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Language Functions As Told Through Figure Skating: What Skating Can Teach Us About Language.

1630 words - 7 pages

Anthropologist Dr. William Beeman described the six basic language functions in humans as follows: recognition, storage, physical generation, writing, discourse and expressive culture (lecture presentation, January 19, 2010). Each of these functions plays a part in how language is used. Drawing on Beeman’s lectures and personal experience, I will demonstrate how creating and performing an ice-skating free-style routine highlights each of the six language functions in use.

The first language function is that of recognition. Beeman explains that recognition includes not only understanding the meaning of speech one hears, but also visual and tactile recognition. Visual recognition in turn encompasses reading written language, recognizing signs and understanding context. Tactile recognition includes languages like Braille for the blind (lecture presentation, January 19, 2010). All of these abilities allow humans to distinguish a wordless shout of alarm from “Look out!” or a jumble of marks on a sign with “Don’t Walk.” Without these abilities, we would not be able to know when information is being shared with us through language. Language recognition is useful in the process of choreographing a free-style ice-skating routine because the coach and skater can collaborate to develop a sequence of movements without having to first demonstrate them for each other. They can converse verbally to describe the sequence and the transition between the movements. Since the coach can see the skater from a perspective she herself cannot, the coach can use language to offer the skater guidance to refine her movements into a polished performance. The coach can refer to specific techniques and jumps with names like “triple axel” and “sow-cow” and the hearer can conjure in her mind the execution of the movement named. The skater can also understand and interpret symbolic instructions using visual recognition (such as a thumbs-up of approval from her coach), and feel whether her blade edge is set properly for a jump or her arms are properly positioned in a spin using tactile recognition. Without these recognition skills, the coach’s instructions would seem a confusing babble of sound, symbols and sensations without meaning.

Another language function Beeman describes is storage, or memory. This includes both short-term and long-term mental memory. It also describes “priming,” which is the process by which a hearer recognizes special patterns of speech and can anticipate a response, such as knowing that an upward inflection in tone denotes a question, to which an answer is expected (lecture presentation, January 19, 2010). Additionally, storage skills include “post-distractional memory” which is the ability to continue speaking about one’s train of thought after an interruption. Finally, storage skills also encompass “procedural memory.” Beeman tells us that procedural memory is also termed “muscle memory” or “body memory” and is...

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