Applying the SPEAKING Model

In this module you were introduced to the Ethnography of Communication, including Dell Hymes’ original SPEAKING model for analyzing communication. For this assignment, you are to apply the information in the module Introduction to the Western Apache joking imitations of Anglo-Americans that you read about this week in the chapters from Keith Basso’s book Portraits of the Whiteman.  

The paper should be a minimum of 600 words in length. In your response paper to the readings apply each of the SPEAKING model elements to the information presented in our Basso reading. Your paper should briefly define each of the module’s 8 components before providing information about the Western Apache joking imitations of Anglo-Americans as described by Basso. Quotes and information from the Basso reading should be cited with specific page numbers.

You are welcome to use all information in the module’s introduction, including concepts and research from scholars other than Hymes that are discussed.  If you would like additional information about these concepts, you can refer to the studies that are linked in the discussion. You are also welcome to use any them as sources for your paper but doing so is not required.If you would like to consider the chapters of Basso’s book that we did not read, you can also do so (the link is the module Introduction) though this is not required either.

Module Introduction

Welcome to our new module on the Ethnography of Communication (EoC).  From this point forward in our class we will be focusing mainly on communication as it occurs in a variety of contexts. There are many issues we will study for the remaining weeks of the semester from how people learn to communicate (language socialization), to variables like gender and race, to narrative and storytelling.  The ethnography of communication was a foundational framework in linguistic anthropology, so it is a good place to start.

Ethnography of communication (originally called the “ethnography of speaking” began in the 1960s when the modern field of linguistic anthropology took shape. EoC emphasizes the need to study speech behaviors in their social and cultural contexts.  It is an approach that emphasizes how communication relates to the social and cultural beliefs and practices in the speech communities where communication occurs.  It combines discourse analysis from linguistics with ethnography from anthropology to describe explicit and implicit communicative norms and social parameters of interaction.  The scholar most often credited with founding the EoC is Dell Hymes (1927-2009).  According to Hymes, an EoC approach must do two things. First, it must “investigate directly the use of language in contexts of situations so as to discern patterns proper to speech activity” and second, “take as context a community, investigating its communicative habits as a whole” (Hymes 1964). 

EoC grew out of Hymes’ development of the idea of communicative competence Communicative competence includes the gramamtical knowledege necessary to speak a language (phonology, morphology, syntax, etc) but also the social knowledge necessary to interact appropriately according to the norms of the group. Communicative competence is culturally specific, as we will see in this week’s reading on the Western Apache Native American people of the American Southwest. Thus, to fully understand communicative competence required the ethnography of communication, studying the way speech event fits into a whole network of cultural beliefs and practices.  In an early article  that followed Hymes’ call to study communicative competence, anthropologist Charles Frake published an article called “How To Ask For a Drink in Subanun.” The Subanun are people living in the Zamboanga peninsula area of Mindanao Island in the Philippines. Discussing what a stranger would need to know to properly ask for a drink of gasi, a fermented beverage made of a rice, manioc, maize, and possibly Job’s tears mash, Frake observed:

To ask appropriately for a drink among the Subanun it is not enough to know how to construct a grammatical utterance in Subanun translatable in English as a request for a drink. Rendering such an utterance might elicit praise for one’s fluency in Subanun, but it probably would not get one a drink. To speak appropriately it is not enough to speak grammatically or even sensibly… Our stranger requires more than a grammar and a lexicon; he needs what Hymes (1962) has called an ethnography of speaking: a specification of what kinds of things to say in what message forms to what kinds of people in what kinds of situations (1964: 127)

In their ethnographic study Cocktail Waitress (1975), James P. Spradley and Brenda J. Mann offered a similar analysis of the more-familiar communicative competence required to order a drink in Brady’s Bar, the American bar that was the fieldsite of their study.   As these early works in the EoC tradition show, understanding communicative competence required the ethnography of communication. 

