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Understanding Poetry Through Comparison and Contrast, Essay Example

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Words: 3307

Essay

Learning to read, write, and speak languages is a complicated, layered process that involves different part of the human brain and also different practices such as learning to understand that sounds that make up words, how sounds are represented by letters and can be constructed into words, and how these words can be spoken out loud, written on paper, and strung into words. Despite all these different functions and processes that are involved in the development of speech and other linguistic capabilities, there are some fundamental building blocks that are used to learn the basic functions of language. In speech, the fundamental process is phonology, which is a term that describes the “systems and patterns of speech sounds in a language”(Yule, 2010). It is phonology that allows us to create, speak, and distinguish words from one another. At the core of phonology are phonemes, which are the elemental bits of sound used to construct words and speech.

Phonemes are distinguished from phonics, which is the process of learning speech by learning the basic vocalized sounds that make up words. Where phonics are used in practical terms and spoken out loud, phonemes are more of a conceptual or theoretical construct. Phonemes, simply put, are the abstract mental representations of the different sounds that make up speech. As such, when phonemes are written, they are distinguishable from phonics; phonemes are set off in slash marks: /a/, while phonics are set off in brackets: [a]. These two concepts have some commonalities, and are actually both parts of the larger process of developing speech and language capabilities.

Phonemes are distinguishable from one another; in fact, “an essential property of a phoneme is that it functions contractively” (Yule). In practical terms, it is this contrastive property that helps children learn the difference between words such as cat and cap. As such, phonemes are a fundamental component of the English language (and many other languages). Substitutions of a single phoneme will produce an entirely different word and definition, as seen in the previous examples cat and cap. It should be noted that the /k/ phoneme in those two words is not the only phoneme; the rest of each word also consists of phonemes. In this instance, however, it is possible to replace a single, minimal phoneme in a word and change its meaning.

Because of the contrasting phonemes at the end of cat and cap, or the contrasting phonemes at the beginning of words like vat and fat, such words are known as “minimal pairs.” This means that through the substitution of a single phoneme in the same position the meaning of the word can be changed. The English language has a number of minimal-pair words, such as site and side or bet and bat. It should be recalled that phonemes are not always single letters, nor will interchanging them always involve swapping single letters. The following list of words constitutes a “minimal set” of words based on vowel phonemes (i.e.- a list of words that are all different based on the changing of a single phoneme): fat, fit, fought, feat, fate, foot (Noth). A similar list, done with interchangeable consonant-sound phonemes: pig, rig, dig, big, fig, wig (Noth). Such lists help affirm the notion that phonemes are not just single components of a word, but are found throughout. It is important for young speakers to learn to distinguish between the contrasting phonemes, but is also important to recognize those that remain the same.

Code-switching is the practice of switching between two or more languages during speech (Auer, 1998). When two speakers are engaged in code-switching, they each are able to speak both languages fluently, so switching between the two languages does not disrupt the conversation. This is not the same as two speakers who do not know each other’s languages fluently, and therefore must borrow words from each other’s languages or even a third language in order to communicate with each other (Auer).

A dialect can be described as a subset of a particular language. It is often used to denote the language spoken by a group from a particular geographical region which speaks an alternative version of a particular language (Auer). The dialect is derived from the primary language, but it differs in significant ways. A dialect is not just a language that is spoken with a different accent; it will exhibit differences in vocabulary and grammar as well as in pronunciation. Although the two are very similar, American English may be seen as a dialect of the English language.

I. The term “emic” is a root of the word phoneme (phonemic), and it refers to information that is particular to an individual culture (Ferraro and Andreatta, 2010). Emic information is best understood by someone who lives within or is a part of the culture in question (Ferraro and Andreatta). The term can refer to all different aspects of an individual culture, such as particular behaviors and rituals, or the particulars of the group’s language. Emic information is used by cultural anthropologists to understand and explain individual groups and cultures.

