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All humans are disposed to wear clothes. Indeed, the topic of clothing encapsulates many specific cultural and identity-related issues in that it reveals hidden features of social structures and symbols. More specifically, the way people dress is a means of both conforming to and deviating from a same code.

Lipovetsky goes so far as to throw into question Bourdieu’s concept of social distinction: « In the history of fashion, values and modern cultural meanings which elevate Novelty and the expression of individual human identity in particular have been the ones which exercised the greatest influence.”

Thus, the role of clothing as both signifier and signified is a highly relevant topic of inquiry in the field of intercultural and terminological studies, with social groups sometimes referring to themselves and one another using terms related to their clothing and their appearance (goths, punks, chavs, etc.).

Clothing: a signifier and signified for sociology

We are approaching clothing as a particular signifier of a general signified. It is an individual and collective expression of a cultural and social structure and atmosphere.
In so doing, we are appealing to Barthes’ remarkable work in History and Sociology of Clothing, a foundational text for our subject. We will start by clarifying the generic terms clothing and costume.
A semantic distinction is made between these two terms by attributing functional qualities to clothing and aesthetic qualities to costume. Barthes qualifies this dichotomy as a « psychological illusion » which consists in stating that clothing corresponds to the sum total of individual instincts. Sociology sets itself the task of transcending this illusory divide between functional and aesthetic qualities. The belief that there is a « tendency for any item covering the body to integrate an organised, normative, formal system enshrined by society » is particularly relevant to us.

Following this logic, we must conclude that costume deals in axioms which vary according to the culture in question, « both a system and a heritage, an individual act and a collective institution”.
This formulation of the problem is of special interest to linguists working on differences in editorial process as it is expressed with reference to the concept of language. Language and costume, as complete structures consisting of a network of norms and forms, are thus considered side by side, lending our subject a breadth and relevance ideal for the practice of culturally-specific information processing in graphical interfaces.

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   Though some musical genres are known in the whole world and tend to be globalized, there still are many others that we are not used to listen to and that we generally like to hear because they sound exotic. To a European ear, for instance, samba is very festive whereas traditional Chinese music is relaxing. Thus, both arouse interest and curiosity among the European people, and can be used by them in certain circumstances, but do not actually become part of everyday life in European cultures. Why is each one of these musical genres, among many others, peculiar to a culture? Why do other cultures not borrow them as they did with jazz, pop music etc.? Edward T. Hall’s work helps us to understand this phenomenon.

 

In Beyond Culture Edward T. Hall introduces the phrases being in sync and being out of sync, which he also deals with in The Dance of Life. Sync is the abbreviation of syncing which may be defined, in the fields of communication, kinesics, and cinema as the coordination of motions of several individuals who are interacting. In the 60s, William Condon showed, by analyzing several films of people talking to each other frame after frame, that the motions of individuals who are interacting tend to be synchronized. Sometimes the individuals are not even aware of these motions (blinking or movements of the little finger), and sometimes the movements are wider (nods) and the individuals seem to dance a choreography together without being aware of it.

   It was noticed that these movements usually happen at the same time as stresses on syllables of speech. This shows that there exists a link between speech and motion rhythm which we are not aware of, when talking. Even more, syncing is already present in the behaviour of a new-born: long before being able to talk, a baby synchronizes his or her motions with the speech of a person who is talking, whatever language is used. Edward T. Hall draws the conclusion that syncing is innate and universal and that it is a fundamental element of speech. However, when growing up, we get used to the rhythm of our own language and cannot be in sync with somebody talking in a foreign language anymore. Therefore rhythm forms a part of culture which is totally unconscious. And peoples invent musical genres according to the rhythm of their language, which enables individuals to create links with their interlocutors. Thus, according to Hall “music represents a sort of rhythmic consensus, a consensus of the core culture”. We are all immersed in a “sea of rhythm” of which we are not aware and which is a factor of group cohesion between natives of a culture.

   If an individual cannot be in sync with a rhythm, he or she will not be in sync with a piece of music based on the same rhythm either. And, although the attraction of the exotic is real, the assimilation of a foreign musical genre in our own culture is difficult when its rhythm is not ours. That is why many musical genres are peculiar to a culture: we can assume that the appropriation of a musical genre by a culture depends on the ability of its members to be in sync with this musical genre thanks to a rhythm which is familiar to them.

 

Many surveys have shown that people who play an instrument or have musical skills have more aptitudes for foreign language learning than others due to a higher ability in perceiving and closely reproducing accents. And having the right rhythm and accent when we learn a foreign language is crucial for at least two reasons. The first reason is that rhythm, accent, and intonation convey intentions, ton, humor, innuendos an so on. The second reason is that, in a deeper level of awareness, rhythm, accent, and intonation make it possible to be in sync with a native interlocutor and thus to attract his or her attention and have a bigger impact.

   In addition to misunderstanding, rhythm discrepancies between people may also generate stereotypes and prejudice. Indeed, rhythm and the way of moving linked to it are a form of nonverbal communication. Edward T. Hall gives us the example of the way of walking, which is very different in each ethnic group: the Anglo-American walk is fast and confident whereas the Latino-American walk is boastful. To an Anglo-American, a Latino-American could seem proud or even swanky, and to a Latino-American, an Anglo-American could look authoritarian: we often think that the way people move is an index of their characters. In reality, lending a character to a cultural ethnic group just on the basis of their appearance is a stereotype. The way of moving is not a matter of character, it is once again a matter of rhythm.

Learn more:

Website dedicated to Edward T. Hall

Studies :

An empirical comparison of rhythm in language and music

Cross-Cultural Perception & Structure of Music

The role of rhythm in discriminability of languages (in French)


septembre 2017
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