Setting: The living room of an Apache home at Cibecue.
Participants: J, a cowboy (age 40+); K, his wife (age 37); four of their children (age 4-12); L, a clan ‘brother’ of J (AGE 35+).
Scene: It is a hot, clear evening in mid-July, and J and K have just finished a meal. J is seated on a chair, repairing a bridle. K is washing dishes. Their children play quietly on the floor. L is not yet present. J starts to speak but is interrupted by a knock on the door. He rises, answers the knock, and finds L standing outside.
J: Hello, my friend! How you doing? How you feeling L? You feeling good?
(J now turns in the direction of K and addresses her)
Look who here, everybody! Look who just come in. Sure, it’s my Indian friend, L. Pretty good all right!
(J slaps L on the shoulder and, looking him directly in the eyes, seizes his hand and pumps it wildly up and down.)
J: Come right in, my friend! Don’t stay outside in the rain. Better you come in right now.
(J now drapes his arm around L’s shoulder and moves him in the direction of a chair.)
J: Sit down! Sit right down! Take your loads off you ass. You hungry? You want some beer? Maybe you want some wine? You want crackers? Bread? You want some sandwich? How ’bout it? You hungry? I don’t know. Maybe you get sick. Maybe you don’t eat again long time.
(K has stopped washing dishes and is looking on with amusement. L has seated himself and has a look of bemused resignation on his face.)
J: You sure looking good to me, L. You looking pretty fat! Pretty good all right! You got new boots? Where you buy them? Sure pretty good boots! I glad–.
(At this point, J break into laughter. K joins in. L shakes his head and smiles. The joke is over.)
The above description is taken from linguistic anthropologist Keith H. Basso’s classic ethnography Portraits of “the Whiteman:” Linguistic Play and Cultural Symbols among the Western Apache (1979, Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, Pp. 45-47).
Study the scenario given here carefully and post your thoughts on it while answering the following prompt questions
- What does J say? What questions does he ask from L? Itemize them as they occur in this ‘conversation’ or the speech act.
- Do you see any factual contradictions between what J says and the description of the given scene (clue: weather)? Why do you think J’s language lacks cohesion and/or grammatical precision? Does this indicate J’s linguistic and social ineptness? Or, is he pretending to be a babbling fool to make a point?
- What does J do while talking to L (non-verbal communication)? Itemize the things J do during the speech act. Why is he talking and acting like a macho?
- Why does J break into laughter in the end? Why does K join in? Who is J, in your view?
- The description of the scene ends with the following sentence: “The Joke is over.” So what is the joke? Who is laughing at whom?
- Do you think that the technical/grammatical aspects of language are enough to fully understand a speech act, like this one involving J, L, and K? Or, do you also need the social and cultural context within which the speech act takes place?