already enumerated. (Each type can be variously named, and
the most appropriate name may vary with circumstances; alternatives are given
in parentheses.) The seven are: 1. Expressive (Emotive) ; 2. Directive (Conative,
Pragmatic, Rhetorical, Persuasive) ; 3. Poetic; 4. Contact; 5. Metalinguistic;
6. Referential; 7. Contextual (Situational).
In the simplest case, each of the types of function can be taken as for-using
upon a corresponding type of factor, and one can single out questions and
comments, and units as well, that primarily are associated with each.
"You say it with such feeling" points to expressive function, and a language
may have units which are conventionally expressive, such as French [h] ("Je
te H'aime") and English vowel length ("What a fiiiiiiine boy"), used to convey
strong feeling. (A feature can be conventionally an expressive device only
where it is not referential, i.e., for phonic features, not functioning phonemically
to differentiate lexical items.) "Do as I say, not do as I do" points to directive
function, and imperatives have been cited as primarily directive units. "What
oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed" points to poetic function,
focused on message form, as does "The sound must seem an echo to the sense."
Feet, lines, and metrical units generally are primarily poetic in function.
"If only I could talk it instead of having to write it" and "Can you bear
me?" point to contact function; breath groups may be channel units, in the
case of speaking, as are pages in the case of print. "Go look it up in the
dictionary" points to metalinguistic function, to concern with the code underlying
communication; words such as "word," and technical linguistic terms, which
make talk about the code possible, serve primarily metalinguistic function.
Quotation marks have metalinguistic function when they signal that a form
is being cited or glossed, but channel function when enclosing quoted or
imagined speech. "What are you going to talk about?", "What did he have to
say?" focus on topic and point to referential function. Most lexical and grammatical
units are primarily referential, and are analyzed by descriptive linguistics
in terms of that function. "When will you tell him?", "As mentioned above,”
“You can't talk like that here!!", "If you're going to use that scene at
all, you'll have to put it later in the play," are primarily contextual in
function as are a sign flashing "On the Air" and the statement of scene at
the beginning of an act of a play "(Elsinore. A platform before the castle)".
All features of the speech event, including all features of the linguistic
code, may participate in all of the functions. This point must be made, because
certain features are often treated exclusively in terms of a single function.
But, as Kenneth Burke has pointed out, any utterance, for example, even an
interjection, may secondarily serve as a title for contexts to which it is
appropriate, and hence have a referential aspect. Some interpret the linguistic
code as a series of levels entirely in terms of referential function, and
see other functions, such as the expressive, as pertaining only to the level
of the entire utterance and beyond. Of course all functions (including the
referential) come into play only at the level of the entire utterance; no
utterance, no functions. But when analytical matters are in question, all
functions have to be discussed with regard to all levels. Not only are there
conventional expressive units corresponding to each level of the code, but
a wide range of functions can be illustrated with regard to a unit such as
the phoneme. Although the initial task of descriptive analysis is to treat
phonemes in their contribution to referential function (identifying and differentiating
utterances), this does not exhaust their functional involvement. To take /p/
as an example: expressively, Burke has noted "two kinds of p," the heavily
aspirated one conveying distaste and rejection (1957, p. 12ff.). Patterning
of /p/s can participate in poetic function, organizing the middle line of
a stanza by Wallace Stevens, "The romantic intoning, the declaimed clairvoyance
/ Are parts of apotheosis, appropriate / And of its nature, the idiom thereof!"
The functional load of /p/ in a community cannot be analyzed apart from the
nature and use of various channels, as when among the Pima the functional
load of /p/ differs between singing and recitation, or as when among the Jabo
of Liberia a drum does not differentiate /p/ from other consonants, but signals
only the occurrence of the type. Conventional names for phonemes, permitting
them to be discussed in the abstract, have to do with metalinguistic function,
and even a quite simple society may have a term that names a distinctive feature
such as nasalization (Halkomelem Salish s'amqs n (-qs n "nose"); see description
of the circumstances in Elmendorf and Suttles (1960), p.7). As abbreviation,
"P" may mediate reference, as when on an athletic uniform it signifies the
school, or when large vs. small "p" distinguishes the winner of letters in
major vs. minor sports. If uniforms worn in games bear the letter, and practice
jerseys do not, the element (such as "P") has contextual function. In such
cases the phonological structure of the language conditions what occurs.
These illustrations are minor, but if features conceived as most internal
to the code, most removed from external involvement, participate in a variety
of functions, the argument serves for features generally. To restrict linguistic
description or psychological study to speech habits conceived only in terms
of referential function is to restrict understanding, especially of aspects
of speech important to behavior and the formation of personality. If the meaning
of a linguistic form is defined as the total disposition to use it, then
several functions play a part in meaning, since all contribute to the total
disposition. Analysis in terms of referential function comes first, so that
other functions may be set aside for an interval; but this can not be a permanent
These illustrations are simply pointers to broad areas. In a given case
and with regard to, say, expressive function, one would want to discover
the inventory of units which could conventionally serve expressive function,
as well as the kinds of inference about expressiveness made by participants
in speech events in the group, and the evidence underlying such inferences.
