A Look at Portraits of “The Whiteman” and Language and Identity in Bilinguals

A Look at Portraits of “The Whiteman” and Language and Identity in Bilinguals

When Western Apache jokers look to invent and interpret through hyperbole and caricature, their characters are portrayed as ridiculous and ludicrous. To achieve such effects, the jokers use a strategy called epitomization (Basso 40). This epitomization follows and is guided by two key principles namely contrast and distortion. The principles use the form and content of behavioral acts to function. They also specify two conditions that include which elements of Anglo-American are to be chosen for imitation and how the selected elements are to be displayed and presented (Basso 45).

The principles have sub-principles or rules that apply. In the contrast principle, (a)The choosing of individuals for imitation of a status-role category that is usually associated with Anglo-Americans, for example physician, and that is culturally paired with a second category associated with Western Apaches, for example, a patient. (b) Using the joking variety Western Apache type of English, foregrounding the status-role category with phrases and items that the two groups regularly engage each other with, for example, “How you feeling?” and aspirin. (c)Selecting for presentation elements of Anglo-American behavior that contrast with the behavior of the Western Apache and not necessarily limited to the status-role category or activity (Basso 57).

Sub-principles in distortion principle include (a) Distorting the behavioral elements chosen in step c of the contrast principle by changing aspects of their form, in the process heightening the contrast that led them to be selected in the first place. Concerning elements of verbal behavior, distortion may be achieved through increased speech volume, increased speech tempo, exaggerated elevations in pitch, repetition of whole phrases and modifications in voice quality to achieve the effect of stridency. This is through glottal constriction with heavy nasalization of vowel segments (Basso 50). With regard to nonverbal behavior, the distortion may be achieved through excessive jerkiness or abruptness of movement, repetition of actions and lengthened the duration of visual and bodily contact.

Sometimes, however, the person being joked on do not play along, and this usually happens when secondary texts are read as primary ones, and the joking frame no longer exist. The results from such cases can be dangerous. This is why the Apaches say that joking is `dangerous’. Jokes that involve imitations of Anglo-Americans are said to be among the most dangerous. Ironically they are also considered extremely funny (Basso 39). When using a white person in a joke, they may be quick to display anger. White men lack tolerance and equanimity something that leads them to make harsh and precipitate judgments to other people which may lead to fights.

A joke, as imaginative as it is, usually is not entirely a product of the joker’s imagination. The scene he or she stages and the characters they animate are based on pieces of normal activity that they employ and model the joke from. These pieces make up what is proposed as a primary text (Basso 55). Drawn from the many sectors of community life, these pieces of behavior deemed serious contain raw materials from which joking performances are created. Consequently, any real performance may be said to be involved in the making and presentation of a secondary text which usually is intended to be understood as a copy of the primary text from which it is based upon. This isn’t however shown clearly by the joker as the success of the joke depends on his or her ability to make the person intended in the joke to play along (Bass0 44).

When Western Apaches make jokes imitating the Anglo-Americans, they portray them as very incompetent when it comes to conducting themselves in social relations (Basso 53). When judged concerning Apache standards of what they term normal and right, the Joker’s actions are intending to seem extremely queer and wrongful. The image presented by the joker of the Whiteman is that of ineffective behavior that is guided and wrong in terms of social actions. The individual is seen as amazingly ignorant of how to conduct themselves appropriately in public situations (Basso 59). From the various examples given by Keith Basso, Anglo-Americans refer to and address ‘friends’ as persons they have rarely met despite the fact it is evident from other things that they address the same individuals in low esteem.

Koven ethnographic context involves working on the relationship among language use, identity, and self with Luso-descendants. This is through materials from a broader study that involves seventeen months of interdisciplinary field work (Koven 412). Luso descendants refer to adult bilingual children of Portuguese immigrants living in France. To know how the Luso-descendants expressed themselves through speech, Koven chose to put emphasis on the genre of narratives of personal experience. This was due to what many had suggested that narratives of personal experience were more preferred in studying how speakers produced certain qualities that represent who they are (Koven 420). No language use can lack hints about the speaker’s identities and attitudes. In telling stories that are personal, speakers tend to provide certain clues about who they are. Speakers unknowingly create and produce certain kinds of verbally created images of themselves in relation to others through the reenactment of narrated events and as a character in a performed play.

From the cases of Isabel and Ana, Koven wanted to know the relationship among language, culture and the accounts of the two people (Koven 440). Both of the ladies were from Luso-descendant origin. In Ana’s case, she says that she does not feel like being kissed and that the young man supposed to do so has a lot of nerve (Koven 435). This creates a picture of Ana as a chaste young woman who is assertive. Similarly, in the case of Isabel, she sounds like a suburban happy lady in French while in Portuguese she seems a frustrated, patient well-behaved bank customer who doesn’t want attention focused to the fact that she is an immigrant (Koven 424). In French, both Ana and Isabel speak in a certain manner which shows that they are part of the urban youth French culture. When speaking in French, they indeed take a firm stand in what they believe about themselves while in Portuguese their position is weaker in conveying how they are displeased in the narrated events (Koven 450).

In conclusion, Koven argues that in changing between French and Portuguese, taking the personality of a person in each language shows two different personalities in speakers and evaluators. Identities based on different local varieties of French and Portuguese emerge from the speaking of the two languages. Koven’s material gives a detailed view of the mutual relationship among language, context and personality whereby the personality is evident in verbal interaction.


Works Cited

Keith Basso (1979), portraits of the “Whiteman”: Linguistic Play and Cultural Symbols among the Western Apache. Chapter 3: Joking imitations of Anglo-Americans: Interpretive functions.                                 

Koven, M. (1998) two languages in the self/the self in two languages. Ethos 26, 4:410-455.