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Anth/Ling 114: Language, Culture and Communication in the US (Glick)

Department of Anthropology, Binghamton University


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Anth/Ling 114 – Language, Culture and Communication in the U.S.


Sample Argument Mapping

The goal of this paper is to present an ‘argument mapping’ of Keith Basso’s

article, ‘To Give up on Words: Silence in Western Apache Culture’. In order to map the

argument, I will be doing the following things. First, I will be presenting what I believe to

be the article’s main claims. I will define any terms or concepts needed to understand

them. Then I will be linking the claims to the kinds of evidence that the author offers in

support of them. Based on the connections that I find between the claims and the

evidence, I will rename the claims so that they can be understood as parts in Basso’s

larger argument structure. I will then make explicit the ways in which they are linked

together. That is, I will present in closing my mapping of the interrelated parts that as I

understand them define the article’s overall argument structure. In the case here,

specifically, I will be arguing that there are six strong ethnographic facts and one

additional weak ethnographic fact, for which the author then provides one general

ethnographic explanation and one explanatory report.

Keith Basso focuses on the linguistic culture of the Western Apaches in this

article. He studies a peculiar linguistic form in this article. He focuses on the absence of

speech, or ‘silence’. He makes nine interrelated claims in the argument of this article. The

first six, as will be discussed below, are similar. They all identify a particular social

situation in which a significant silence takes place. He identifies these six contexts as:

meeting strangers, courting, children coming home from (boarding) school, getting

cussed out, ‘being with people who are sad’, and ‘being with someone for whom they

sing’. All of these contexts are self-explanatory, but it should be noted that two of them
Anth/Ling 114: Language, Culture and Communication in the US (Glick)
Department of Anthropology, Binghamton University
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appear to be specific ritual events for the Apache: ‘being with those who are sad’ and

‘being with someone for whom they sing’. The former is a ritualized form of mourning

and the latter is a ritualized form of healing. As a seventh claim Basso argues that silence

also occurs in situations when respect for an authoritative addressee is presupposed. His

eighth claim is that, in general, silence indexically presupposes social situations in which

there are social relations that are or have become ambiguous and/or are unpredictable.

This is a generalization of the previous seven claims because across all of them the target

of the silence is either unknown or unpredictable for the person with the option of

speaking to them. Finally, his ninth claim is that similar findings about the meaning of

silence for a group of Navajo suggest further support for his findings here.

The evidence that Basso relies on to support the claims above needs to be

discussed. Though the details are not given, the claims reported in this article are based

on fieldwork that he did among the Apache over the period, 1964-1969. Though at one

point he does mention a particular percentage of Apache (i.e. ‘two-thirds of my

informants’, p. 225), all of the claims relevant to this argument mapping are based on two

more general types of ethnographic evidence. The claims are all supported by an appeal

to the idea that they are true according to what he generally observed among the Apache

and/or what his informants told him. This idea is mentioned many times in the article.

Basso also draws on this general ethnographic method and offers examples for some of

the claims that he makes. As such, they are assumed to be specific examples of the

general ethnographic lessons that he learned while studying the Apache.

Basso’s first six claims are all supported by the kinds of ethnographic evidence

reviewed above. As such, in the argument mapping here, I am going to label them all the
Anth/Ling 114: Language, Culture and Communication in the US (Glick)
Department of Anthropology, Binghamton University
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same way. They are being called ‘strong ethnographic facts’. His seventh claim cannot be

grouped with the others above. It is a weaker claim in the overall argument. He does

report that silence also indexically presupposes contexts in which respect is shown by a

(silent) ‘speaker’ to the addressee. He admits, however, that his ethnographic data for this

claim is ‘incomplete’ (p. 214, fn. 2). This weaker form of evidence distinguishes this

claim from the previous six mentioned above and has to be taken into consideration. In

contrast to the first six claims, I named this claim a ‘weak ethnographic fact’. Basso’s

eighth claim relies completely on the six strong ethnographic facts and, more loosely, on

the one weak one. It consciously provides a single generalization about Apache culture

that thus explains these more specific ethnographic facts. As such, I am calling it a

‘general ethnographic explanation’. Basso’s ninth and final claim merely reports work

done by another researcher. That work claims that there are very similar facts about the

use of silence in a relatively nearby group of Navaho. The significance of this finding for

Basso’s argument, and thus the reason he reports it in his article, is that it provides further

evidence for his own findings. The logic is implicit here however. It is based on the idea

of cultural influence. If another group of Native Americans, who live relatively close to

the Apache, display very similar uses of silence, Basso has additional evidence to account

for his own findings. Another geographically- and thus culturally-related group showing

the same patterns that he found among the Apache supports his specific and general

points to this point in the argument. It exists alongside the general form of explanation he

has provided. As such, I isolated out his reporting of this other data in his overall

argument and named it an ‘explanatory report’.


Anth/Ling 114: Language, Culture and Communication in the US (Glick)
Department of Anthropology, Binghamton University
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I have now completed mapping the argument structure of Basso’s article on

silence among the Western Apache. In my argument, there are four basic elements in the

structure of his argument. In closing, I will review them here explicitly. His argument is

composed first out of six strong ethnographic facts. He adds an additional weak

ethnographic fact to these six. He then provides a general ethnographic explanation’ for

all seven of these facts. Finally, he offers further evidence that both proves and explains

his findings by citing an explanatory report.

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