One would expect groups to differ in number of conventional expressive units
and in the frequency of their use, as well as in kinds of inference made as
to expressiveness, and the features (of whatever sort) used as evidence. One
would seek to identify the kinds of expressive function recognized or implicit
in the behavior of the group. A Sender can not help but express attitudes
towards each of the other factors in a speech event, his audience, the style
of his message, the code he is using, the channel he is using, his topic,
the scene of his communication. An external observer can of course interpret
a speech event as expressive in terms of all of these, by attending to each
in turn. But the primary ethnographic problem is to determine which kinds
of expressive function, any or all, are present as intended or perceived by
the participants of the speech event. Which are, so to speak, being "encoded"
and "decoded"? Similarly, one could investigate a speech event entirely with
regard to directive function, or, with regard to inetalinguistic function,
one could attend exclusively to evidence of shared signal systems, not only
to the grammar and dictionary which serve referential function, but the degree
to which there are codes for expressive and other functions.
One would seek, as with other aspects of speech events, to discover the
dimensions of contrast among functions, and the patterns of their occurrence
in the behavior of the group.
To study the distribution of speech functions in the round of behavior raises
several difficult problems. The first problem is that of the relation of particular
functions to particular instances or classes of speech event. The same speech
event can be viewed in terms of all seven types of function, and variously
so. (A given utterance of "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once
more," might be taken as expressive of Shakespeare, Henry V, or Laurence
Olivier; as directive and determinant of the subsequent action of soldiers
or actors; as exemplifying iambic pentameter blank verse and as worse or
better than an alternative such as "Once more, once more into the breach,
dear friends"; as more effective when heard than when read; as evidence for
the phonemic system of author or actor; as telling something about the progress
of the siege of Harfleur; as signalling, should someone enter at that point,
that it is Shakespeare's play and/or just past the prologue of Act III.)
Even narrowing the perspective to that of a single participant in the situation,
more than one function is usually present in a given speech event. Jakobson's
way of handling this is to consider that all types of functions are always
compresent, and to see a given speech event as characterized by a particular
hierarchy of functions. There are clear cases of the validity of this approach,
as when expressive function (signalled perhaps by intonation) dominates referential
function, and there are interesting cases of its manipulation, as when a
teen-age daughter protests, "But all I said was. . . ", editing out the intonation
that had been perceived as insult. She is claiming the privileged status
generally ascribed to the referential function in our culture. Our cultural
view is the opposite of the fact, however, if the Dutch linguist de Groot
(1949) is right in his "Law of the Two Strata," which asserts that whenever
the referential and expressive import of a message conflict, the expressive
import is overriding. Such conflict had been noted by Sapir (1931), and it
underlies Bateson's concept of the "double bind" of many children who become
schizophrenic. Conflict, however, raises doubt that all messages can be analyzed
in terms of a hierarchy of functions such that one function is dominant.
The defining characteristic of some speech events may be a balance, harmonious
or conflicting, between more than one function. If so, the interpretation
of a speech event is far from a matter of assigning it to one of seven types
This brings us to a second problem, that of the relation of particular functions
to the constituent factors of speech events. Although types of function have
been presented in a preliminary way as correlates of types of factor, the
relationships between the two are more complex. Indeed, it would be a great
mistake to analyze an actual situation as if each type of factor simply determined
a single type of function.
Here is where an ethnographic approach diverges perhaps from that sketched
by Jakobson. Jakobson's work represents a decisive advance or anthropology
and linguistics. It inspires concern with speech functions, which have had
only sporadic attention in recent years; it breaks with the confinement of
most schemes to two or three functions (referential: expressive: conative),9
and it recognizes that all features of a message may participate in all functions.
But regarding the relation of functions to factors, Jakobson states:
9 When earlier work distinguishes more than
two or three functions, it usually is elaborating within one of these. Ogden
and Richards list five functions in The Meaning of Meaning, but their focus
is on the Sender’s intention, and the elaboration falls within the expressive
"Each of these six factors determines a different function of language.
Although we distinguish six basic aspects of language, we could, however,
hardly find verbal messages that would fulfill only one function. The diversity
lies not in monopoly of some one of these several functions, but in a different
hierarchical order of functions. The verbal structure of a message depends
primarily on the predominant function." (Jakobson 1960:353).
