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3.2. Language and Community

3.2.4. Context

We are all bound to our cultural and socio-historical context in which we think and breathe (see also Underhill 2012, 12). Therefore, how we use language is molded by social and situational (external) contexts and cognitive (internal) contexts (see also Günther 2016, 106).

As Cuyckens put it, words do not acquire meaning out of context (2003, 21), i.e. meaning is produced by context (see also Allwood 2003, 29). The context in which language is used, such as cultural, personal, social, or biological context, requires language to be adaptable, which would not be possible without the flexibility of language (see also Givon 1986, 98).

This leads us to the prototype theory, whose category rules allow for linguistic flexibility.

20 3.2.5. Concepts and Prototypes

When talking about language, culture, and thought, Enfield explains how “language is the primary mode of transmitting culture and facilitating conceptual thought” (2000, 145). Along these lines, Wierzbicka explains how language does not offer direct access to the world, but it provides us with concepts which then create our reality along culturally specific lines (qtd. in Underhill 2012, 37). She contrasts how concepts emerge differently in different language systems (qtd. in Underhill 2012, 36). According to her, “concepts may show a certain degree of compatibility in different languages, but each one is specific to the culture in which it circulates” (ibid.). Thus, concepts cannot be successfully analyzed without taking into consideration culture (see also Enfield 2000, 145). “A theory of language must therefore incorporate a theory of culture” (ibid.). That is why cultural psychologists have been analyzing the impact of culture on thought (see also Imai et al. 2016, 72).

In connection to that, many linguists, such as Rosch (1978), promote the view that claims that categories and their attributed members are influenced by the culture of a language community (qtd. in Taylor 2008, 47). This view has been supported by numerous linguistic studies, which indicate that culture plays a big part when it comes to semantic diversity in vocabulary connected to the social world of the speaker, such as for example kinship, which is analyzed in chapter 4. (see also Bromhead 2018, 2).

Since culture impacts conceptualization, it consequently influences the perception of prototypes as well. Furthermore, people can identify a prototype of a category they have learned, even without being directly exposed to that prototype (see also Taylor 2008, 45).

One study confirming this claim was conducted by Taylor, in which Americans, when asked to assume what a Chinese individual would list as the prototype of the category 'bird', listed a peacock and a swan, but when asked to think from an American perspective, they listed an eagle and a robin (2008, 47). This goes to show that different cultures and regions have


different experiences which leads them to have different perceptions of the same category.

However, this does not necessarily mean that Chinese subjects would list a peacock and a swan as the prototypes, but it does, however, show that background knowledge, in this case background assumptions, do influence how we would rank members of a category (ibid.).

However, just like it has a unique 'external form', every language has a unique 'inner form' as well (see also House 2000, 70), which is why besides conceptual differences between different languages, variations in conceptualization also occur within the same language due to various sociocultural differences, different knowledge, experience, context, and many other factors.

3.3. Stereotypes

Speaking of concepts, there have been numerous ways of defining them. It used to be considered that a concept equals an icon, i.e. a mental image, but a more recent view suggests that a concept is a definition (see also Connolly et al. 2007, 2). The third view, being the most recent one, suggests that a concept is a stereotype (ibid.). Andrew et al., however, disagree with these three definitions and explain how some concepts may have stereotypes, but do not equal stereotypes (ibid.). What triggers stereotypes is not conceptualization itself, but categorization and generalization. Even though these two linguistic processes are linked to the mastering of language (see also Burghgraeve 1976, 183), they can also generate negative connotations, thus potentially leading to stereotyping.

What is a stereotype?

According to Hinton, “stereotypes are generalizations” (2000, 8) and “a feature of prejudice”

(2000, 14). They tend not to be subject to change (see also Hinton 2000, 9) and are maintained regardless of new information (see also Hinton 2000, 12). Many linguists identify a stereotype as an (over)generalization that ignores individual differences (see also Hinton 2000, 11-12). One of the main characteristics of stereotyping is assuming that all members of


a category are the same (see also Hinton 2000, 4). In other words, “stereotyping ignores the variability within a group of people” (ibid.). Therefore, as Hinton concluded, stereotypes are a form of inaccurate judgement (2000, 11), or as Lipmann simply put it, they are incorrect (qtd. in Hinton 2000, 9).

Lippmann (1922) was the first to introduce stereotyping within the frame of social sciences (qtd. in Hinton 2000, 8). He described stereotypes as “simplified pictures in our head of people and events in the world” (ibid.). He explained how we form these pictures in our head because the reality of the world is too massive and fleeting for us to grasp (ibid.). According to him, these pictures are often molded by our culture (ibid.) (analyzed in more detail in 3.1.2.). Because of its simplifying aspect, stereotyping is often identified with simple-mindedness (see also Hinton 2000, 19). Oftentimes, we are not even aware to what extent language and culture mold our thinking, which elicits the question: “Are we blind to our own limits?” (Underhill 2012, 19).