The term “etic” has its roots in the word phonetic, and it refers to information that is shared by different groups or cultures, or is found universally. Etic information is used by cultural anthropologists when discussing a culture or cultures from a neutral perspective. Cultural anthropologists who are looking for commonalities among different cultures will use etic information, or frame their discussions in the context of etic information.

When the term “polygamy” is used in conversation, it is often meant to reference the concept of a single husband who has multiple wives (Eller, 2009). Polygamy was a common practice among some groups in America in the 19th and early 20th centuries; it is still practiced to some degree, but it is illegal in the United States. The term “polygamy” actually refers to any form of marriage with more than two spouses. When a single husband has multiple wives that is labeled “polygyny;” when a single wife has multiple husbands it is labeled “polyandry” (Eller). In such arrangements, each of the multiple wives or multiple husbands is married to the single husband or single wife, but they are not married to each other.

Polygyny is the most common form of polygamy. Polgyny was commonly practiced in the U.S. by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (more commonly known as The Mormons). The practice of polygamy was outlawed in the U.S. in the 19th century, and it is rare now. There are still instances where it occurs, though these arrangements are typically informal, with a husband having one legally-recognized wife while cohabitating with multiple female partners. In countries where polygamy is still legally practiced, it is often exhibited in direct proportion to several cultural factors, such as illiteracy among females (Eller). As literacy rates increase in these cultures, the rates of polygyny decrease.

Polyandry, where one wife has more than one husband, is much less common than polygyny (Eller). It is illegal in almost every country, and it is prohibited by all major religions (Christianity, Judaism, Hindu, Islam, etc.). Where it does occur, note anthropologists, the wife is most commonly married to husbands who are members of the same family, such as brothers; fathers/sons, or cousins. Polyandry is not typically associated with any particular culture or region; where it is practiced, it is typically a cultural anomaly.

II. As Hall put it, proxemics is “the study of man’s perception and use of space” (Mehrabian, 1980). The scope of proxemics is actually very broad, and includes everything from a person’s immediate, intimate personal space to the space within his or her reach to the space between people on the scale of neighborhoods or cities or even larger areas. In the context of proxemics, the space between people –and the way that people use the space between each other- sends nonverbal communication and cues.

At a basic level, the amount of space or distance one person puts between himself or herself and another indicates the degree to which the person likes or dislikes the other person (the use of the terms “like” and dislike in literature on proxemics notes that it is used as a shorthand or catch-all for a variety of positive or negative feelings). If person A likes person B, then person A will be more likely to lessen the distance between him/herself and person B. Other uses of the proximate distance, such as leaning in or turning away, also send nonverbal signals related to the feelings one person has for another.

Hall noted that there are cultural differences in how proxemics is manifested, and that different cultures have different norms and standards related to distance and space. These norms may be tied to social status or other social and cultural strata. Hall delineated “four categories of interpersonal distance, each with a close (c) and a far (f) phase” (Noth); the distance spans in each category differ among different cultures and regions. In North America, Hall distinguished the following categories and their associated distances:

  1. Intimate Distance (c: 0-6 inches; f: 6-18 inches)
  2. Personal Distance (c:18-30 inches; f: 30-48 inches)
  3. Social Distance (c: 4-7 feet; f: 7-12 feet)
  4. Public Distance (c: 12-25 feet; f: 25 feet or more) (Mehrabian)

Proxemics considers how distance can be affected by feelings, and how feelings can be affected by distance. As noted, one person may purposefully seek to decrease their distance to another person of they have positive feelings about that person. Conversely, if one person puts too little distance between himself/herself and a stranger, the stranger may feel uncomfortable or otherwise have negative feelings for the person who stood or came too close.

