12/13 Culture-Specific Forms of Language Use: The Trobriand Islanders’ Control of their Public Display of Emotions
This lecture discusses the role of emotions in the construction of social reality. Prof. Senft is interested in the way in which ritual communication allows the members of a community to control their emotions. By “ritual communication” he understands forms of verbal and non-verbal repetitive performances that, in a given context, allow the participants to anticipate the consequences of their actions. It is a form of strategic action that allows a community to prevent violence and ensure social harmony.
In his lecture, Prof. Senft will present and discuss the way in which the Trobriand Islanders rely on ritual communication in order to control their emotions in public, thus constituting a crucial aspect in the construction of their social reality. In particular, he will analyze the way in which emotions are either displayed or hidden in contexts such as mourning rituals, sexual life before marriage, interaction between married couples in public and response to provocation and aggressive behavior. From this perspective, ritual communication is related to the preservation of taboos through so-called “safety value customs”: that is, allowing forms of public discussion of taboos as a way to ensure their observance, such as the meta-linguistic “big sopa” used by the Trobrianders.
From this perspective, Prof. Senft puts into practice a premise of linguistic-anthropological research that he will have methodologically introduced in the previous lectures, namely that the researcher must be on a common ground with the research community: She must understand the way in which a community of speech constructs their common social reality.