Hymes’ EoC approach to speech events was distilled by him into a mnemonic framework known by the letters of the word S-P-E-A-K-I-N-G.  The model uses the word “speaking” as an acronym, with each letter of the word standing for one of the components of a speech event under study. The “S” is setting and scene.  Setting refers to the physical circumstances of the speech event, its time and place.  Let’s use the example of a Christian sermon.  Sermons take place regularly on Sundays and would occur in a church. Scene refers to the emotional, psychological, and cultural setting.  It includes formality, playfulness, seriousness, and humor.  In the case of a church sermon you would find the scene actually varies from very serious, to worshipful, to at times humorous and entertaining. While settings are normally consistent in speech events, scenes can change during the course of the event. 

Participants refers to the different parties present and the roles that they take in the course of the event.  You probably remember the roles of speaker and addressee from Roman Jakobson’s model of the multifunctionality of language in Chapter 1 of our Ahearn textbook. Participation and participant roles have been the subject of a great deal of analysis since Jakobson’s time.  Later scholarship (much of it after Hymes proposed his original model), expanded on the notion of participation, investigating participant structures in greater complexity. One was sociolinguist Erving Goffman, whose long career was an influence on Hymes’ own work. In his important article “Footing” (1981), Goffman  provided a more complex model of talk designed to get past what he called the “global folk categories” of speaker and hearer, which he claimed was reductive. For Goffman this dyadic traditional model of talk was too simple and he deconstructed the role of hearer into a range of very different participants, including ratified (directly participating) vs. unratified participants, bystanders, eavesdroppers, addressed and unaddressed hearers, etc. Notably, the roles taken by participants in a speech event are not always static and often change during the event itself.

Goffman also elaborated on the nature of the speaker, another category he felt was reductive. He called the person actually producing the talk the animator (or “sounding box”), the author or person responsible for constructing the words at issue (this sometimes differs from the current speaker), the principal (the person socially responsible for what is being said), and the figure a character depicted in the animator’s talk. This framework helps us account for quoted speech. For example, in a sermon, the minister would be the primary animator.  When the minister quotes a Bible verse, the principal might be said to be the authors of the Bible, or even God, since believers see the Bible as the word of God. Goffman asserted that the combined participation status of all participants forms the participation framework (1981: 137).  Many scholars following Goffman have emphasized that the performance of a speech event is collaboration by all of the roles working together.  It may appear that Goffman’s animator is responsible for a performance but without an audience, even a great storyteller’s narrative wouldn’t be the same. A speech genre like gossip, relies on the addressee just as much as it relies on the speaker sharing the information. Talk is not monologic. It requires social context. It requires community.

Hymes’ next speech event component was Ends. Ends refers to the purposes, goals and outcomes of the communication. Why is the speech event happening?  What are the participants hoping to accomplish?  The ends may be simple entertainment, or the exchange of important information, or (in the case of a sermon) to encourage belief and spread a set of ideas. Act sequence was Hymes next component and this relates to the form and order of the event. Speech events often exist in an order they may be separable but they are also related to each other as a sequence.  They also have component parts that have a specified order.  Speech events are often bounded by frames (another subject Goffman spent considerable time writing about).  We discussed greetings as a speech event and genre early in our class and noted that greetings often act as frames for more elaborate communication. In my fieldwork with Pentecostal Christian Diné (Navajo) people, sermons by ministers were normally preceded by testimony from congregation members, which itself was normally preceded by music and an opening prayer. These things formed a consistent act sequence for many of the Sunday revival services I attended. The sermon itself would also have its own structure and sequence. Like many forms of performance, it might normally begin with some form of greeting.  It might begin with humorous remarks and grow more serious in its scene as it precedes.  Quoting and discussing Biblical passages would happen later in the sermon before the ministers message for the day would become clear.

In Hymes’ model, Key refers to cues that are used to set tone and establish mood.  Keys can be linguistic or paralinguistic, meaning related to elements of vocal communication that modify meaning and convey emotion things like pitch, volume and intonation.  Stress, intonation, and rhythm in speech are also known collectively as prosody.  A tone can be established syntactically  (“let us pray”) but it is more often established through a speaker’s own use of prosody.  Sarcasm might establish a humorous mood, for example, without the need of any words to indicate a shift in key.  Instrumentalities is Hymes’ next element, and it refers to codes, forms, and styles of speech. Codes include the language used (Spanish, English, Navajo) and dialects (Cockney, Castilian, Brooklyn).  Forms and styles include register, a marked form of speech that is used in specific settings or with specific persons (one we will study later in this class is babytalk) as well as stylized voices of characters that narrators use when telling a story. 

