American Anthropologist 1964 – b

Special Issue: Transcultural Studies in Cognition


Berlin, Brent and Romney, A. Kimball. Descriptive Semantics of Tzeltal Numeral Classifiers. American Anthropologist June, 1964 Vol. 66 (3):79-98.

This article discusses the uses and implications of numeral classifiers in Tenejapa Tzeltal, one of the Mayan languages. Berlin and Romney explore the denotative meaning of numeral classifiers. The example of an equivalent in English is given as “three square blocks” where “square” is the numeral classifier. When counting an object, event or action in Tzeltal, a classifier has to be used that matches a qualitative feature of what is being counted.

The procedures used to identify a list of numeral classifiers were to create a list of possibilities, and then to present that list to two informants and ask them to analyze whether it could be used as a classifier and for what things it would function as a classifier. A list of 557 numeral classifiers had been determined at the time of the article. The identified classifiers were then grouped into semantic domains and a taxonomic classification was developed. The three divisions were numeral classifiers of states, either items made by man or not made by man; of states and/or actions; and of actions, either those of living beings or results of actions of living beings.

Numeral classifiers are next divided into semantic domains, for example, the English category of “shape.” The purpose of understanding the semantic grouping of classifiers was to understand the context in which a classifier was used, and the criteria of a classifier in a given context. The internal structure of the semantic categories has two forms. Either the numeral classifiers contrast in distribution and denotative meaning, or they have complementary distribution and synonymous denotation. The variations on both types of internal structure are dealt with in succession within the article. For example, the issue of considering certain numeral classifiers as allosemes (because of their complementary distribution and semantic similarity) is discussed.

In the conclusion the authors address several remaining problems with their study. Metaphorical extension and the relationship between two classifiers derived from the same verb are two such question areas. Finally, an Appendix is given with a linguistic discussion of Tenajapa Tzeltal numeral classifiers. These classifiers are described as predominantly “monosyllabic, bi-morphemic stems of the canonical shape CV(h)C”, largely derived from transitive and positional verb roots, but also from noun roots or unknown derivatives.

KATHERINE TSE Middlebury College (David Napier)

Brown, Roger. Discussion of the Conference. American Anthropologist June, 1964 Vol.66(3):243-253.

For Roger Brown, the American Anthropologist’s 1964 conference on Transcultural Studies in Cognition stimulates one major discussion: that of the emerging field of ethnocience. Brown discusses the emergence of ethnoscience in contrast to the already-established method of study by hypothesis-testing, which is the method he knows the best. He begins by describing several distinct characteristics of the latter type of study. First, in such a traditional (Type I) study, “the investigator thinks of the culture as a kind of laboratory treatment providing him with a group for the testing of a general proposition from behavior science” (243). Here, he/she sees culture as a subject that can be tested empirically to yield an explanation of some facet of itself. Second, Brown suggests that Type I scientists select one specific study to be conducted, and then select or create an environment in which to the problem that they have selected.

The purpose of Brown’s characterization of the hypothesis-testing study is to be able to compare it to the descriptive case, that of “the trans-cultural studies called ‘ethnoscience’” (246). Brown identifies the hypothesis-tester’s interest in the specific part of a culture that plays a role in his/her theory, instead of in the culture as a whole. He contrasts that with the goal of the ethnoscientist, which is to understand precisely that whole culture. Whereas hypothesis-testing research typically “begins with some item of common adult knowledge” (246), and works inward to specific explanations for this knowledge, an ethnoscientific enterprise usually begins, according to Brown, with an effort to generalize from a specific experience and then works out to the abstraction. Brown finds fault with this ethnoscientific method in that it could lead to too much generalizing, rendering the work insignificant or even incorrect. This being his chief concern, Brown argues that ethnoscience is an emerging field of comparative study that has value as a complement to hypothesis-testing. At the same time, he asserts his contention that this branch of the anthropologic discipline must review its methodology before it can be seriously applied.

JULIANNE BAROODY Middlebury College (David Napier)

D’Andrade, Roy Goodwin and A. Kimball Romney. Summary of Participant’s Discussion. American Anthropologist 1964 Vol. 66(3,2):230-242.