The divergence may be only verbal, however, since Jakobson has subsequently
said that "determine" is not the right word, and that rather each type of
function is focused upon, centered upon a given factor. Such a view does not
exclude participation of more than one. Certainly it is doubtful that particular
functions of a concrete case can ever be defined in terms of factors singly.
The definition seems always to involve two or more factors (or instances or
classes within a type of factor).
Thus, the expressive function of features must be defined in relation to
referential function. The function which Malinowski called "phatic communion"
can be taken as a kind of alternating or reciprocal expressive function of
speech, as when housewives exchange stories about their children or anthropologists
about their field work. Now, having designated a factor of "CONTACT, a physical
channel and psychological connection between the addresser and the addressee,
enabling both of them to enter and stay in communication" (p. 353), Jakobson
correlates with it "messages primarily serving to establish, to prolong, or
to discontinue communication to check whether the channel works ("Hello, do
you hear me?"), to attract the attention of the interlocutor or to confirm
his continued attention and places "phatic communion" here ("This set for
CONTACT, or in Malinowski's terms PHATIC function" [p. 3551.) The psychological
connection between participants in communication seems to me significantly
independent of the nature and state of the channel, and referrable primarily
to them rather than to it. Messages to establish, prolong or discontinue communication
may neither intend nor evoke a sense of communion; there may be a clear channel
and no rapport. The resolution is probably to take the reference to "a physical
channel" and "psychological connection" as indicating two main subtypes of
contact function. (Thomas Sebeok has pointed out the importance of the factor
of noise also in relation to analysis of channel and contact.) In any case,
if phatic communion is a function of speech in the behavior of a group, it
must be identified empirically and particulars given as to participants and
situations. Even if universal, phatic communion differs greatly in its occasions
and importance from group to group, and ethnographically cannot be read off
as the equivalent of one factor.
More striking is the case of the factor of Message Form. This cannot be
associated directly or univocally with Poetic function. The relation between
a printed message and a Receiver (not Addressee) acting as proof-reader is
a pure and obvious case of a function associated with message-form. And the
more the proof-reader can divorce his response to the message-form from concern
with any other aspect, especially reference, the better. Moreover, any sustained
concern with the poetic aspect of message-form must take it in relation with
other factors. Use of phonic substance is interpretable only in relation to
reference: the phonemes in "The murmuring of innumerable bees" suggest bee-sound
only in connection with the topic announced by the meaning of the words.
(Pope's passage on "The sound must seem an echo to the sense" illustrates
this.) Recent work on criteria for stylistic analysis has taken as fundamental
that the stylistic value of a feature depends upon its perception in relation
to a delimited verbal context (Riffaterre 1959). (Jackobson has subsequently
explained that the label "poetic" should not be misleading; in his view "poetic"
function need not concern poetry, but concerns any case of einstellung on
the message, so that the message becomes from a certain point of view self-sufficient.
Poetry as such would thus be but a principal subtype, proof-reading perhaps
a minor one.)
In general, a message or feature has a particular function in behavior only
for specified classes of participants in the speech event. An act of speech
may have directive, yet no referential value, for someone who knows nothing
of the language involved. Many misunderstandings arise from situations in
which the referential value of a message is understood, but not the expressive
or directive import, because the Receiver does not share the Sender's conventional
under- standings, or code, for these. In short, speech functions must be defined
contexts of use.
The distribution of speech functions brings out one of the ways in which
speaking constitutes a system. If the speech economy of a group is stated
in terms of the interdependence of various factors' this constitutes a simple
system. The statement that combinations of factors are not at all possible,
are not chance, but governed by rules, is an example. To constitute a functional
system, the speech economy would have to be not only analyzable into structure
of parts, but also be such that the condition of some of these parts determines
whether a certain property G will occur in the system; the parts are subject
to variation such that if nothing compensates for the variation, G will no
longer occur; if one (or some) of these parts vary within certain limits,
the other of these parts will vary so as to compensate for the "initial variation"
and G will be maintained; if one (or some) of these parts vary beyond certain
limits, compensation will be impossible and G will no longer occur. When these
conditions are met, the parts of the system can be called "functional" with
respect to G. (Nagel 1953, 1956. 1 am indebted to Francesca Wendel Cancian
at this point.)
It is easy to see how phonemes constitute a functional system, as when variation
in one is compensated for by variation in another to maintain phonemic distinction.