A range of other behaviors and nonverbal cues are included in proxemics; these are also produced either as a means of sending a message or are made in response to other messages and behaviors. Posture, eye contact, smiling and other expressions, finger-tapping, and other body language combine with distance and use of space to send a variety of nonverbal messages. Hall even discussed how proxemics can play out on the macro- level, noting that in traditional Japanese society, “the nobility were placed in concentric zones around Tokyo,” and those whom the Emperor liked best were placed the closest to the city and to the Emperor’s residence (Noth). Hall and other anthropologists have found a broad range of proxemics-related data in different cultures, and have found that within each culture the proxemics standards remain relatively consistent (Mehrabian).

Even without having studied proxemics on any formal basis, it is relatively easy to consider how standards of space and distance become a common part of cultural norms, and how those who violate these standards receive negative responses. In my personal experience I can think of a number of incidents where proxemics could explain the circumstances. Not long ago I was walking alone in a downtown shopping area. It was late afternoon, and there were plenty of people around, so I did not feel as if I was in any danger. While standing and talking on my phone, a stranger who had been walking nearby slowed down and stopped. I noticed that he was dressed rather poorly, and I assumed he was homeless, based on his appearance. He did not approach any closer, and he did not try to speak to me, but we did make eye contact several times as I tried to determine if he was going to interrupt my conversation.

After a moment he turned to face a different direction, but he remained where he was standing, which was only a few feet from me. Although I did not feel threatened, I remained uncomfortable. Even though I had no real reason to do so, I ended up walking away and finding a new spot to stand while I spoke on the phone. There was nothing really different about the new spot where I stood, except that I was no longer standing close to a stranger. I did not think of it at the time, of course, but in hindsight I can see how the study of proxemics explained my reaction to the stranger as well as my behavioral responses. I also admit that if this stranger had been well-dressed, I may have been less likely to feel uncomfortable, which fits with the proxemics-related ideas about how distance and space are associated with social status and other factors.

As an area that studies certain aspects of nonverbal communication, proxemics offers some interesting insights into how behavior and distance can send signals or trigger emotional responses. From reading some of the available information on the subject, nonverbal communication is actually made up of a wide variety of different functions, such as distance, posture, facial expressions, movement and others. It does not seem as if proxemics is an exact science that, by itself, tells a complete story. When considering proxemics I combination with other forms of nonverbal communication, however, it does seem like a helpful way to decode such communication.

IV. In order to discuss the concept of same-sex marriage in contemporary U.S. society, and to address the question of whether same-sex marriage should be allowed under the law, it is helpful to look at the views from both sides of the argument, and to examine the fundamental concepts of marriage in both a cultural and historical context.

Supporters of same-sex marriage assert that same-sex couples should have the same right to marry as do heterosexual couples. Such supporters point out that the U.S. Constitution is supposed to guarantee equal protection under the law; laws that deny some people the right to marry based solely on their gender are, as they see it, unconstitutional. They further assert that the state is only involved in marriage to the extent that it sets standards about the legal rights and responsibilities shared by married couples, and that this contract has nothing to do with the religious ceremonies of marriage that are conducted in churches, synagogues, and other religious institutions. Because state-licensed marriage is really no more than a legal contract, supporters say, it should be available to all couples, not just heterosexual couples.

Opponents of same-sex marriage claim that allowing homosexual couples to marry would violate the sanctity of heterosexual marriage and would undermine traditional family structures and, therefore, undermine society as a whole. Opponents further argue that allowing same-sex couples to marry would redefine marriage, which has traditionally been between a man and a woman. Some opponents of same-sex marriage do favor so-called civil unions, a legal agreement that would give same-sex couples most of the same legal rights as heterosexual couples but without the label of marriage. Supporters of same-sex marriage say that this does not suffice, and they want to have all of the same rights and opportunities as heterosexual couples.

