Towards an integrated theory of cooperative grammatical performance: Saussure, Malinowski, Ardener, Geertz, and gene-culture coevolution
49 Pages Posted: 24 Apr 2020 Last revised: 3 Oct 2022
Date Written: April 20, 2020
A grammar is a set of functionally articulated rules that constrain semiotic (meaningful) behavior into ‘correct’ chains or syntagms. In certain grammatical ‘games,’ participants take turns to build cooperatively an intersubjective syntagm that, if well formed, outputs a normatively valued meaning. Such behaviors often support system structure. Such games demand a mature syntagmatic functionalism (envisioned by Ardener 1971b): Saussurean syntagmatic semiotics married to Malinowskian structural functionalism. But the first component strand derailed into trendy non-science, and the second was rejected for political reasons. This paper 1) reviews the historical reasons for the missed opportunity; 2) examines the broad social universe of syntagmatic games; 3) proposes theory and methods to move syntagmatic functionalism forward; 4) illustrates by analyzing the hospitality game of Torguud nomadic herders in Mongolia; 5) explains how this grammar reproduces the Torguud economic/ecological adaptation; and 6) verbally models the selective pressures, acting on both context and content biases in gene-culture coevolution, and embedded in prestige/political processes, that likely cobbled this grammar together. Anthropologists need not choose anymore between totalizing theoretical perspectives or wall themselves inside competing silos; we may attempt a seamless articulation of semiotics, functionalism, thickly descriptive ethnography, and gene-culture (dual-inheritance) coevolutionary analysis—as Clifford Geertz hoped.
Keywords: semiotics, syntagmatic theory, functionalism, gene-culture coevolution, dual inheritance, Saussure, Malinowski, Geertz, Ardener
JEL Classification: B15, Z1, Z13, Z19
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