This article is a summary of the discussion about trans-cultural studies in cognition that took place at a conference attended by linguists, ethnographers, and psychologists. Each discipline has a characteristic way that members define what they study. This affects their assumptions, theories, and methods. This article is meant to clarify the differences in basic assumptions among the three disciplines represented at the conference.

It is essential for the reader to understand what the authors are referring to when they use the term “code.” This is the set of rules for appropriate construction and interpretation of a message. Signals are the specific information that is being relayed. The rules are the framework by which signals are transformed into messages.

Anthropologists and psychologists have different focuses with respect to cognition. Anthropologists focus on the study of learned codes shared by groups of individuals. This makes sense if you consider that anthropologists are most concerned with the cultural context of behavior. The behavior is treated as a signal, whereas the culture in which behavior occurs provides the structure that gives it intelligible meaning. In contrast, psychologists focus on how the intelligence of the individual governs behavior. They are primarily concerned with the signals and mental processes such as categorization and inference that affect the way that the codes are applied to the signals.

The authors use game-playing behavior to demonstrate the difference between the theories, methods, and assumptions of anthropology and psychology. They describe an ethnographer’s methods for researching the strategy of a game. He would quickly fall into the role of a “participant observer” by asking how to play. Soon, he would learn not to try to manipulate the players he is learning from, while retaining an element of distrust about what they say the rules are. He would find evidence of a shared code, but each individual would interpret the code in his or her own way. In contrast, a psychologist would try to discover what abilities differentiate winning players from losing players. He would design tests to research this. If the results of the test can predict which players are most likely to win, the psychologist would feel his hypothesis had been supported. He would see similar behavior among individuals to be evidence that some shared process was at work.

Although this analogy is very helpful, the article is written by professionals in a journal in order to summarize a discussion among several highly qualified scientific researchers who participated in the aforementioned conference. The material presented therefore, is highly specialized. However, since it was generated by a discussion across disciplines, it can be of interest to a wide range of professionals.

JUDITH SCHUTTER Middlebury College (David Napier)

Hymes, Dell. Directions in (Ethno-) linguistic Theory. American Anthropologist. 1964. 6-56.

Hymes argument is that ” a linguistic theory worthy of the name necessarily makes assumptions not only about linguistic systems but also about ethno-linguistic systems…” He conveys his argument by discussing a variety of topics that explore links between ethnography and linguistics. Hymes discusses issues such as the importance of linguistics, which he bases on three factors: materials, methods and importance of subject matter. He touches on the importance of linguistic materials in gaining access to cultural phenomena and the fact that linguistic methods make linguistics the most exact of disciplines. He also establishes the importance of linguistic study based on the fact that language is essential to the development of the individual and the maintenance of society and culture among others. Hymes also discusses the resumés and prospects of linguistics, the impact of transformational grammar on linguistic theory as well as its criticisms and limitations.

In conclusion, he describes his arguments as a transitional basis on which ” a thorough going critique of ethnolinguistic theory can be built.” He suggests that function is not merely correlative, but that the recognition of structure is based on the establishment of functional relevance and that new insight into grouping and structural relations can be gained, if structural elements are looked at on different levels.

This article is rather complex and requires that the reader be familiar with the field or have at least a working vocabulary in order to be able to understand the Dell Hymes argument.

AKOSUA NYAKO Middlebury College (David Napier)

Frake, Charles O. Notes on Queries in Ethnography. American Anthropologist June, 1964 Vol.66(3):132-146.

In his “Notes on Queries in Ethnography,” Charles O. Frake stresses that successful fieldwork depends largely on creating a method of communication between ethnographers and their subjects. The best way for an ethnographer to do this, the author asserts, is to develop a common language through a system of queries. Frake bases his argument on Queries in Ethnography (Royal Anthropological Institute, 1951), which provides potential ethnographers with a series of questions to ask their subjects. Frake insists, however, that the queries alone are not useful unless the questioner is certain that he is being understood by his subjects and that he is asking appropriate questions. It is not enough for anthropologists to observe subjects’ reactions, Frake says, but the ethnographer must get into his subjects’ heads by talking with them about their actions and motivations. Frake thus uses this article to outline how both parties can construct mutually beneficial (and understood) methods of communication.