One of the main questions to ask when considering the argument the argument that opponents of same-sex marriage make is “does allowing same-sex marriage really ‘redefine’ traditional marriage?” In other words, is marriage between one man and one woman really the only definition of what constitutes “traditional” marriage? The answer to that question is an unequivocal “no.” The contemporary view among many conservatives in the U.S. is that the idea of a religious-ceremony marriage accompanied by a state-sanctioned license is the form that marriage has always taken, and that is simply not the case. For much of Western history, from the pre-Middle Ages through the later centuries of the same era, marriage was largely a private affair, and was rarely based on love and romance. It was typically an arrangement made between families, one that involved dowries, property rights, family lineages, and other such concerns (Ferraro and Andreatta).

It was not until the rise of the Catholic Church that the private affair of marriage became a public concern, and one that was tied to a religious ceremony. In this period the Church was also the State and it extended its reach into all areas of people’s lives. Over the next several centuries in the West, the idea of a state-sanctioned, state-licensed marriage grew to prominence and became the dominant form of marriage throughout Europe and eventually the Americas. It is only in the last century or so that the idea of having a civil marriage free of any religious or sanctifying ritual became possible, let alone common (Ferraro and Andreatta). Looking at “traditional marriage” through this perspective, it is clear that the form, function, and definition of marriage have all evolved over the centuries.

While marriage in much of Western society has transformed from a private legal arrangement to a public religious ceremony to a public legal arrangement coupled with a religious ceremony and finally to the option of a public legal arrangement with no ceremony attached, that is still only a narrow view of what marriage has meant throughout history and throughout the world. From the perspective of cultural anthropology, there are a number of traits or factors that are typically seen in the cultural traditions of different societies and regions. For most cultures, marriage connotes a sexual union (or at least one in which there exists the expectation that the couple is engaging or at least is allowed to engage in sexual activity). Most marriages are played out in a common residence, and most are undertaken with the idea that the union will be permanent (Eller). There are, of course, small and large exceptions to all of these commonalities; this list is, at best, quite general.

Marriage is also seen by cultural anthropologists as a means of providing socially-approved stability for the purposes of having and providing for children. The family unit, at its best, offers a consistent and reliable support system to provide for the material, emotional, and educational needs of offspring. Beyond that, the view that marriage should be based on romantic love and sexual attraction between partners –a view that typifies contemporary Western views on marriage- is no more common now than it has been throughout history.

There are also many historical examples of socially-acceptable forms of homosexual relationships. In ancient Greece, for example, men typically married for the purposes of having children and for securing property rights (with their wives and children being part of their property). Outside of marriage, however, it was not uncommon for adult males to have sub-adult or adolescent male sexual partners; for those who did not have male sexual partners, many had female sexual partners (Eller). Such arrangements –having sexual or romantic partners outside the confines of marriage- have been common throughout history and are still seen around the world today, though each iteration of this model comes with its own level of societal acceptance, formality of structure, and other specific details.

While there may be few historical or contemporary examples in other cultures of same-sex marriage –at least as “marriage” is used in the contemporary Western context- there are innumerable examples of marriage traditions that include multiple spouses, multiple sexual partners, and other variations. As everything from shifting cultural norms to advances in medicine and medical technology have made it possible for infertile heterosexual couples and same-sex couples to have or adopt children, the idea of limiting the applicability of marriage solely to those who can (or simply might be able to) reproduce biologically seems, at best, outdated. It is clear that the universal forms and functions of “traditional” marriage can be taken on by same-sex couples as well as heterosexual couples, while the argument against “redefining” marriage does not withstand scrutiny when considering that the definition of marriage has always evolved and has been “redefined” countless times over the course of history. From the perspective of cultural anthropology, there is no legitimate argument precluding the legality of same-sex marriage.

Works Cited

Auer, Peter. Code-switching in Conversation: Language, Interaction and Identity. London, UK: Routledge, 1998. Print.

Eller, Jack D. Cultural Anthropology: Global Forces, Local Lives. New York, NY: Routledge, 2009. Print.

Ferraro, Gary P, and Susan Andreatta. Cultural Anthropology: An Applied Perspective. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2010. Print.

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