Such interpretation is well known in linguistics, and indeed, phonemic theory
such as that of Andr6 Martinet (1955) should be better known as an example
of a structural-functional theory of change. Interpretation of speaking in
such terms is a challenge that has not generally been met. For any one speech
function in the behavior of a group, the various factors (Sender, Receiver,
etc.) can be taken as state-coordinates whose values vary within certain limits
to maintain it. Communication can be taken as a cover-term for most of the
specific functions, or as a very general function in its own right. If it
is taken as a property being maintained, we can see that it in fact may depend
upon the values of other functions. This might he in terms of a whole community,
as in the analysis of the maintenance or loss of intelligibility between
dialects. Let us consider single speech events. The members of a group have
conceptions and expectations as to the distribution of speech functions among
situations, and insofar as several functions are compresent, it is a matter
of expectations as to the distribution of speech functions among situations,
and insofar as several functions are compresent, it is a matter of expectations
as to relative hierarchy. These expectations may be anything from formal
cultural norms to the projection of individual needs. If two persons meet,
and perceive the situation in terms of conflicting hierarchies of speech
function, communication will be broken off or the other person silently judged
unfavorable, unless adjustment is made.
Let us take the relation of expressive and referential functions, broadly
conceived. A group of wives may be chatting about personal experiences with
children. If another woman insists on exact information, she is failing to
perceive dominance of expressive or phatic function in the situation. Polite
inquiry is appropriate, but not persistent challenge as to fact. Or a group
of wives may be discussing children in behavioral science terms. If another
woman interposes purely associative and biographical comments about her own
children, she is failing to perceive the dominance of a referential function.
Evidence is appropriate, but not anecdotes irrelevant to the views and theory
being exchanged. In either case, the offender may be excluded from communication,
or avoided under similar circumstances later. A good deal of interpersonal
behavior can be examined in similar terms. In general, instances of the breaking
off of communication, or uneasiness in it, are good evidence of the presence
of a rule or expectation about speaking, including differences in functional
Three aspects of speech economy have been outlined now, the speech events,
their constitutive factors, and various types of functions. Each is one perspective
on the whole of verbal behavior, and full description of each must be partly
in terms of the others. An approach in these terms should be useful whether
one's interest is a comparative study of human behavior, or the behavior typical
of a group, or the varying behavior of individuals within a group.
SPEECH IN SOCIALIZATION
I now want to survey the role of speaking in socialization. In one sense
this role is one part of the kind of descriptive analysis that has been proposed.
In another sense, it is a question of the induction of new recruits into
the ongoing adult system. Whichever perspective is chosen, and we often shift
back and forth in ordinary thinking, it is worthwhile to single out speech
in socialization because, from a comparative viewpoint, it has been entirely
neglected; there is far too little attention to it in the study of individual
groups; and it presumably underlies much of the variation in individual adult
Studies of the child's acquisition of speech have concentrated on mastery
of the code for referential function. Far too few such studies have been
informed by modern linguistics as to the structural nature of what it is
the child learns, but the number is increasing. Adequate studies of the child's
acquisition of the other functions of speech have been more or less unknown
to American linguistics and anthropology, but recently the work of Russian
psychologists on the directive function has gained recognition (Luria 1959;
Luria and Yurovich 1959). The Russian scholars consider the child's acquisition
of speech ("the secondary signalling system") in interaction with adults
as fundamental to the child's development of control over its own behavior
and of its picture of the world. Their experimental work has shown that the
development of capacity to understand an utterance (referential function)
does not have as automatic consequence the capacity to respond adequately,
to have behavior directed by it. The capacity for the directive functioning
of speech develops independently and by stages in the first years of life.
Thus before the age of 1½ years a child responds to a verbal request
for a toy fish by getting and handing the object, but is not able to do so
if another toy (say a cat) is closer, and between it and the fish. It will
orient toward the object named, but maintain the directive function of the
word only until the external situation (the toy cat) conflicts, then grasp
and offer the intervening toy. At 3 to 3½ years, if a child is to
perform a certain task of pressing a ball, it will not achieve the necessary
control over its responses if simply given preliminary verbal instructions,
but if it gives itself the appropriate verbal commands, it will succeed.
At this age, however, the success is only for positive commands. If the child
gives itself the command "Don't press," it not only fails to stop pressing,
but presses even harder. Only at the age of 4 to 4½ years does the
verbal command "Don't press" actually acquire inhibitory effect, according
to these studies.
Thus the directive function of speech depends partly upon maturation, and
is partly independent of the dependence upon maturation of control of referential
function. As for another salient function, the expressive, observations indicate
that it begins to be acquired quite early. Expressive use of intonation and
other features may precede referential control. In short, the three most
prominent types of function (referential, expressive, directive) appear to
develop in childhood in partial independence of each other and in varying
relation to the process of maturation.
It also appears that mastery of these functions varies in education and adult
life. The basic patterns of the referential function, of grammar and lexicon,
are shared as prerequisites to the maintenance of communication at all. There
are of course differences at some levels of control of resources for reference.