3.3.1. Language and Stereotypes

Many linguists, such as van Dijk, argue that prejudice, and thus stereotyping, are acquired and transmitted through communication (qtd. in Maass and Arcuri 1996, 195). As Maass and Arcuri put it, “although stereotypes may take very different – verbal and nonverbal – forms, language is probably the dominant means by which they are defined, communicated and assessed” (1996, 193). Language helps transfer and maintain the existing stereotypes, often in such a subtle way that neither the speaker nor the listener are completely aware of its effect (see also Maass and Arcuri 1996, 220). Even though the way we use language does not alter reality, it does, however, alter our perception of reality (see also Hays 2000, 159). It helps us to take the world into our own consciousness (see also Underhill 2012, 22).

Furthermore, we use language as a means of social interaction (see also Günther 2016, 111) and words as social tools (see also Lupyan 2019, 154). When we are conveying cultural


ideas, language has a key role (see also Enfield 2000, 131), which is why we should always be aware that “words are not innocent” (Underhill 2012, 9). What and how we say something reflects our thinking, attitudes, and beliefs. Furthermore, as individuals, we are part of our community and our beliefs create our community's beliefs; our stereotypes feed our community's stereotypes. Therefore, we should be aware of the power words have when it comes to molding our perception and, ultimately, our community's perception.

3.3.2. Culture and Stereotypes

According to Hinton (2000, 9), stereotypes are oftentimes incorrect. What makes stereotyping inaccurate is its ethnocentrism or cultural absolutism which promotes that our view of the world is the correct view and that the norms imposed by our culture are accurate (Brown 1965, qtd. in Hinton 2000, 13). Along these lines, Hinton pointed out that stereotypes are the result of our limited cognitive activity and our culture-imposed knowledge and perception of the world (2000, 9). We often accept the normative influence imposed by our environment, i.e. by our social group made up of our family, friends, teachers, colleagues, media, and more (see also Hinton 2000, 19), and we consequently absorb ways of thinking we see among the members of our community.

Media and Stereotypes

Not rarely are subtly implanted stereotypes, oftentimes imposed by mass media, used as a tool for manipulating society. The source of prejudice often originates from textbooks, media, news reports, and even common talk (see also Maass and Arcuri 1996, 195). One example of socially imposed stereotyping is connected to discrimination based on gender, i.e. media's tendency to portray men and women in traditional and stereotypical ways. For example, in 1988, Kruse, Weimer, and Wagner analyzed the differences in the representation of women and men in German magazines (see also Maass and Arcuri 1996, 195). The conclusion was that the perception of gender roles in media still follows the traditional stereotypes; while men are presented as more logical and active, women are portrayed as more emotional and


passive (ibid.). Furthermore, Kirchler noticed the presence of stereotypical language in German, Swiss, and Austrian obituaries, which prevalently characterized male managers as intelligent and knowledgeable, while women were described as likable, adorable, and committed (ibid.) Moreover, data analyzing phraseology confirmed that in English, the phrase ‘(a) real man’ is used more often than ‘(a) real woman’ (see also Goddard and Wierzbicka 2014, 41). However, the phrase ‘(a) typical woman’ is more commonly used than

‘(a) typical man’ (ibid.). Besides these phrases, words such as womanly, motherly, childlike indicate that these roles are assigned certain gender-based stereotypes (ibid.).

Upbringing and Stereotypes

While mass media are linked to mass communication, the influence of language on stereotyping can occur on an interpersonal level as well, such as parent-child or teacher-student communication (see also Maass and Arcuri 1996, 195). Research conducted by Fagot and Leinbach, which focused on gender stereotypes, revealed that children with more traditional parents were more prone to gender stereotypes than their peers with less traditional parents (see also Maass and Arcuri 1996, 196). Gender stereotyping may also influence one's perception of family roles, which can ultimately affect how one perceives the category 'family'.

3.3.3. Stereotypes and Prototypes

What we choose as prototypical members of a category reflects our psychological processes of deciding if an item belongs to a category or not (see also Taylor 2008, 41), which can be a good indicator of our beliefs and ways of thinking. As mentioned in 3.2.6., a person can identify a prototype of a category they have learned, without directly being exposed to the prototype in question (see also Taylor 2008, 45). This is where stereotypes often come into play. We sometimes tend to have prejudices towards certain entities without ever being exposed to them. We build our beliefs based on the beliefs of our community; both consciously and subconsciously. We do not question the meaning and the power our words


have because we are part of a community that has imposed the meaning in question as a general truth. Blinded by our culture's perception of reality, we tend to forget that we are ultimately in charge of molding our thoughts.

