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

In the reading “‘To Give Up on Words’: Silence in Western Apache Culture” Basso displayed is that in Western Apache culture there is no verbal communication between persons in social situations that include the loss of a loved one, uncertainty of an outcome, and the encounter of an unfamiliar person(s). Basso briefly discussed social situations in which silence is normal in the Navajo culture which was similar to the Apache culture. The reading describes six total situations in which the hypothesis of the Western Apache culture is seen. The first example is when encountering strangers, a story was told about two men who worked together and had some connection through friends but had never met one another. It took them a while to begin talking, because if it had been sooner it can be seen as desperate and strange. Conversation needs to happen naturally, no one else can interfere, they don’t know what each of them are capable of so it takes time. The second example that was given was during the beginning stages of courting it’s common to stay silent for even up to an hour, usually because they’re too shy or nervous they won’t say the right thing. The third situation is between a child who’s been away from home for a while and their parents who feel too nervous to talk because they think being away from home for so long has changed them, soon they realize there was nothing to worry about once the child starts the conversation.

The last three include emotions, or family. The fourth example is when a person is angry, they may yell or curse at people that may have nothing to do with their anger and the Apache people tend to stay silent until the person has calmed down enough to speak rationally because things could end badly for everyone. The fifth example is during the loss of a loved one, usually comforting the loved ones of the deceased happens after a couple of days when the loved one has been able to process their loss. Lastly the sixth is during a curing ceremony, people can talk to the patient as much as they want but once the curing begins no one can speak to the patient until the next day, only the medicine man, it’s possible it could ruin the ceremony. All of these situations are different in the sense that the encounters are but the case of silence remains the same because they no longer or never were familiar with the consequences that come with speaking.

The different situations described in the article about how the Apache people socially interact can effectively support the hypothesis that staying silent within the Western Apache can be “a response to uncertainty and unpredictability in social relations” (227). This article brings awareness of how language or no speech in this case, like that of American Indians can be seen as strange, but in actuality, ours and others may be more alike then what was initially thought.

Language is a very important part of culture for the Apache people as seen in this video, where some people describe the significance of it for them.

Basso, Keith H. 1970. “‘To Give Up on Words’: Silence in Western Apache Culture.” Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 26 (3): 213–30.

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

  1. You accurately identify and restate Basso’s main argument at the end of your summary. It would be helpful to put this in the first sentence were you say “the main idea is…” It might also be helpful to your reader to limit your discussion of the details of each of the six situations and elaborate more on Basso’s discussion of what these all have in common.

    Your summary describes the supporting evidence in detail. It would be helpful to be more explicit about how each of these is a situation where there is uncertainty, since that’s how/why they each relate to the article’s main argument.

    Basso’s text doesn’t make very many claims about the broader implications of this argument, and you do summarize the main part of what Basso says in this regard. You might consider tying into your summary what Basso says on pp 225-226, where he talks about silence being related to specific individuals and their ambiguous status. This would offer your summary more specificity than saying that silence is a response to uncertainty and unpredictability, which is correct, but doesn’t seem to be the whole story.

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