And there seems to be a quite looser rein as to the other functions and greater
individual variability. Individuals differ greatly, for example, in control
of intonation patterns in our society; some never learn the right intonation
for announcing a joke, and some, having learned a certain intonation as students,
as part of a pattern of quick repartee, carry it in later life into situations
in which it acts to cut off every conversational sequence. And if we extend
our horizon from the usual scope of linguistic descriptions to the full repertoire
of conventional linguistic habits, to the recurrent linguistic routines and
situational idioms of daily verbal behavior, variation in individual mastery
is even more apparent. The consequences range from social discomfort
to exclusion from or failure in significant areas of activity, because ignorant
or maladroit; or, on the other hand, recruitment for and success in certain
areas, because adept. There may be a consequence for the possibility of psychotherapy.
Such differences may characterize whole subcultures that in basic patterns
share the same language.10
10 Cf. the work now being done by Basil Bernstein
(1958, 1959, 1960a, 1960b, 1961). He contrasts two modes of speech, formal
and public, associated with the English middle-class and lower-class, respectively.
Bernstein finds that the two modes arise because two social strata place
different emphases on language potential, that once this emphasis is placed,
the resulting modes of speech progressively orient speakers to different
types of relationships to objects and persons, and that this is reflected
in differences of verbal intelligence test scores, of verbal elaboration
of subjective intent, and otherwise.
Concern with differences in individual verbal behavior leads to concern with
differences in the role of speech in socialization, and through that, to
differences which obtain between groups, whether subcultures or whole societies.
Russian psychologists emphasize that the vital functions of speech are acquired
in interaction with adults, but seem not to consider the consequences for
their experimental norms of different cultural patterns of interaction. This
lack they share with most writers, who, if they point out the socialization
importance of language, do so in a generic way.11
11 George Herbert Mead is one example. Another
is A. Irving Hallowell, whose inventory article on "Culture, Personality,
and Society" states: "A necessary condition for socialization in man is the
learning and use of a language. But different languages are functionally
equivalent in this respect, and one language is comparable with another because
human speech has certain common denominators" (Hallowell 1953, p. 612).
The role of speech in socialization, the context of its acquisition, may
vary in every aspect of the patterning of speech events, factors, and functions,
Some kinds of variation can be highlighted in a notes-and-queries way with
respect to the speech materials and resources available, the processes often
stressed in study of personality formation, social structure and organization,
and cultural values and beliefs.
What are the cognitive and expressive resources of the linguistic codes of
the community? What portion of these are available to children, to what extent
and in what sequence? Among the Nupe there are few terms of sexual matters
and most knowledge about them is acquired by observation and experience.
If there is more than one linguistic code, which is learned first, if either
is? (Among the Chontal of Oaxaca, children learn a "second language," Spanish,
first, in the home, and Chontal and some other aspects of native culture
only in adolescence.) Is there a specialized baby-talk? If so, what is its
content (referential, expressive, directive)? Are there verbal games, perhaps
metalinguistic in that they draw attention to features of the code as such?
(Since much significance has been attached to the child's acquisition of
personal pronouns, and means of self-reference, these should be singled out.)
What are the linguistic routines which the child is taught or can acquire?
A linguistic routine is a recurrent sequence of verbal behavior, whether
conventional or idiosyncratic. Its pattern may be obvious and concrete, as
in single sequences such as the numerals 1 to 10, the days of the week, the
ABC'S, or as in antiphonal sequences such as in many children's games, as
well as dult games and ceremonies. Or the pattern may not be obvious because
it is not concrete, but consists of some regular sequence of emotion or topic.
Instruction may be couched as "Then he says ... and then you say. . . ",
but often it is not a matter of the exact words. (In magic and instruction
from supernatural helpers, of course often it is.) Or it may be a formal
pattern such as a limerick. Feedback may be involved, and the patterning
of the routine resemble a branching tree diagram. (A good "line" or salesman's
pitch has alternative ways of reaching the same goal.) A vast portion of
verbal behavior in fact consists of recurrent patterns, of linguistic routines.
Description has tended to be limited to those with a manifest structure,
and has not often probed for those with an implicit pattern. Analysis of
routines includes identification of idiomatic units, not only greeting formulas
and the like, but the full range of utterances which acquire conventional
significance, for an individual, group, or whole culture. Description is
usually limited to idioms of phrase length which, because their reference
is not predictable from their parts, must be independently listed in a dictionary
as lexical units (e.g., "kick the bucket"). Even for clear referential categories
such as those of place and personal names, a carefully considered description
of the status and formation of idioms is rare (see Hoijer 1948, pp. 182-
3 for a fine example), and conventionalization in terms of other functions
is important in behavior and personality formation. There are utterances
conventionalized in metalinguistic and contextual function, but especially
interesting here are those with directive or expressive function. A child's
play in imitation of adult roles, as a girl with her dolls, may reveal many
of the conventionalized sequences of her family-sequences which have recurred
in situations until in some sense they "name," "stand for" the situation
and carry a significance, expressive or directive, not predictable from their
constituent parts. A mother may find herself using expressions to her child
that her own mother had used to her, and with horror, having sworn as a child
never to do so.
