Cultural Relativism Essay Questions

Some languages have no word that corresponds to the English word "green".

When people who speak such languages are shown a green chip, some identify it using their word for blue, others identify it using their word for yellow.

The languages grouped sounds that were considered distinct in English into a single sound, but also having contrasts that did not exist in English.

He then argued the case that Native Americans had been pronouncing the word in question the same way, consistently, and the variation was only perceived by someone whose own language distinguishes those two sounds.

Thus, Boas's student Melville Herskovits summed up the principle of cultural relativism thus: "Judgements are based on experience, and experience is interpreted by each individual in terms of his own enculturation." Boas pointed out that scientists grow up and work in a particular culture, and are thus necessarily ethnocentric.

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He provided an example of this in his 1889 article, "On Alternating Sounds" A number of linguists at Boas' time had observed that speakers of some Native American languages pronounced the same word with different sounds indiscriminately.

Boas first articulated the idea in 1887: "civilization is not something absolute, but ... our ideas and conceptions are true only so far as our civilization goes". The first use of the term recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary was by philosopher and social theorist Alain Locke in 1924 to describe Robert Lowie's "extreme cultural relativism", found in the latter's 1917 book Culture and Ethnology.

The term became common among anthropologists after Boas' death in 1942, to express their synthesis of a number of ideas Boas had developed.

It functioned to transform Boas' epistemology into methodological lessons. Although language is commonly thought of as a means of communication, Boas called attention especially to the idea that it is also a means of categorizing experiences, hypothesizing that the existence of different languages suggests that people categorize, and thus experience, language differently (this view was more fully developed in the hypothesis of Linguistic relativity).

Thus, although all people perceive visible radiation the same way, in terms of a continuum of color, people who speak different languages slice up this continuum into discrete colors in different ways.


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