Where Is Language An Anthropologist s Questions On Language Literature And Performance

By Ruth Finnegan

  • Genre : Languages
  • Publisher :
  • ISBN : 978 1472590930
  • Year : 2015
  • Language: English


Where is Language Where is Language An Anthropologist s Questions on Language Literature and Performance By Ruth Finnegan Bloomsbury Academic An imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc Bloomsbury Academic An imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc 50 Bedford Square 1385 Broadway London New York WC1B 3DP NY 10018 UK USA www bloomsbury com BLOOMSBURY and the Diana logo are trademarks of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc First published 2015 Ruth Finnegan 2015 Ruth Finnegan has asserted her right under the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as Author of this work All rights reserved No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic or mechanical including photocopying recording or any information storage or retrieval system without prior permission in writing from the publishers No responsibility for loss caused to any individual or organization acting on or refraining from action as a result of the material in this publication can be accepted by Bloomsbury or the author British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library ISBN HB 978-1-4725-9092-3 PB 978-1-4725-9093-0 ePDF 978-1-4725-9095-4 ePub 978-1-4725-9094-7 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress Typeset by Fakenham Prepress Solutions Fakenham Norfolk NR21 8NN To the evergreen memory of Gerhardt Baumann who would have liked and as is right argued with this book We will never forget you CONTENTS Preface Acknowledgements ix x 1 What is the art of language 1 2 Playing with the heroes of human history 15 3 Artisting the self A tale of personal story 27 4 Forget the words It s performance 53 5 Reclothing the oral 63 6 Song What comes first words music or performance 85 7 Competence and performance Was Chomsky right after all 107 8 Poem and story The arts of dreaming and waking to sweet words 115 9 Where is literature 127 Further reading Bibliography Index 143 147 161 PREFACE What could be greater than linguistic expression for narrating the deep story of our identities clothing our emotions in beautiful language using the modalities of our bodies to communicate and embellish our words formulating the lyrics of songs or our dreams into narrative And yet like time for Saint Augustine what when we come to think of it is so little understood A host of puzzles face us when we do come to think about it Do we in our Western way exaggerate the significance of what we term language above all our particular form of language alphabetic literacy the tool of conquest Are not other modes as profound perhaps divine as some would put it and above all is it only a Western cultural trait to see verbalizing as the greatest art of all We need a more multiplex challenging but more contextually situated understanding of language literature and performance And if the search involves challenging some accepted stereotypes this is scarcely too high a price to pay for a greater understanding controversial as it may be of phenomena so apparently crucial to our humanity The present volume represents the fruit of a lifetime s puzzling over the subject reinforced by my desire need to set the issues as far as in me lie in some kind of cross-cultural perspective So I start here as do most scholars anthropologists included we are not just creatures of fieldwork or the exotic from a closely interested reading of the literature beginning with the ancient classics followed by intensive reading and fieldwork in three continents The results have also drawn of course on primary evidence including the field research of both myself and others interpreted in the light of the comparative material from throughout the world and the centuries The two inform each other ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Some of the ideas but not necessarily the expression behind the account here have not unnaturally appeared in other publications before now although their conflation and articulation are unique to this volume So let me as is courteous mention in particular Comp tence et Performance Karthala International Journal of Learning Language Description and Documentation Newsletter of British Association for Applied Linguistics Oral Tradition Palavra Cantada Ensaios sobre Poesia M sica e Voz 7 Letras Consumption and Everyday Life Sage Technology Literacy and the Evolution of Society Erlbaum The Art of English Literary Creativity Palgrave Macmillan On a more personal level I owe great gratitude to the librarians and colleagues at my long-time institution the Open University of which I am proud to have been a founder member too many to name individually but you know who you are still so kind even to an old lag like myself My thanks too to the unknown readers for the press who not only encouraged me to persevere but markedly improved the clarity and coherence of this offering Of other individuals again too many to name let me merely thank my dear husband David always beside me and in abiding memory Gerhardt Baumann to whom this book is dedicated he would no doubt have fixed on all its minor inaccuracies I hope there are not too many and any typos that have escaped the excellent Bloomsbury process but would nevertheless have welcomed it with his inimitable smile 1 What is the art of language It is common to assume we know what language is and what is needed to capture and describe it hence by implication what language in essence is But there are many contending theories too easily forgotten in the understandable rush to document and describe These need to be considered at the outset above all the performance approach to linguistic action entailed in pragmatic perspectives and the issue of how and for whom linguistic accounts are constructed in the first place I too was once confident of what language was where its boundaries lay and hence what might count as data for documenting it But I am no longer sure Nor am I clear where information about a given language should be found or how by and for whom a language should be documented My uncertainties are founded in my own puzzles over the many years that I ve