The number and range of such idioms varies between individuals, families,
groups. These and linguistic routines play a great part in the verbal aspect
of what Lantis (1960) points to as "vernacular culture," the handling of
day-to- day situations, and they are essential in verbal art, in the oral
performance of myths, sung epics, many speeches and lectures. The text of
these is not identical from one performance to the next, but the general
sequence is more or less constant, and most of the verbal content is drawn
from a standard repertoire. They fill the slots of a speech, as words fill
the slots of a sentence. (Their presence can sometimes be detected when a
performer finds himself not communicating. Sequences which he had drawn on
as ready coin may prove to have no conventional value for a new audience,
which struggles for an interpretation of something intended merely as formulas
or labels). The acquisition of conventional sequences, both idioms and routines,
is a continuous process in life, and herein resides some of the theoretical
interest, for to a great extent these sequences exist in the cambium between
idiosyncrasy and culture. They exhibit persisting effort toward the patterning
and predictability of behavior. Some sequences become idiomatic for a person
or group because of a memorable novelty (see Hockett 1958, 304ff.), but more
because sensed as appropriate or as needed. Most do not achieve generality
or persistence, but some would lose value if they did, being intended or
enjoyed as distinctive, or private to a few.
Turning to the formation of personality, how does speaking figure in the
economy of punishment and reward, as alternative to physical acts (spanking,
hugging) and to deprivation or giving of things such as candy? At what stage
in psychosexual development is pressure about speech applied, if any is?
How intensive is it? Autobiographical materials from Ghanaian students reveal
great childhood anxiety about speech. When is socialization pressure about
weaning, toilet-training, self-feeding and the like applied in relation to
the child's verbal development? In some groups it is after the demands can
be verbally explained, in some not. What is the incidence of stuttering and
other speech defects, if any? There is evidence that this depends upon socialization
pressures, being absent in some groups, and perhaps among the Pilaga characteristic
of girls rather than, as among us, of boys. If there is bilingualism, do
speech defects appear in both or but one language? How much does speech figure
in the transmission of skills and roles? Among some groups, such as the Kaska
(Canada) it figures very little. Does a baby talk facilitate or retard acquisition
of adult speech patterns? Is speaking a source of pleasure, or oral, perhaps
erotic gratification? That some languages are extremely rich in vocabulary
showing sound symbolism, some quite poor, suggests differential enjoyment
of the phonic substance of language.
From the viewpoint of the social system of the group, how does speaking enter
into definition of the roles acquired or observed by children? In what way
does this determine or reflect how speaking is acquired? How relatively significant
is speaking in aggressive roles, such as that of warrior? of shaman or priest?
(Perhaps the role of speaking in interaction with parents will correspond
to the role of speaking in interaction with enemies or the supernatural.)
How do residence rules, marriage rules, and the like affect the composition
of the house- hold in which the child learns to speak? In affecting the number
and relative ages of children, these things affect the rate of mastery of
adult patterns; there is evidence that singletons master speech more rapidly,
children near the same age less rapidly, twins most slowly. Twins and children
near the same age may develop and rely on their own verbal code vis-a-vis
each other. If there is multilingualism, are the roles and settings of the
languages kept distinct? If so, the child probably will acquire the languages
without confusion, but if not, there may be personality difficulties. Are
there situations and roles in which it is necessary to translate between
two languages? If not, the child may very well master each without acquiring
ability to do so. Such external factors have much to do with the effect of
multilingualism on personality, including cognitive structure. In what settings
are children required to speak, forbidden, permitted? What proportion of
total behavior settings for the group permit the presence and speaking of
children? A Russian visitor to France was astonished when the children of
his host kept silent at the table: Russian children would have been reprimanded
for not joining in the conversation with a guest.
The values and beliefs of the group of course pervade all this. What are
the beliefs regarding children as participants in speech? Some believe neonates
capable of understanding speech. The Ottawa believed the cries of infants
to be meaningful, and had specialists in their interpretation. The Tlingit
believed the talk of women to be the source of conflict among men, and an
amulet was placed in a baby girl's mouth to make her taciturn. Are skill
and interest in speech demanded, rewarded, ignored, or perhaps repressed?
The Ngoni of Nyasaland value skill in speech, believing it part of what constitutes
a true Ngoni, and so take pains to instill it in children and maintain it
in adults. The remarkable polyglot abilities of Ghanaian students in Europe
perhaps reflect similar values in their own cultures. What values are held
and transmitted with regard to the language or languages spoken? We have
noted presence and absence of pride as between the Hopi-Tewa and Eastern
Cherokee. The problem of bilingualism among immigrant children in the United
States has been noted as one of the sense of inferiority associated with
the non-English language. Concern for excellence of speech seems universal,
but the degree and manifestation vary. Some groups tolerate sloppy pronunciation,
some do not. If baby talk is present, is it believed easier for children?
