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Language Structure and Discourse Customs Regarding Agency: Jaqi and English.

Language Structure and Discourse Customs Regarding Agency: Jaqi and English. M. J. Hardman, University of Florida

I first developed the concept of the linguistic postulate while working with the Jaqi languages of South America in order to account in a holistic way for the linguistic structures I discovered. Using this concept the overall linguistic structure can be contrasted with that of other languages. Linguistic postulates lead to a particular construction of the world and to thinking patterns that have important implications and realizations in the social and cultural sphere.

Human relations in the Jaqi languages of South America are grammatically constructed on a basis of sexual and human equality. The major linguistic postulates of the Jaqi languages are humanness (human/non-human) and data source (how do I know what I am saying). These postulates are realized at all levels of the grammar--morphology, syntax, and discourse--and contrast with those that result from the structure of English.

Three grammatical structures in English interact in mutual reinforcement. These are: number (singular/plural), sex-based gender with masculine as root, and our ranking comparative (wise, wiser, wisest). I have developed the concept of derivational thinking to account for the way in which these postulates interact and the cultural consequences thereof. I argue that derivational thinking forms the grammatical base for our general model of human relationships.

This paper looked specifically at agency within the linguistic postulate / derivational thinking framework. Within derivational thinking, subject (agent) is ranked over object (patient) (cf "'raising' the object to subject position"). Within the Jaqi languages, object and subject are joined together in a unitary suffix which does not allow ranking of any kind. Interacting with data source, the Jaqi languages' grammar leads to interesting syntactic and discourse properties that show a respect for humans difficult to achieve in English. Within English, the mutually reinforcing postulates of derivational thinking place women preferentially in object slots. A number of discourse patterns in common use make it difficult for women to act as agents even in our own work. Jaqi women face no general disparagement, their work is recognized and commented on, kin are traced bilaterally through five generations, and, in spite of imposed patronymics, do not surrender their own name at marriage.

Learning of a language/culture that has different postulates can keep us from the conceit that our way is the human way; inspire us in the imagination we need to ameliorate the consequences of our own derivational thinking; and help us consider the consequences of our grammatical structure on our relations with, and perceptions of, and the impact we have, on women of other cultures, such as the Jaqi. E-mail:

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Publication:Women and Language
Date:Sep 22, 1999
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