worked mainly as an anthropologist on aspects of unwritten literature performance and communication based both in comparative reading and fieldwork in Africa and Britain Finnegan 1967 1970 1977 1988 1989 1992 1998 2002 2007 Within that limited experience I find that the issues I have confronted are unexpectedly to me relevant for the understanding of the nature of language and how to capture it whether in our contemporary world or in the so-called vanishing cultures What I offer here are some informal reflections not any pretence of a scholarly or theoretical disquisition 1 I write not as a specialist linguist nor 1 Given the personal setting of this introductory chapter there are many references to my own work unclothed furthermore by the decencies of systematic citations throughout But since my personal experience is of course interrelated with changing and contending approaches to language and communication let me mention that works I have at various times found especially illuminating include Austin 1962 Bakhtin 1986 Bauman 1977 Bauman and Sherzer 1989 Bauman and Briggs 1990 2003 Clark 1996 Cummings 2010 Dalby 1999 2000 Duranti 2004 Gippert et al 2006 Hanks 1996 Harris 1987 1998 Harris and Wolf 1998 Hodge and Kress 1993 Hymes 1977 Robinson 2006 Tracey 1999 Verschueren 2009 Verschueren and stman 2009 Some issues touched on here are considered in more fully referenced framework in Finnegan 2002 14 2007 2 WHERE IS LANGUAGE as someone with any expertise in documenting languages but merely about my experience of becoming increasingly doubtful of my initially confident assumptions about just where in the great spectrum of human communicating and expression we are to find language My first degree was in Classics Greek and Latin At that point I knew what language was or rather I didn t need to know because it seemed self-evident It was what came in written texts Written texts were the prime sources that had come down to us from classical antiquity transmitted in the manuscript tradition and with of course no audio records of speech The texts we read and studied were wonderful and enriching covering a wide range of genres literary historical epistolatory oratorical lyrical and much else Both drawn from and supporting this corpus of texts was the extensive apparatus of vocabulary of grammar and of syntax all once again encapsulated in writing in the form of dictionaries of words usually offering equivalencies in some European language and accounts of grammatical and syntactical rules The written words organized in the correct classic formulations that was ultimately what language was This emphasis on the textual and written was not totally unqualified Archaeology the study of material remains played a part and some scholars like Eduard Fraenkel from Germany went beyond the printed page to read aloud a Catullus love poem or W B Stanford from Ireland engaged with the acoustic dimensions of Greek lyric meters There was an established tradition though not within the examination curriculum of live performances of Greek plays or of reading Homer aloud But the paradigm was indubitably of the centrality of written text both as the object of what was studied and the medium in which such study was appropriately expressed From this viewpoint documenting a little-known language i e one unwritten-about philologically would entail finding and pinning down its essential constituent texts that could be read analysed and form the basis for identifying underlying rules The texts might have to be snared by transcribing spoken words into writing But ultimately those resultant scripts together with a similar scholarly apparatus as for classical languages would form the necessary documentation data Language was capturable and realized in the communication technology dominant in the mid-twentieth century and earlier writing and it was ultimately there that the data could be recognized Emerging doubts Things began to look different when as a graduate I embarked on anthropological studies followed ineluctably by my first piece of fieldwork This was in the early 1960s among a people called the Limba in northern Sierra Leone My focus came to be on their stories and story-telling an interest What is the art of language 3 that followed on well from my enthusiasm for literary texts in my earlier studies I was hugely impressed by the many story-telling performances I experienced there and wanted to make that aspect of Limba culture the central core for my thesis and subsequent publications My initial presupposition was that the way to study these stories and most certainly the way to present them in my doctoral dissertation was to capture them as written text That after all was surely where their reality lay and the medium in which I and other scholars possessed the necessary analytic tools There seemed no other proper way to pin them down for scholarly study So some of the stories I transformed directly into script by taking them down from dictation Many others I recorded on one of the relatively portable tape recorders then available The obvious next step was to transcribe from tape into written lines on a page in similar format to the classical texts I and others were accustomed to My thesis could then take the familiar form of introductory background and analysis followed by the key data parallel texts in Limba and English translation It consequently ran to three large volumes I still remember their weight as I lugged the required three copies of each through Oxford by bicycle then up the steps to the examinations schools I assumed as apparently did my examiners that the substantive data the corpus of texts had to be there in my presentation But there was a problem I had been greatly struck by the richness and subtlety of these narrations and in my thesis tried to convey something of their artistry But that had somehow melted away in the stories I presented At one point trying to demonstrate why I was so enthusiastic I showed one of the texts to a friend from my classical days expecting him to be impressed He read through and rejoined politely Oh yes another of those charming African animal tales to my mind missing all its wonders The point is of course only too obvious though it took me some time to appreciate it fully The reality lay in the performance It