In sounds and forms it may in fact be as hard as the adult equivalents, and
have the latent function of delaying the child's acquisition of these. What
evidential status is accorded the statements of children? What degree and
kind of intellectual awareness of speaking is present? What folk conceptions
of a metalinguistic sort, as reflected in words for linguistic features or
the abstraction of these for use in games and speech Surrogates? Neighboring
dialects may differ, as when one group of Mazatec abstract the tones of their
language for a whistled code, while the Soyaltepec Mazatec do not. Bloomfield
(1927) has ascribed the erroneous and sometimes injurious folk conceptions
about language in our own culture to mistaken generalization from learning
of writing, a later and conscious matter, relative to the largely unconscious
learning of speech. Values and beliefs regarding speaking, or a language
may be interwoven with major institutions, and much elaborated, or peripheral
Speech cannot be omitted from a theory of human behavior, or a special theory
for the behavior of a particular group. But whether we focus on the cognitive
or expressive or directive role of verbal behavior, or on the role of speech
in socialization, we find a paucity of descriptive analysis of "ethological"
studies of speaking in context. There are to be sure many studies that are
in one way or another linguistic. But either speaking is taken for granted
or used as means to other ends, or only special kinds of speaking (or writing)
are valued and considered. Of speaking as an activity among other activities,
of the analysis of its patterns and functions in their own right, there is
little. There are bits of data and anecdotes, and a variety of conceptual
schemes which impinge, but there are no well focused field studies or systematic
theories. The angle of vision has not been such as to bring speaking into
Herein lies the responsibility for the degree of sterility that has dogged
a good deal of anthropological discussion of language and culture. The relation
between language and culture seems a problem, it crops up whenever a thoughtful
anthropologist tries to construct an integrated view of culture or behavior,
yet discussion usually trails off irresolutely. We may set language and culture
side by side, and try to assess similarities and differences; or we may try
to see if some- thing, a method or a model, that has worked for language
will work for culture; or we may look to a future of point-for-point comparisons,
once all partial cultural systems have been neatly analyzed; or we may redefine
or subdivide the problem. We do not want to usher language out of culture;
a suggestion to that effect some years ago was quickly suppressed. But having
kept language within culture, many seem not very sure what to do about it
(except perhaps to recall that some of our brightest friends are linguists,
and a credit to the profession).
I do not want to seem to reject efforts such as those characterized above.
In particular, there is much to be gained from a determination of the properties
of language which are generically cultural and those which are not. The search
for formal analogues between linguistics and other systems can be revealing,
and some extensions of linguistic-like methodology to other areas of culture
seem quite important. Indeed, I would see linguistics in this case as an
avenue for the introduction into anthropology of qualitative mathematics.
But successes along these lines will not put an end to the language-and-culture
problem. It will remain uneasily with us because of the terms in which it
is posed, terms which preclude an ultimate solution, if we think of such
a solution as being a general theory of culture or of behavior that will
integrate the phenomena we consider linguistic with the rest. The difficulty
is that we have tried to relate language, described largely as a formal isolate,
to culture, described largely without reference to speaking. We have tried
to relate one selective abstraction to another, forgetting that much that
is pertinent to the place of speech in behavior and culture has not been
taken up into either analytic frame. The angle of vision has been in effect
a bifurcated one, considering speech primarily as evidence either of formal
linguistic code or of the rest of culture.
Why has this been so? Neglect of speaking seems tolerable, I think, because
of several working assumptions. Speech as such has been assumed to be without
system; its functions have been assumed to be universally the same; the object
of linguistic description has been assumed to be more or less homogeneous;
and there has been an implicit equation of one language = one culture.
To put these working assumptions in qualified form:
a. The relation of language to speech has been conceived
as that of figure to ground. Structure and pattern have been treated in effect
as pretty much the exclusive property of language (la langue: la parole).
For speech as a physical phenomenon, there is a truth to this view. The qualitatively
discrete units of the linguistic code stand over against continuous variation
in the stream of speech. For speech as a social phenomenon, the case is different.
