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A Text and Its Meanings: Observations on How Readers Construe What Is Meant from What Is Written

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Part of the Springer Series in Language and Communication book series (SSLAN, volume 23)

Abstract

In his fascinating book Sound and Sentiment, the musical anthropologist Steven Feld (1982) reports on a study of the ethnography of sound of the Kaluli of Papua New Guinea. In Kaluli culture and folklore, birds play a prominent role, and to understand the expressive modalities of weeping, song, poetics, Feld felt the need to devote considerable energy to delineating the existing folk ornithology. After being exposed to extensive questioning on bird taxonomy, one of Feld’s informants obviously grew tired of the inquisitive Westerner. With the statement, “Listen — to you they are birds, to me they are voices in the forest” (p. 48), the informant expressed his disapproval of the premisses of the questioning and, at the same time, effectively demonstrated the ethnocentric nature of the undertaking of establishing a bird taxonomy according to the customary reductionistic strategy of Western analytical thinking. What Feld learned was that what we regard as distinctive characteristics by means of which species can be identified, do not form the most significant basis for distinguishing birds in the Kaluli “version of the world”, to borrow Goodman’s (1978) suggestive terminology. Instead of a static, taxonomic classification of birds, the expression “to me they are voices in the forest” implies both that “Kaluli recognize and acknowledge their existence primarily through sound” and that “there are many ways to think about birds, depending on the context in which knowledge is activated and social needs that are served” (loc. cit.).

Keywords

Verbal Learning Classical Conditioning Previous Knowledge Literate Type Instrumental Conditioning 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1988

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