was this that the written texts had failed to capture They missed the subtle characterizations the drama the way the tellers used volume pitch tempo repetition emphasis dynamics silence timbre onomatopoeia and a whole plethora of non-verbal indications to convey humour pathos irony atmosphere The written forms could never replicate the ideophones that peppered the tellings vivid little mini-images in sound and more than sound Nor could unilinear textual layout show the many-voiced interaction and co-construction by the audience as they joined in songs led by the narrator or reacted with horror or laughter to key turns in the tale Nor either did it capture the Limba practice of picking out one among the audience as the replier a second voice to give special support prompting echoing and where needed exaggerated reactions and response Compressing this multidimensional and multi-participant performance within the narrow one-voiced medium of writing was to miss its substance 4 WHERE IS LANGUAGE I soon discovered that similar patterns were found elsewhere obvious once you look but for long concealed from me and others by the presupposed centrality of written text The study of oral poetry performance and oral literature more generally hammered home the same point Both in Africa and further afield those creating performed literary art deploy not just writable words but a vast range of non-verbalized auditory devices of which those conventionally captured in written text such as rhyme alliteration and rhythm are only a small sample The wondrously varied expressive resources of the human voice are exploited for multifarious delivery modes varying with genre situation or performer spoken sung recited intoned shouted whispered carried by single or multiple or alternating voices Not just in faraway places but in the spoken and sung forms nearer home too there turned out to be near-infinite combinations of vocal expression and auditory resources of which most escape from view on the written page I had to conclude then that the core lay not in written text after all but in the performance And that included the setting the delivery and not just the lead speaker but the full range of participants All this showed up the contentious nature of my earlier language-as-written-text model This was reinforced by ongoing trends in the study of verbal expression not least the performance-oriented approaches and ethnography of speaking in folklore and anthropology stressing performance and process rather than text and product as well as more recent developments in linguistic anthropology sociolinguistics and performance studies At the same time interdisciplinary interests in oral performance and in orality more generally were and are flourishing opening up a new vision of the nature of human communication and expression previously concealed by the focus on the written This turned me towards seeing language as ultimately something spoken performed oral It no longer seemed to be existent essentially in written text but in active performance and interaction And if so language documentation would have to be approached very differently than from the familiar written-text perspective For it would have to focus on audio not just written materials and to include records and analyses of oral performances and where relevant their multiplicity of overlapping participants Such data would not only count but be essential Plunging into the oral Acknowledging the limitations of a written-text model of language is hopefully by now scarcely problematic Audio recordings are nowadays widely accepted as a regular though perhaps not universal part of serious language documentation I would like to add two further comments however about the implications What is the art of language 5 First a qualification The move away from the written to the oral sometimes jumps to the opposite extreme envisaging the spoken as somehow the bedrock natural traditional to be set against the artificial imposition of writing A seminal Western myth sometimes lurks behind this constantly challenged but also constantly recycled In ways more fully explored in the next chapter this posits a fundamental opposition between two mutually exclusive types of social and cognitive organization the one literate rational scientific civilized Western modern the other communal emotional non-scientific traditional primitive and oral This has underpinned a trend to mystify orality and the oral as if something distinctive and separate characteristic of a culture belonging prototypically to the them of far away or long ago and one in which writing even if in certain respects present is intrinsically alien and to be ignored This is a set of assumptions I have long found myself struggling against and one which no doubt also crops up controversially in certain approaches to language documentation In other ways however the analysis of the oral and performed dimensions of language has paradoxically not been taken far enough The vocabulary to capture the amazing use of the voice with its huge range of subtleties is relatively little developed and the sonic elements of language are still often sidelined But if we are to document the auditory practice of language then the data to count would need to cover not just rules about phonetics word forms or limited elements of prosody but its active sonic realization in such features as for example pacing and speed volume pitch melody rhythm onomatopoeia voice quality timbre mood mix with other voices and sounds or silences distancing vocalized sounds like sobs sighs or laughter and so much else Data about tone or prosody would have to include not just smaller units like words phrases or sentences but also the sonic patternings of larger chunks and of speech genres more widely It s true that such elements sometimes get mentioned under the heading of paralinguistic or extralinguistic elements but in an oral-performance model of language these are not supplementary extras but intrinsic A Martian anthropologist might well be puzzled by a demarcation which included some auditory elements in the delineation of language but excluded others which can equally form part of both the conventions and the unique personality communicated through human vocal utterance So though the importance of audio