Speaking, like language, is patterned, functions as a system, is describable
12 Because the distinction la langue: la
parole usually implies that only the former has structure, Pike has rejected
it (1960:52). I follow him in assuming that la parole has structure also,
but believe that the distinction can be usefully retained. Within Pike's
system, it can perhaps be treated as a difference in focus.
b. The functions of speech have been of concern only with
regard to properties judged (correctly or not) to be universal. Or, if differences
have been of concern, these have been differences in the content of the code,
along Whorfian lines, not differences in speaking itself. Speaking as a variable
in the study of socialization has been largely ignored. (Speaking is not
even mentioned in the section on "Oral Behavior" of the article, "Socialization,"
in the Handbook of Social Psychology (Child 1954].)
c. Descriptive method has been concerned with a single
language or dialect, isolable as such and largely homogeneous. There has
been much concern for neatness and elegance of result, and often a readiness
to narrow the object of attention so as to achieve this. This object may
be defined as one or a few idiolects, the habit of one or a few individuals
(and in their roles as speakers, not as receivers) ; awkward data have often
been excluded, if they could be identified as loanwords or a difference of
style. The homogeneously conceived object has been a standpoint from which
to view speech phenomena in general. Looking out from it, many speech phenomena
appear as variation in or of it, due perhaps to personality, social level,
or situation. Recently the support for a broader conception of the object
of linguistic attention has increased, through concern with bilingual description,
a unified structure of several dialects, the relations between standard and
colloquial varieties of languages, and the like. But most such work remains
tied to the conception of a single language as primary and the locus of structure.
Gleason has shown concern for "generalizations about linguistic variation
as a characteristic feature of language. Here is the basis for a second type
of linguistic science" (1955, 283ff.). But this second type of linguistic
science is seen as thoroughly statistical, in contrast to the qualitative
nature of descriptive linguistics. The possibility for a second type of linguistic
science that is structural is not conceived.
d. Multilingualism of course has never been denied, but
the use of linguistic units in ethnological classification, a prevailing
cultural rather than societal focus, an individuating outlook, all have favored
thinking of one language = one culture.
The sources of these working assumptions cannot be traced here, except to
suggest that they are an understandable part of the ideology of linguistics
and anthropology during their development in the past two generations. One
need has been to refute fallacies about primitive languages, to establish
the quality of all languages sub specie scientia, and this has been in accord
with the relativistic message of cultural anthropology. To pursue differences
in function among languages might seem to give aid and comfort to the ethnocentric.
Another need has been to secure the autonomy of the formal linguistic code
as an object of study apart from race, culture, history, psychology, and
to develop the appropriate methods for such study. The complexity and fascination
of this task turns attention away from speech, and concentrates it on the
regularities of the code. Not all variables can be handled at once. Part
of the anthropological background has been noted in d. above. We should add
that where the one language = one culture equation has been conceptually
dissolved, it has been in terms of historical independence, rather than in
terms of complex social interdependence between, say, several languages in
a single culture.
Now it is desirable to change these assumptions, and to take as a working
framework: 1. the speech of a group constitutes a system; 2. speech and language
vary cross-culturally in function; 3. the speech activity of a community
is the primary object of attention. A descriptive grammar deals with this
speech activity in one frame of reference, an ethnography of speaking in
another. So (what amounts to a corollary, 3b), the latter must in fact include
the former. The number of linguistic codes comprised in the ethnography of
speaking of a group must be determined empirically.
Nothing said here should be taken to belittle linguistics and philology in
their current practice. Malinowski, who advocated an ethnography of speech
similar in spirit, if different in form, claimed a debt to the standard linguistic
disciplines, yet treated them as grey dust against the fresh green of the
field. For any work involving speech, however, these disciplines are indispensable
(and Malinowski's efforts failed partly for lack of modern linguistics).
Anthropology needs them and should foster them. What I am advocating is that
anthropology recognize interests and needs of its own, and cultivate them;
making use of linguistics, it should formulate its own ethnographic questions
about speech and seek to answer them. 13
13 Jakobson suggests the well known term
"sociology of language" and insists that these concerns cannot be eliminated
from linguistics. Linguistics and sociology should indeed develop this area,
but so should anthropology, and for comparative perspective its contribution
is essential. I am writing here chiefly to persuade that contribution. Moreover,
I look for much of that contribution to come from those younger anthropologists
who are reviving ethnography as a proud intellectual discipline, and for
whom "ethnography," "ethnoscience," "ethnotheory" are significant and prestigeful
terms. Hence the “ethnography" of my slogan. As for the "speaking," it reflects
a theoretical bias that I hope shortly to be able to develop in more detail,
relating it to a variety of other ideas, including some of Talcott Parsons'.
I am especially sorry not to say more about Firth's work here. Only when
the paper was long overdue at the printer did I discover that Firth had clearly
posed the general problem of factors and functions of speech more than a
generation ago (1935). In large part I have only come upon a concern already
there in his writings, unfortunately unread, although I differ from his conceptualization
at several points (Cf. Firth 1935, 1950, and Bursill-Hall 1960).
We may be entering a period in which the pioneering studies of speech will
be distributed among many disciplines. The new impetus in psychology is a
case in point. A special opportunity, and responsibility, of anthropology
is for comparative study of the patterning and functions of speech. This
is a fundamental empirical problem for a science of behavior, one for which
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