3.3.4. Breaking Free From Imposed Thinking

Metalinguistic awareness is a linguistic category that enables an individual to reflect upon structural linguistic features (see also Zhou 2000, 346). “Metalinguistic awareness frees speakers from the conventional thinking and behavior dictated by their native languages”

(Zhou 2000, 360). Even though people find comfort in the linguistic rules imposed by their speech community, people themselves are, after all, the ultimate rulers of language (see also Trabant 2000, 41). Even though one might feel constrained by the community's implanted norms, “there is always an escape from the trap of one's language” (House 2000, 79).



The following chapters will deal with the concept of 'family' and how sociocultural factors influence people's perception of this concept. One of the explanations provided for the term 'family' is offered by Maynes and Waltner, according to whom “families are small groups of people linked by culturally recognized ties of marriage or similar forms of partnership, descent, and/or adoption, who typically share a household for some period of time” (2012, x).

However, the meaning of 'family' has significantly altered throughout history; it constantly changes with time and in different cultures (see also Maynes and Waltner 2012, ix).

Therefore, different cultures have different views on who is part of the family and they have different approaches to organizing family life (see also Maynes and Waltner 2012, ix-xi). For example, in different cultures and in different times in history “men have had more than one wife at a time [...], married partners have been selected by the parents of the marrying couple” and so forth (ibid.). If we take a look at how different cultures perceive different ways of organizing family as normal, we can notice how 'family' is not a natural term, but rather a historically, socially, and culturally determined one (ibid.). For instance, in terms of historical factors and their influence on a culture's approach to kinship, colonialism had a significant impact on the indigenous organization of kin (see also Kockelman 2010, 36).

There are many more examples that indicate the susceptibility of the term 'family' to cultural, social, and political practices and processes (see also Maynes and Waltner 2012, ix). For example, family metaphors such as 'our founding fathers' and 'the brotherhood of men' have a big impact on political thought (see also Maynes and Waltner 2012, x). Besides creating the male dominance effect in terms of 'family', the dominance of men in political and historical vocabulary manipulates the human mind into ignoring the role of women in the field of politics and history, leading to a much broader basis for gender-based discrimination.


4.1. Language – the Mirror of the Mind

When it comes to language and the mind, Cuyckens et al. wrote that “one of the most intangible, yet ever-present aspects of our life is the phenomenon of language itself, and its role in our mental life and in our interpersonal relations” (2003, 8). To put it simply, language affects our perception of the world. For example, if one's concept for the term 'parents' is narrow, it is highly likely that their opinion and thoughts on the subject of 'parents' will be narrow as well, especially in contrast to someone who has a broader conceptualization of the term 'parents'. What we experience linguistically, we transmit to our future linguistic experience and behavior (see also Günther 2016, 102). In Leibniz's words, “languages are the best mirror of the human mind” (qtd. in Wierzbicka 2016, 409). Similarly, Wierzbicka stated that “languages are the best mirror of human cultures” (qtd. in Enfield 2000, 135).

Along these lines, Underhill wrote that “words create concepts” (2012, 42); they are fundamental for the creation of social reality, a large part of it being social roles (e.g.

teachers, judges...) (see also Hays 2000, 162). The influence happening between language and conceptualization is not prompt, but “it is the influence of languaging during childhood that is affecting thinking and perceiving throughout later life” (see also Lamb 2000, 195).

One of the most powerful roles in one's childhood are parents; they can use vocabulary and grammar to mold their children's perceptual categorization (see also Hays 2000, 159). This might, however, be seen as ethically problematic (see also Hays 2000, 169) since parents can imprint unethical ways of thinking onto their children. Consciously or unconsciously, parents transmit their own personal beliefs to their children and these beliefs oftentimes contain discriminatory and stereotypical traits, which are later on difficult to eradicate from one's mind.


4.2. Language and Social Reality

Since language is the instrument for creating reality, we could say that language, therefore, is reality (see also Hays 2000, 163). While a 'which came first?' question might arise from such a statement, Hays suggests that the two develop and arise together (2000, 164).

We create social reality with our thoughts, which are language-dependent (see also Hays 2000, 162). In other words, reality is the result of common human experience. This process between 'common human experience' and 'social reality' was labeled by Lakoff as 'functional embodiment' (qtd. in Hays 2000, 163). Even though the connection between social reality and linguistic relativity is omnipresent, the connection between the two is very difficult to analyze and observe (see also Hays 2000, 164) since many of its aspects are abstract and difficult to convert into data and numbers.

4.3. Kinship

When it comes to “the categorization of social concepts, relationships and functions”, language is essential (see also Hays 2000, 163). According to Dunbar, “social relationships are the driving force behind the origins of language” (qtd. in Hays 2000, 162). Therefore, social relationships are one of the focal points of linguistic research, making kinship one of the most important areas for the field of social relationships and anthropology in general.