features may now be increasingly taken for granted in documenting languages helped by the audio technologies which now facilitate the recording storage and accessing of such data has this yet been fully followed through Documenting the oral is inevitably enormously complex nor despite the wizardries of modern technology have we really developed adequate techniques vocabularies or perhaps concepts to fully capture and analyse these inevitably more fleeting and temporal performed features 6 WHERE IS LANGUAGE Small wonder perhaps that the written model of language is so extraordinarily persistent with its implicit suggestion that data doesn t quite exist until it is reduced to transcribed as transformed into or analysed through the spatial solidity of writing and print As Hodge and Kress well put it The distinctive resources of spoken communication which are not transcribed are eliminated from linguistic theory 1993 11 Even when we accept a view of language as sounded and performed we still too often fall comfortably back into a model in which the true reality and the key data reside in visually written textualizations rather than vocal enunciation Cognitive models My Limba fieldwork brought me face to face not just with story-telling performance but also with the active way that Limba speakers used vocal utterances to do things This I gradually discovered ran counter to a further implicit model of language that if only in a vague and muddled way I had also had at the back of my mind This was a set of somewhat contradictory and elusive assumptions which could indeed be split apart but which nevertheless tended to come together in a kind of general mindset which I d sum up under the label of cognitive Basically I pictured language as something essentially mental rational decontextualized Language was to do with mind and meaning and its central function was referential Artistry and rhetoric were secondary embellishments only to be considered once the core prose and information-bearing elements were grasped Language might or might not constitute an independent rule-governed system existing autonomously in its own right I vaguely assumed that it did but it certainly could be assumed to have a structure that could be abstracted from the messiness of context usage and social action or experience Of course I should already have known that this was not the whole story both from my own experience and from my encounter with the multiplicity of classical genres Even so I was still somehow steeped in that set of preconceptions It had been reinforced in part by the legacy of logical positivism still influential in my undergraduate years at Oxford though tempered by Austin s lectures on performative utterances which were much to influence me subsequently More radically as I came to realize it was a continuance of an ideology powerful in Western thought over several centuries which asserted the rationality of language and its relation to science objectivity civilization literacy and ultimately the achievements of the West In some ways it was a serviceable model for a field situation My language learning had indeed initially relied on the presupposition of a systematic vocabulary and grammar that I could learn independently of What is the art of language 7 the pressures of spoken situations There was a short missionary-compiled Limba dictionary a couple of translated gospels and two short articles based on data from an overseas Limba visitor elicited and analysed by a linguist Jack Berry then at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London all of which I found hugely helpful This all fitted both my preconceptions about the systematized and meaning-carrying nature of language and where to find data about it and my conviction that meaning could be conveyed cross-culturally and out of context Language as the repository of thought offered the potential for its translation a channel by which minds could be brought into contact across space and time It was through language that Limba stories could be transported to others as text something which I indeed aspired to do through my verbal translations My aim was not to document language as such whether that of Limba speakers or any others But if it had been I would doubtless have started from the assumption that the core data would be found in the information-carrying forms in plain prose sentences and the logical structure underlying them also that I would have to produce clear translations and word-for-word equivalences to enable the direct transference of meaning from this lesser-known culture into some accessible European language Greater experience of Limba life somewhat undermined that set of preconceptions I could not really miss the way Limba speakers used speaking as organized action and performance rather than or as well as for conveying meaning They used language to do things rather than just describe them to recognize and forge relationships ratify contracts issue orders assert a position strike an attitude show off as performer Further in some interchanges and even in some Limba stories the cognitive content as it were the meaning I had assumed I could transfer was not after all the only or in some cases even apparently the most important element I think for example of one ridiculous short story I recorded about a fictional character called Daba an incorrigible snuff-taker All that happened in it was that Daba went round the local chiefs badgering them to give him vast quantities of snuff then finally overreached himself by taking a huge sniff and falling down dead nothing to it really And yet this was hugely successful with the audience who were rolling with merriment It was told by one of the most admired local tellers and was among the liveliest narrations I encountered subtle as well as hilarious Its success lay not in its plot but in the teller s brilliant performance and the audience s active co-creation and singing as Daba sniffed and sniffed again also in the narrator s skill in exploiting their shared knowledge of local personalities satirized as Daba goes the round of the chiefs and of the ludicrous way some people carry on held up to mockery in Daba s absurdly extreme personality I had also rather assumed that in focusing on stories I had managed to select a core