Frake illustrates his argument by posing a question encountered in his own research: how to describe a beverage consumed by the Eastern Subanun of the Philippines. The beverage is not wine, Frake says, because wine already exists in the culture with its own defining characteristics and vocabulary. The beverage is not beer either, but using his own knowledge of Western beer, Frake attempts to chart his language usage and relations to create “interlinkages” to liken the Subanun beverage to beer. These interlinkages, the author says, define the object in terms that are mutually acceptable for both parties and also create a language by which to discuss the beverage, its ingredients, how it is made, and its cultural significance. Frake visually depicts the process by which he creates these interlinkages with schemas and charts, but his narrative serves as a clearer explanation of his language construction.

Frake maintains that there exists a way to communicate about everything, and once the code is found, maintains that queries can be made applicable to any subject matter. In his conclusion the linguist offers suggestions as to how ethnographers can design their queries. Frake suggests that queries be modeled after common questions ethnographers have heard in the community they are studying, or that they create hypothetical queries to ask their informants.

MARY KATHERINE O’BRIEN Middlebury College (David Napier)

Osgood, Charles E. Semantic Differential Technique in the Comparative Study of Culture. American Anthropologist June, 1964 Vol.66(3):171-200.

Comparing different cultures is a difficult task to undertake. A researcher must find a common thread between cultures in order to evaluate contrasting practices. Language usage is often relied on when comparing nonmaterial traits of two or more cultures. Certain similar semantic components must be found to form a frame of reference for comparing lexicons. Charles Osgood’s article discusses his study of the linguistic differences in eight cultures to find any cross-cultural similarities in language. Using the Pearson product-moment correlation procedures to create a matrix of intercorrelations, Osgood proves that a common theme can be found between languages. Knowing the similarities in language usage makes it easy to understand the semantic differences, which can then be used to compare different cultures.

Written in the style of a scientific research report, Osgood explains his research procedure and the results that he obtained. Osgood suggests measures by which he could expand and improve his study to further support his argument that cultures can be compared by using language similarities and differences. The small sampling group and the limited focus of his study are not representative of all possible similarities and differences that may exist between languages. Such studies reflect only the types of differences that may occur when applied on a larger scale. At the time of publication, Osgood had not introduced statistical measures that would show the significance of the differences in the cultures he compares. Osgood offers no cultural interpretations that employ his results, because he lacks intimate knowledge of the societies in question.

This article discusses Osgood’s quantitative research, but offers no analysis or application of the data collected. Previous knowledge of linguistics is essential in understanding the content of the article. The article is very scientific in nature, and utilizes complex language that the reader may find confusing. The paper is directed more towards academic specialists rather than towards the general public. The format resembles the kind of writing one would encounter in scientific journals, as it includes a detailed account of protocol and results.

ERIN JENSEN Middlebury College (David Napier)

Romney, A. Kimball and Roy Goodwin D’Andrade. Cognitive Aspects of English Kin Terms. American Anthropologist June, 1964 Vol. 66 (3): 146-170.

This article attempts to apply a specific hypothesis concerning the relationship between psychological, cognitive structure and cultural forms of expression to American-English kinship terminology. Two different componential analyses are presented along with the results of various psychological tests measuring different aspects of cognitive structure relating to the kin terms in question. The presentation of these analyses is difficult to follow, due to the fact that profession-specific vocabulary dominates the text. The two analyses exhibited in the first section of the article explore the linguistic relationship between kinship terminology and cognitive processes as a result of cultural influences.

In an attempt to support their presented hypotheses, the authors provide the procedural data and results of a series of tests performed precisely as supportive evidence to their theories. One such test is labeled the “triads test” in which a human subject is given three relating kinship terms and asked to determine which one “does not belong.” This psychological approach to understanding cognitive processes maintains the authors’ belief that “terms which share components will receive similar responses” (167). The conclusions of this paper suggest that kinship terms are associated with various stimulating cultural distinctions that therefore, result in automatic associations.

