Summary of “‘To Give up on Words’: Silence in Western Apache Culture” by Keith H. Basso

The article “‘To Give up on Words’: Silence in Western Apache Culture” by Keith H. Basso focuses on the use of silence and why it’s acceptable to not use words at times. The main argument is based on the use of silence in the Western Apache culture and how it comes into play during these situations and is one of the main reasons they use silence. Silence can be beneficial to many situations such as listening to someone vent about their problems, in church, in serious situations and much more. As the author states, “Although the form of silence is always the same, the function of a specific act of silence- that is, its interpretation by and effect upon other people- will vary according to the social context in which it occurs” (Page 215). This stood out the most because it shows deeper meaning to why silence can be so important, due to all the different things it can show instead of just having one universal meaning. The author makes many clear points to help the reader understand their argument such as using specific examples of when silence becomes okay, which gives us a deeper understanding of why it would be appropriate at that time. For example, talking to a stranger sometimes allows for silence because you never know what is okay to say to others without offending or crossing boundaries with people you don’t know. I feel like that example is the easiest for most individuals to relate to because everyone has been in weird situations with strangers and being left not knowing how to answer. The author’s argument helps us understand language on another level. The definition of language is “the principal method of human communication, consisting of words used in a structured and conventional way and conveyed by speech, writing, or gesture”, however silence shows a different side to language which is something we should be aware of. It goes against what we would traditionally consider language, but it expands our knowledge on language and the diversity of it. While reading this article, the author shows the readers that silence can say just as much as words can. Silence is equally as expressive as anything words can say. This may be an eye opener to people from other cultures who don’t believe silence is a form of language due to what is seen as socially acceptable in some cultures. The author develops a strong argument that expresses that in the Western Apache culture silence is critical and should be valued the same as words. This article had clear and valid points that showed the readers the meaning of silence and when they see it being the best way to communicate in situations. 

Basso, K. H. (1970). ‘To Give up on Words’: Silence in Western Apache Culture. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, 26(3), 213-230

One thought on “Summary of “‘To Give up on Words’: Silence in Western Apache Culture” by Keith H. Basso

  1. The first two sentences of your summary are a good overview of the article’s topic and argument. There’s an important part of the argument you don’t mention, however, which is what all the situations Basso gives details about have in common. You go into detail about one of the examples he uses, but that doesn’t do enough to help the reader see his overall argument.

    While you give detail about one of the examples Basso uses, your summary would benefit from a bit more detail about how this example (and others) specifically relate to the author’s main argument about what these situations have in common.

    You have a brief but accurate statement about how the article expands on traditional understandings of language. You focus a bit more than necessary about the fact that silence is itself expressive, but don’t mention why it might be important to understand that it’s the social status of individuals and their relationships to others that determines when silence is appropriate.

    Your summary might benefit from being broken into two or three paragraphs. Also, be sure to fix the direct quotation in the middle that doesn’t have a citation. If it’s from a source other than the reading you summarize, you’ll also want to add a bibliographic entry at the bottom along with the one for the Basso article.

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