Silence: Sociology and Western Apache Culture

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Polina Goldman
ANTH 1000 MW 12.50
In his paper "To give up on words" K.H. Basso tells us about the study of Western Apache culture that was conducted in east-central Arizona in 1964-69. This work was devoted to exploring the reasons of refusal to speak and maintaining silence among American Indians. Athtor uses the testimony type of evidence to support his claims calling actual witnesses "informants". The research showed that depending on the different social roles and various circumstances there are 6 types of situations when Western Apaches "give up on words": 1."Meeting strangers", 2."Courting", 3."Children coming home", 4."Getting cussed out", 5."Being with people who are sad", 6."Being with someone for whom they sing". Summarazing all evidence athor concludes that the main reason of maintaning silence in Western Apache culture is ambiguity of status of participants of interaction. The Western Apaches prefer to give up on words when they face uncertain and unpredictable situations in social interrelations. In the modern life a refusal to talk can reinforce social norms. Depending on situation, it can show respect, it can make a person look smarter when he has nothing to say. Most of the times silence is much better saying something inappropriate or fighting. But also silence could be interpreted as disrespect, indifference or hostility that could subvert social relationships. All of the above leads me to the conclusion that sometimes silence can mean more than any words. Since a man being a part of the animal world he may choose to observe the behavior of another person without using words to get to know him better as animals do. So this would be the most reliable source of information about unknown person or uncertain situation.
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