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Kommunikation bei den Eipo: Eine humanethologische Bestandsaufnahme.

This book appears both as one of the Mensch, Kultur and Umwelt series emerging from the 1970s fieldwork of an inter-disciplinary German team on the Eipo-Mek people of Irian Jaya, and as a contribution to the theory of the development of language seen from a human ethological perspective. This contribution arises out of the expanded concern with all aspects of communication, both verbal and non-verbal, to which the ethological approach leads the authors, and in particular from their interest in how such an approach may conduce to an understanding of the development of language itself.

The universe of communication which the authors envision includes all social customs which, as Levi-Strauss argued, may be seen as forms of communicative behaviour and in particular those which create gift-relationships based on reciprocity between individuals in a socio-cultural network. Since 'behaviour' is in focus as much as 'language' it is appropriate that the book includes many photographs, stills drawn from an extensive film record which is always a part of the methodology of data-gathering in human ethology. This record is analyzed for its data on sequences of communicative interaction involving affection, sharing, hostility, and overt aggression, inter alia, between individuals whose kin relationships are also known to the investigators. In keeping with the ethological orientation and its background in biological theory, there is a good deal of emphasis on interaction between young children, but conflict behaviour between adults and the forms of its ritualization also receive careful attention.

In keeping with this framework the ethnographic topics covered include the following: genres of discourse, the expression of emotions and terms for these, facial expression, the communicative function of clothing and self-decoration in the two sexes, the men's house and cordyline symbolism, rituals of giving and receiving, sharing out of food between kin and others, sharing of tobacco, trade, strategies of making friendly contact (appeasement etc.), greetings in general and those specific to certain clans, forms of farewell, festivals, marriages, initiation rituals, birth, naming practices, and mourning rituals at death. The list is surely comprehensive and amounts in many ways to an overall ethnography of the Eipo seen from the perfectly appropriate viewpoint of communication and encompassing all communicative acts.

These descriptive categories are underpinned by general ethological theory, which looks to the possible phylogenetic roots that may be preprogrammed into patterns of human behaviour. The use which the authors (perhaps especially via the interests of the linguist Heeschen) make of this theory in the present context is negotiated through the concept of ritualization. Speech is itself seen as built out of a programmed set of tendencies that are still also encoded in non-linguistic actions: it is a ritualization which enables control to be placed on interaction by means of distancing from the 'original' non-verbal prototypes. This theory of speech is thus thoroughly functional and suggests that earlier functions are preserved albeit in a new and cultural form.

Such a phylogenetic argument has to be turned back into synchronic description in order to find its point of insertion into ethnography. Hence the emphasis on interplay between non-verbal and verbal behavior on social occasions, and the interest also in the ontogenetic patterns of development of young children as they begin to learn language use. In comparative terms, however, the theory asserts that semantic universals in language derive from pan-human behavioural patterns. A particular language inflects only a special way of representing or signalling these universals. This proposition is moot, because it is possible that particular languages also create emergent structures which are novel and extend the universal base in new directions.

In another respect the theory also suggests that there is a process of transfer between the non-verbal and the verbal. Ritual actions may express what cannot yet be verbalized, but is on the way to being so. Like the other propositions noted above, this is an intriguing idea and may help us to understand further the question which is often raised in studies of ritual in New Guinea, as to why in some instances there is an indigenous exegesis regarding rituals and in others there is not. The possibility of linking psychological to ethological theory also arises here.

Bound together in this substantial and beautifully illustrated volume, then, we have a mass of meticulously recorded details on Eipo-Mek culture and society recorded in 'emic' terms and a framework of general theory about these same data which is largely 'etic' and universalist in intention. The same type of problem of course faces every ethnographer: how to combine local knowledge with theory. The authors of this volume have given us a well-crafted version from the ethological heartland of their research group, headed for many years by Eibl-Eibesfeldt himself. If the fit between theory and ethnography is sometimes uncomfortable, this only serves to remind us that the problems involved in studying the relationship between non-verbal and verbal practices in human affairs are themselves -- to use a phrase exemplifying the theory here in point -- 'hard to handle.'

ANDREW STRATHERN University of Pittsburgh
COPYRIGHT 1993 University of Sydney
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Strathern, Andrew
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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