According to Tratumann and Whiteley (2012), “anthropology began with kinship” (qtd. in Wierzbicka 2016, 412), making it undoubtedly a crucial area for anthropological research and studies. However, the concept of kinship and its unquestionable aspect of ethnocentrism are

“one of the most controversial issues in cultural anthropology” (Wierzbicka 2016, 408). The issue of kinship has been through many stages; from being considered irrelevant to being regarded as central to human studies (ibid.) and finding its firm role within the field of linguistic relativity.

29 Examples of Kinship in Different Languages

Different cultures do not only differ in languages but in concepts as well. Therefore, when trying to find a universal understanding of the concept 'kinship', it is important to take into consideration different kinship systems in different languages and cultures (see also Wierzbicka 2016, 408).

For example, the English term 'sibling' completely disregards age and gender (see also Wierzbicka 2013, 304). Furthermore, no European language has an equivalent for the word 'sibling' (ibid.). Another example is Fanti (spoken in Ghana) in which 'father' is used both for the father and his brother (see also Kronenfeld 2000, 201). While Wierzbicka discusses whether a concept exists if a word for it does not, it is no wonder that different cultures have different perception, and thus a different categorial vision of the term 'family' since they do not even have the same conceptual representation of 'family'. Even though a lack of words for certain concepts does not necessarily mean the lack of these concepts in one's mind, it does however indicate the absence of these concepts in one's daily communication (see also Wierzbicka 2016, 411).

According to Wierzbicka, the words used for kinship concepts are of high importance for cultural anthropology since they are a valid indicator of how people conceptualize social relationships (2016, 409). Examples from above are a good indicator of how not all humans have the same understanding of familial connections and roles (see also Wierzbicka 2016, 408), leading thus to socioculturally-provoked differences in the perception of the prototype of the concept 'family'.

30 4.3.1. Prototype Theory and Kinship

Wierzbicka believes that prototype semantics could be of help when it comes to cross-linguistic comparison of meanings and “the incommensurability of different conceptual traditions” (2013, 318). However, she believes this is possible only if we have some shared invariants, such as the universal concepts 'mother' and 'father' (ibid.). According to her, “if we don’t try to study the diversity and universals in kinship terminologies at the same time and to use the apparent universals (or near-universals) as our tools for describing the diversity we will always be in danger of looking at kinship terms in languages of the world through the prism of our own culturally-shaped concepts— such as, for example, ‘brother’, ‘sister’ and

‘sibling’.” (ibid.).

Kinship Universals

In most studies, English is taken as the starting point for kinship terms, which results in the negligence of other cultures' kinship structures (see also Wierzbicka 2016, 415). Therefore, there have been many linguistic attempts that aimed to find a common ground, i.e. the most optimal basis for the study of kinship terminology. For example, according to anthropologist Nicholas Allen, the simplest kinship system would be comprised of four classes: parents, siblings, children, and spouses (qtd. in Wierzbicka 2013, 305). 'Parents' would be marked as P, 'siblings' as G, 'children' as C and 'spouses' as E (ibid.). This division would then be subdivided according to gender: mother (M), sister (Z), daughter (D), wife (W), father (F), brother (B), son (S), and husband (H) (ibid.).

However, kinship categories that appear in all human societies are 'mother', 'father', 'wife' and 'husband' (see also Wierzbicka 2013, 306). Since 'mother' and 'father' are lexical universals, they can be used as the basis for kinship terms in all cultures and languages (see also Wierzbicka 2016, 409). This goes to show that even though kinship terms are different in different cultures and languages, they do indicate a certain level of shared human concepts, especially when taking into consideration the mentioned universals.


4.4. Who is Family? – Different Prototypes of the Term 'Family'

The concept of 'family' has undergone numerous changes; it has been affected by historical, political, linguistic, cultural, and numerous other factors. Moreover, it is a scientific concept that often reveals a lot about the culture in question (ibid.). Therefore, it is a concept of special interest to many researchers. For examples, variations in the conceptual understanding of families have often been analyzed and researched by demographers (see also Seltzer 2019, 418). For instance, in his article “Family Change and Changing Family Demography”, Seltzer describes how demographers think of 'family' as a broad concept; they take into

The concept of 'family' has undergone numerous changes; it has been affected by historical, political, linguistic, cultural, and numerous other factors. Moreover, it is a scientific concept that often reveals a lot about the culture in question (ibid.). Therefore, it is a concept of special interest to many researchers. For examples, variations in the conceptual understanding of families have often been analyzed and researched by demographers (see also Seltzer 2019, 418). For instance, in his article “Family Change and Changing Family Demography”, Seltzer describes how demographers think of 'family' as a broad concept; they take into