Difficult to understand from a perspective outside of professional linguistics, this article reads very slowly and contains extremely dense information. The authors’ purpose is easily identified but the processes presented are virtually incomprehensible from a layman’s perspective. For an undergraduate reader, this article is very difficult to comprehend.

CORI PLOTKIN Middlebury College (A. David Napier)

STRODBECK, FRED L. Considerations of Meta-Method in Cross-Cultural Studies. American Anthropologist June, 1964 Volume 66(3): 223-229.

Fred L. Strodtbeck of the University of Chicago examines the idea of meta-method in the social sciences and how a given method of research might be used amongst different cultures. The author discusses four types of ethnographic studies and explains how each demonstrates the utility of meta-method in cross-cultural studies. Ultimately, Strodtbeck’s aim is to contrast differing “strategies of inference” and their usefulness in overcoming the disparities that exist in the comparison of dissimilar cultures.

Strodtbeck first discusses the idea of viewing “culture as an experimental treatment for individual subjects.” Citing various studies, the author shows how the universality of phenomena can be questioned. To explain his example, Strodtbeck equates cultural experience with a laboratory experiment. He explains how individual cultures are subject to their own “cultural experiments” and how each will react differently. In doing this, a researcher is able to test how widespread phenomena “such as adolescent trauma” really are.

Using Durkheime’s Suicide, Strodtbeck then considers the Opinion Survey as a “differential incidence technique”. Strodtbeck discusses an alternative experiment that surveyed the perception of quality of life by different cultures. He then shows how, through variations in survey methodology, a respondent can be used as a “stable point of reference, despite cultural differences.”

The author then shows how culture itself can be viewed as an entirely new category of experience that allows investigators to reassess traditional classifications of cultural experience. Strodtbeck feels that culture diversity can provide a new frame of reference upon which researchers can conceptualize their data; this will allow for new conclusions about unfamiliar cultures to be formed.

Finally, the article analyzes the usefulness of the Human Relations Area Files and shows how the comparison and reassessment of ethnographic data, though non-inclusive and somewhat complicated, will result in the formation of new hypotheses and newly directed research tactics.

In conclusion, the author explains why a traditional inference technique that is based on deduction and induction is flawed; hypothetico-deductive inference, says Strodtbeck, forces scientists into premature conclusions and is an inaccurate portrayal of the scientific method. Instead, Strodtbeck favors an abductive or retroductive approach that “deals with the rational context of discovery”. In doing so, he reassess how hypotheses are drawn and how conclusions are made. This strategy of inference, says Strodtbeck, will force more surprising and multifaceted results in the study of cross cultures.

ANGUS BIRCHALL Middlebury College (David Napier)

Sturtevant, William C. Studies in Ethnoscience. American Anthropologist. June, 1964 Vol.66 (2): 99-130.

William C. Sturtevant’s article examines the study of Ethnoscience. The author claims that the term “ethnoscience” is unfortunate because it suggests that other kinds of ethnography are not science and that folk classifications and folk taxonomies are science. Ethnoscience is society’s way of classifying its material and social universe. Sturtevant views anthropology as history, rather than science.

This article attempts to make cultural descriptions replicable and accurate. Ethnoscience shows promise as a new method to advance the whole of cultural anthropology. The author lays methodological features in ethnoscience: etic and emic study, domains, terminological systems, paradigms and component analysis, taxonomy and discovery procedures. The latter portion of the article, offers examples of what the author believes qualify as ethnoscience. One category of ethnography in ethnosciene, Sturtevant refers to as color terminology. This study helps in the taxonomy and basic structure of a terminological system. Other languages refer to the term color in different dimensions than English, ethnosciene attempts to discern these levels of meaning. The author concludes that ethnoscience raises the standards of reliability and validity. Because ethnography will be guided by comparative interest, he suggests that some domains might receive more attention, than others.

This article should appeal to those interested in examining subgroups within cultural anthropology and how these groups emerged. We can appreciate the article because of its historical significance, and the commencement in new ideas in methodology. The detailed analysis of the subject of ethnoscience is at times difficult to understand. The author states clearly, in his introduction, that the article lacks examples with sufficient detail. He also explains that the sources cited should further help in the completion of the study.

CATHERINE SAMSON Middlebury College (David Napier)