Norms are the social rules governing participants behavior including what is expected and appropriate from each of the participant roles.  Who is expected to perform and who is expected to listen? Who has power to speak and who is restricted?  Norms are clearly related to values that are specific to communities and cultures. Consider the authority and status afforded to a minister in church.  One Navajo congregation member told me that in her eyes, the minister “to us, he speaks the word of God God speaks through him.”  Norms also includes ideas about politeness and what is appropriate to say in a given context.  Are interruptions allowed or even encouraged? Or are they considered impolite?  In sermons I attended in my fieldwork, no sermon would have been complete without congregation members shouting “Amen!,” “Hallelujah!,” “Praise the Lord!”  Of course these utterances are part of Hymes’ key they are examples of active audience participation that sets a certain tone.  But in terms of norms, they evidence that the active participation of congregation members plays an important role in the genre of sermons, both as evidence of the audience’s belief and enthusiasm as well as in encouraging the minister and setting the tone. Hymes stressed that the job of the ethnographer was to make connections between the norms of the communication being studied and the larger ideas about communication in the culture generally.

The final component of Hymes’ model is genres. Genres, sometimes known as speech genres, refers to speech types or speech acts that are used in the the communication that is being analyzed. Strictly speaking, a genre  is a speech style oriented to the production and reception of a particular kind of text.  Speech genres are often named in languages and by communities.  In their study of Brady’s Bar in Cocktail Waitress, Spradley and Mann identified over 35 speech acts that regularly occurred.  All were named by the participants in bar communication who were familiar with the terms and the specifics of each speech genre. They included talking, ordering, greeting, asking, muttering, bickering, bitching, hustling, calling, giving shit, lying, sweet talking, swearing, giving orders, teasing, joking, bantering, and others.

Here is a summary of Hymes S-P-E-A-K-I-N-G model:

Setting and scene physical circumstances (time/place) and emotional/psychological setting, including formality
Participants roles such as speakers, addresseesaudience
Ends purposes, goals, and outcomes
Act sequence
Components, order, and form of the event
Key Cues establishing tone, mode
Instrumentalities Forms and styles of speech, including, lexicon, register, etc.
Norms Social rules governing event & participants behavior
Genre Speech types/speech acts used (conversation, sermon, curse, narrative, etc)

Hymes’ model is a useful starting point for understanding some of the variables involved in communication. As briefly discussed above, many of the areas Hymes identified have been elaborated on by other scholars since. Our reading this week, Keith Basso’s 1979 study of Apaches joking imitations of “the Whiteman,” doesn’t directly use Hymes’ model, but you will notice it addresses many of the variables that Hymes identified as important. We will be reading a selection of Basso’s book but if you are interested in reading more, the entire book can be downloaded at the link below.

This week’s reading is one of several we will be reading this semester by Keith Basso, an anthropologist who worked with the Western Apache in the community of Cibecue for decades until his death in 2013.  Basso’s work is foundational in linguistic anthropology and fits well with this week’s topic of the ethnography of communication.

This week we will be reading a selection of Basso’s book, Portraits of “the Whiteman”, which is a short study of a particular speech genre, the joking imitations of white people that are performed by some Western Apache people in certain settings.  Basso did not start his fieldwork intending to study this topic as is often the case with fieldwork, he was present with some Apache people when they started joking and realized how important the jokes were for understanding communicative values and norms. Why are they important?  In performing humorous critiques of “Anglos,” the Apache give us both their critique of some of the norms of the group they are imitating while at the same time implicitly telling us what it is they value in politeness and respectful communication. Basso provides us with additional information to help us fill in more about the nature of communication at Western Apache while he also offers us analysis of the imitations themselves.

Your assignment this week is a response paper on this reading.  I recommend you take a look at it before you start the reading so you will know what to look for as you go through the article.