linguistic genre narrative close to ordinary speech and 8 WHERE IS LANGUAGE thus somehow basic in a way that their songs and more overtly artistic behaviour were not I tacitly congratulated myself on that feeling it took me direct into something primary about their language But I came to acknowledge that story-telling was no more nor less natural than any other genre It too had its own speech conventions Nor was there anything special about either narrative or so-called prose that gave them any more seminal or objective status than anything else All cultures I had to accept recognize a variety of speech genres as Bakhtin 1986 famously had it each with their own poetics Not that everything about a cognitive view of language seemed wrong But both from fieldwork experience and more comparative work on literacy and communication media more generally I became doubtful how far that set of preconceptions could adequately illuminate either the Limba experience or human culture as it was realized in practice And if so the data necessary for documenting a language would seem to involve not primarily matters to do with its abstract linguistic system translateable cognitive meaning or supposedly primary forms such as narrative or conversation but data from and about the full range of recognized genres It would have to cover the near-unending and diverse ways people used and enacted language for art action reflection play or whatever An impossible project But might aiming at anything less risk invoking a seriously incomplete model of language Where are the boundaries And amid all those puzzles I have also become unclear how to divide language from other but are they other modes of human expression One uncertainty still dogging me is the relation between music and language Some cases are perhaps clearly one or the other but where if anywhere does the line come Take intonation I originally assumed that this was to do with individual words or sentences and as such a relatively accepted if limited dimension in some perhaps not all approaches to language Thus in the Limba stories I recorded I took it that intonation was effective in particular phrases and how they were delivered but not of much interest in the narration more widely But I changed my mind when unexpectedly I was played an audio recording of a Mossi story from some hundreds of miles away in a very different West African language I knew no Mossi so listened to the sounds I was amazed to hear familiar intonational and rhythmic patterning in long passages of the telling It could have been a Limba performance I had not noticed before how part of the characterization of the genre was its sonic shaping What is the art of language 9 A similar point applies in the comparative study of oral poetry Not only are there many varieties of rhythmically and sonically patterned delivery delineating both particular generic conventions and unique performance attributes but some poems are performed in a way that means they could equally well be described either as sung poetry or as vocal music or indeed as song In these performed genres enacted by single or multiple voices sometimes instrumentally embellished too should I really be endeavouring to separate linguistic from musical elements and if so how The same applied in the urban music-making I studied in both Fiji and England tearing apart the song texts as like many other scholars I often found myself doing was in practice to mangle the songs reality It is true that in some cultural contexts a music language division seems self-evident In the European high art song tradition of text-setting words and music are indeed in a sense separated then artificially as it were or at any rate by artifice brought together But it has in fact been urged for some time that the apparent distinction between language and music would be better represented as a continuum rather than dichotomy for the relatively few analyses of this issue see List 1963 and more recently Feld and Fox 1994 Banti and Giannatasio 2004 Finnegan 2006 In practice it is near impossible to drive a clear wedge between the multifarious modes of vocal expression speaking intoning chanting recitative melodic singing and so much else Ethnocentric too given that the classifications of different cultures vary Even in Western experience the classical Greek mousik originally had a different coverage from the modern music for it encompassed what we would now differentiate as music poetry and dance while the medieval musica covered spoken as well as sung performance with little idea apparently of words and music as separate expressive media that one could choose to unify or not Treitler 2003 47 Indeed even in modern times can one really divide up the music and the language of vocal performance whether T S Eliot declaiming his poetry Edith Sitwell chanting her Fa ade a fine reading of a Shakespeare sonnet or a contemporary rap or dub performance All these resonate through the sounding voice as people deploy an unending wealth of sonic resources in their vocal utterances So should the melodic and rhythmic qualities of performed vocal utterances what some might separate out as music be appropriate data for language documentation How far to include them depends on where and whether we are prepared to draw a boundary between music and language and that it seems is far from unambiguous or culturally neutral Problems about boundaries do not just relate to audition as is sometimes assumed from too enthusiastically embracing the concept of oral orality As I learnt from watching Limba narrators performers can also draw strikingly on visual resources Not just in Limba contexts the setting which first most directly alerted me but I now realize in communication more generally people make use of gesture facial expression eye glances bodily

Author Ruth Finnegan Isbn 978 1472590930 File size 590 8 KB Year 2015 Pages 176 Language English File format PDF Category Languages Ruth Finnegan is an extraordinary scholar of great style and profundity Trace the fields of new literacy studies situated cognition and story telling and you will find the research and writings of Ruth Finnegan So much of her thinking has become embedded in our understandings of language perhaps without us ever knowing her Where is Language is a great intr