Biology and culture

Ronald Kephart (rkephart@OSPREY.UNF.EDU)
Mon, 29 Apr 1996 12:34:59 -0400

In message <> Jamon A
Halvaksz writes:

> Culture is a "product" of biology? This is too simple. [...]
> Perhaps saying that culture"s" are the potential product of
> a biology would be a start.

I think (?) that what I mean to say is that what we call culture is, in fact,
the result of biological processes inherent to our species. These processes
provide the framework for language and, by extension, the rest of culture. They
also provide parameters within which language and culture can vary, i.e the
extent to which they can be arbitrary and the extent to which they must conform
to the underlying biology.

> I would be interested to know what list members
> whose feet are in other departments (sociology/psychology/economics and
> of course linguistics) think about the connection between biology and
> culture..

Linguists (most, anyway) see a clear connection in Language between what is
biological and what is cultural. The lexicon of any given language is cultural,
and arbitrary; there is no underlying genetics that would force the word "dog"
on one group of H. sapiens, and the word "anu" (Aymara) onto another. However,
the ways in which both "dog" and "anu" are marked (e.g. for plural), how they
behave within noun phrases, and how they can be moved around within sentences,
all seem to have an underlying genetic/biological framework, which works itself
out (culturally) in different ways in different languages, but always within a
range of variation that makes the language a possible one (biologically) for
humans to acquire and use.

This is why I was only half-joking when I said that maybe linguistics IS the
synthesis we have been discussing.

Ronald Kephart
Dept of Language & Literature
University of North Florida
Jacksonville, FL USA 32224-2645
Phone: (904) 646-2580