R.I.P. Ward Goodenough

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Bonnie L. Cook, "Ward H. Goodenough, 94, Penn professor", Philadelphia Inquirer 6/15/2013:

Ward H. Goodenough, 94, a longtime University of Pennsylvania professor whose work helped shape anthropology, died Sunday, June 9, of organ failure at the Quadrangle in Haverford. [...]

Born in Cambridge, Mass., he lived in England and Germany as a child while his father studied at the University of Oxford. He became fluent in German by age 4, and his fascination with languages never dimmed.

After the family moved to Connecticut, he graduated from the Groton School in Massachusetts and went on to earn a bachelor's degree in 1940 from Cornell University, majoring in Scandinavian languages and literature.

Although he enrolled in graduate school at Yale University, his studies were interrupted by World War II. He served in the Army as a noncommissioned officer from November 1941 to December 1945.

During the last years of the war, he was assigned to a social science research unit to study certain initiatives. The unit posited that integration of the armed forces was feasible and desirable, and that the GI Bill would meet the needs of returning soldiers and stabilize civilian society.

Dr. Goodenough earned his doctorate in anthropology from Yale in 1949. He was influenced by George Peter Murdock, his mentor while the two did a survey in 1940, and then field work on the Chuuk islands (then known as Truk) in Micronesia for seven months in 1947.

He maintained a lifelong attachment to Chuuk and its people, and was the author and compiler in 1980 of the Trukese-English Dictionary.

Dr. Goodenough did field work later in Oceania, both in Micronesia and Melanesia. An expert on kinship, his best-known early contribution was the development of a method for applying componential analysis to the study of kinship terminology.

Ward Goodenough retired from Penn before I arrived there, so I'll substitute quotations from his writings for personal reminiscences. He flourished in the days when anthropology and linguistics were much more closely in tune than they are now, and even published in Language — "Componential Analysis and the Study of Meaning", Language 1956:

That the methods of  componential analysis as they have been developed for analyzing linguistic forms are applicable in principle for analyzing other types of  cultural forms is a proposition toward whose demonstration I have for some time sought to orient my ethnographic researches. The results of some exploratory work toward this end have already been published.l Included among them is an analysis of  Truk kinship terminology,  in which it proved possible to apply some of  the principles of  linguistic analysis to the problem of  deriving the significata2 of  kinship  terms  and  of  determining which terms went  together in what I called semantic systems. I am taking up this material again in order to present a fuller discussion of  the method  and of  its implications for developing an empirical science of  meaning.

This is the sort of thing that the post-structuralists were "post", but it also reminds me of classical A.I. in some ways:

The problem  of  determining what a  linguistic form  signifies  is very  well  illustrated  by  kinship terms.  In  essence it  is  this: what do I have to know  about A and B in order to say that A is B's  cousin? Clearly, people have certain criteria in mind by which they make the judgment that A is or is not B's cousin. What the expression his cousin signifies is the particular set of  criteria by which this judgment is made.

This  is  analogous  to  the  problem  of  determining  what are  the  acoustical criteria which  differentiate sick from thick so  that  we  hear them  as different linguistic  forms instead  of  one form, as might a  native speaker  of  German.  In this case the criteria are a set of  acoustical percepts which in varying  combinations make up the phonemes  of  a language.

He applied his ideas in familiar as well as exotic contexts — "Yankee Kinship Terminology: A Problem in Componential Analysis", American Anthropologist 1965:

The kinship terminology analyzed here is the one with which I grew up and with which I  continue to operate. It  is not shared by  all North  Americans or by all native speakers of English. I have  encountered many fellow Americans who  reckon degrees of  cousinship differently and others who  confine cousins to ego's generation entirely,  regarding all collaterals in their parents' generation  as  their  aunts  and  uncles  rather  than  as  their  cousins.  There  are  evidently significant subcultural differences not only in the selection of linguistic forms to designate the same relationships — as  with the preference in much of the southern United  States for daddy over father as a standard term of reference — but  in the classes of kin types that  a given term may designate.

Prof. Goodenough didn't specify exactly what he meant by "Yankee" — see "It's Yankees all the way down", 12/9/2003, for some of the options. It would be interesting to see a socio-geographical survey of the "classes of kin type" as well as the "terms of reference" used for them.

Considering only the  distribution  of  kin  terms  with respect to  consanguineal kin types, I  arrived at  a "solution" of Yankee terminology similar to that  published by Wallace (1962). It  made a basic three-way cut  of the universe  of  kin types in  terms  of  degree of collaterality,  with  a  "lineal" set,  a "first-degree collateral" set (including the  designata  of  aunt, uncle, nephew, niece, brother, sister), and a "second or further-degree collateral" set (consisting  of  the  designatum  of  cousin).  The  lineal  and first-degree collateral sets were further partitioned by  considerations of generation removal, generation seniority,  and sex of  alter in the  relationship. The model perfectly predicted the consanguineal kin types that  were permissible denotata  of the terms, but it  bothered me. It  didn't feel right to  have  the major taxonomic level in the system  (as represented by degree of collaterality) separating the terms brother and sister from father, mother, son, and daughter, with which I felt they somehow belonged as a distinct subset  of terms. Grouping them with  aunt, uncle, nephew and niece just didn't sit right.

