Summary of “Silence in the western Apache culture” by KEITH H. BASSO (Rewrite)

Silence is a natural language that all humans generally speak. The article by Keith Basso dives into what silence truly is and the stereotype of Apache silence by combining methods from sociolinguistics and ethnoscience. The innominate quote summarizes the article’s central idea, “It is not the case that a man who is silent says nothing.” This research tries to eye the silence in the western Apache culture of east-central Arizona, which has received little or no concern from the linguists and the ethnographers. The author seeks to understand how the Apache to use language. When they chose to go silent or, in other terms, give up on the use of words. 

Through analysis of other people’s works, the author states that communication, mostly verbally, is a matter of decision-making. A speaker is supposed to select a suitable code concerning the immediate situation. They also determine the right channel of transmission and finally communicate. From this research, we understand that it is not enough for a stranger to formulate a clear message to the mind. Still, they also need to incorporate awareness of which code and channel to use in different situations and people.

Even though silence might seem an easy thing, Basso states that silence has various interpretations and many different uses contingent on the situation’s context. There are several occasions in which silence can be used in Apache culture. Basso has outlined these situations in the following manner; in the presence of someone for whom they sing, being with someone sad, during verbal altercations, children coming back home after prolonged amounts of time, dating /courting, and meeting with strangers. 

It is common to remain silent in Apache culture until both get-togethers receive an excellent introduction and have a better chance to strike up a conversation or speak. Similarly, it is common to remain silent when courting/dating for a reasonable amount of time while displaying fondness in ways such as staying close to each other and holding hands. The silence in dating/courting commonly happens due to forthright boldness or fear that they might say something inappropriate. The reason why parents remain silent when children return home after a long time is that they may fear that their children might perceive them differently or they may change changed their way away from home. 

It is appropriate in Apache culture to remain silent or refrain from responding when one is being cussed out or in verbal altercations. The silence is to prevent rage of whoever is angry, leading to potential loss of control or worsening of the situation. Silence is encouraged when someone is sad due to the death of a loved one. At this moment, silence lessens the physical and emotional drainage of the grieving individual. Silence is appropriate when a person receives healing through a ceremony since people believe that the individual is holy. However, this occurs with only a person whom they sing.

These several circumstances in which a person is encouraged to stay silent possess a common theme tying them together. They are all rooted in uncertainty whereby someone does not know how they should react around a particular person or the reaction of a specific individual when they speak. The situations of deciding whether to remain silent occur in consideration of other people and develop because of the individual’s mental state. Arguably the physical setting of these situations is commonly irrelevant.

The author of the article views the absence of verbal communication in Western Apache culture as something connected with social circumstances where there is the loss of the illusion of predictability in social interactions, role expectations lose their applicability, and the status of participants becomes ambiguous. In one sense, it is a response to unpredictability and uncertainty in social interactions.

Basso, Keith H. “To Give up on Words Silence in Western Apache Culture.” THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PUSS JOURNALS 26.3 (1970): 213-230. journal.

One thought on “Summary of “Silence in the western Apache culture” by KEITH H. BASSO (Rewrite)

  1. Your first paragraph has a good overview of the article’s topic of analysis, i.e. the use of silence in Western Apache culture. The second part (beginning with “According to the author”) of that paragraph could be reworked for clarity, and to make it more obvious to the reader that what Basso is discussing there is actually the state of the research/knowledge on communication at the time (by which I mean he’s summarizing others’ research, not making that point himself.)

    In the second paragraph it’s not clear *which* society you’re talking about. Are these points that Basso makes, or are you making a comparison to our culture? Your summary should cover only what Basso is saying. In the third paragraph, your summary would greatly benefit from a careful review the six situations Basso covers in which silence is appropriate for the Western Apache. Somewhere in your summary you should be explicit about what Basso says these situations all have in common, which is a main point he makes and one that doesn’t come out clearly in your summary.

    Your critical assessment in the last two paragraphs would benefit from more specificity. Almost any anthropological writing is attempting to do the things you attribute to Basso. But what *specifically* in this article is he doing that’s contributing to our knowledge of language (either in general or for the particular ways the Apache use it)?

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