An  analysis that  does violence  to  the  informant's subjective feel for  the appropriateness of things is  presumably suspect,  especially if  a satisfactory alternative  analysis is  available  with  which  the  informant is  more  comfortable.  That  there  was  objective structural  reason for my  discomfort  in  this case became  apparent when I undertook  an analysis that  included  affinal as well  as  consanguineal kin types.  The  terms brother and sister had  to  be  considered  as part  of  a subset  with  the  terms father, mother, son,  and daughter because, like them, they were subject to transforming operations signalled by the affixes step- and -in-law, and at the same time no other terms were subject to  these transforming  operations.  This  observation  made  it immediately apparent that  Yankee terminology  consists  of  a set  of  basic  terms  and  of another set  of  expressions that  are derivatives  of  the basic terms. The basic terms fall into distinctive  subsets  according to  the  kinds  of derivatives  that can be built on them. By insisting that  analysis preserve the integrity  of these subsets, I  arrived at the  componential models presented here. What preserving the integrity  of subsets means operationally can be demonstrated readily in  the  course  of  analysis  when  we  consider  the  structure  of componential matrices.

In a later work, Prof. Goodenough emphasized variation in "the understandings about things and the expectations of one another that the members of a society seem to share", though it seems that systematic study of such variation has remained the province of sociologists – "Multiculturalism as the normal human experience", Council on Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 1976:

Anthropologists traditionally have acted on the assumption that most societies are not multi-cultural, that for each society there is one culture. They have seen multi-cultural societies as developing only in the wake of urbanism, economic specialization, social stratification, and conquest states.

The view of culture that characterizes societies or sub-societies as wholes is appropriate to problems that involve comparing societies as organized human systems, or that call for the classification of societies according to one or another taxonomic scheme. For these purposes, minor cultural differences from household to household (such as reported for the Navajo by Roberts, 1951) or even from village to village can often be conveniently ignored. But such a macro-view of culture, if I may call it that, is inappropriate for the theory of culture, for any theory of something necessarily considers the processes of which that something is a product and that accounts for the way it changes over time. If by culture we have reference to the understandings about things and the expectations of one another that the members of a society seem to share, then a theory of culture requires us to consider the processes by which the individual members arrive at such sharing. In this regard, the differences among individuals, their misunderstandings, the different ways of doing things family to family and village to village, all become noteworthy.





  1. Victor Mair said,

    June 16, 2013 @ 1:53 pm

    Professor Goodenough was still very much in evidence at Penn when I arrived in 1979. I still remember vividly his dignified presence, even when having breakfast by himself at the Dunkin' Donuts in Media, Pennsylvania, where our paths occasionally crossed on Sunday mornings. Somehow, even though we probably never exchanged more than a dozen words, I always had the sense that he was a man of integrity and atrength.

  2. Benjamin Blount said,

    June 17, 2013 @ 9:30 am

    Although I did not know Ward Goodenough personally, having met him only once at an American Anthropological Association meeting, his work on applying linguistics to anthropology strongly influenced a generation of anthropologists, beginning in the 1960s. Along with several other anthropologists, including Kim Romney, Roy D'Andrade, and Charles Frake, he redirected cultural anthropology from 50 years of culture-trait definitions to a linguistic-cognitive one, stating that culture is what one has to know in order to behave meaningfully within a society. It's still used, even by anthropologists who may not know its origin. The reference is: Goodenough, W. H. (1957). Cultural anthropology and linguistics. In P. Garvin (ed.), Report of the Seventh annual Round Table on Linguistics and Language Study. Georgetown University Monograph Series on Language and Linguistics, 9. Washington, DC: Georgetown University.

  3. Clare Wilkinson said,

    June 18, 2013 @ 12:53 am

    I was a graduate student at Penn when Ward Goodenough was still teaching the Linguistics course in the graduate core. He was completely without airs and graces, and would as happily sit down and converse with the graduate students in the museum cafe as he would with the faculty. Some of best debates I remember hearing were when he, Bill Davenport, and Peter Furst would start comparing stories about topics as weird and wonderful as 'the strangest foods in the world,' or 'everything you ever wanted to know about starchy tubers.' I knew he wouldn't live forever, but still I'm sad to hear that he's gone.

  4. Ward Goodenough (1919-2013), RIP « Glossographia said,

    June 18, 2013 @ 8:36 am

    [...] can read his obituary in the Philadelphia Inquirer, or see tributes from Rex at Savage Minds and Mark Liberman at Language Log.   I didn't know Goodenough, although I do know some of his students, so I'll let [...]

  5. Erasing diversity | Language on the Move said,

    June 20, 2013 @ 11:28 am

    [...] are invented traditions. Diversity is, in fact, the normal human experience, as the anthropologist Ward Goodenough, who passed away last weekend, pointed out back in 1976. A research agenda that takes linguistic diversity as the basis of [...]

  6. Susan U. Philips said,

    July 2, 2013 @ 5:11 pm

    I have the greatest respect for Ward Goodenough and for him to be gone is truly the end of the generation I worked with at Penn as a graduate student. He was not only a brilliant scholar who wrote beautifully and was very influential in his time, but also a very decent human being.

  7. Dr. Ward Goodenough | American Anthropological Association said,

    July 5, 2013 @ 7:00 am

    [...] served as an editor of American Anthropologist. Read about his contributions to the discipline on Language Log and Savage Minds. Share this:DiggEmailPrintLike this:Like [...]

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