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Cognitive Anthropology I: Analyzing Cultural Domains

In chapter 10, I introduced you to five methods for collecting systematic data about cultural domains: free lists, sentence frames, triad tests, pile sorts, and paired comparisons. In this chapter, I’ll show you how to analyze these kinds of data. In the next chapter, I’ll show you three more methods that are grounded in cognitive anthropology: compo- nential analysis, folk taxonomies, and ethnographic decision modeling. We begin with free lists (box 16.1).

ANALYZING FREE LISTS

Gery Ryan and I asked 34 people: ‘‘Please write down the names all the fruits you can think of’’ (Bernard and Ryan 2010:167). Because free list data are texts, they have to be cleaned up before you can analyze them. Only 10 people listed grapes, but another 22 (for a total of 32 out of 34 people) listed grape (in the singular). Before counting up the frequency for each item in the free lists, we had to combine all mentions of grapes and grape. It doesn’t matter whether you change grapes into grape or vice versa, so long as you make all the required changes.

It takes some work to clean up the spelling in free lists. In our data, three people listed bananna (wrong spelling), and 27 people listed banana (right spelling); three people listed avacado (wrong), one listed avocato (wrong), and six people listed avocado (right). Cantaloupe was hopeless, as was pomegranate. We got eight cantaloupe (the preferred spelling in the dictionary), six cantelope, two cantelopes, and three canteloupe. We got 17 listings for guava and one for guayaba, which happens to be the Spanish term for guava. We got 10 listings for passion fruit and one for passion-fruit, with a hyphen (when computers list word frequencies, they see those two listings as different).

Once the data were cleaned, we plotted how often each fruit was mentioned. The result is the scree plot in figure 16.1. (‘‘Scree’’ refers to the rocks that pile up at the base of a cliff and the telltale L-shape of the scree.)

The shape of the curve in figure 16.1 is typical for a well-defined domain, like fruits: The 34 informants named a total of 147 different fruits, but 88 of those fruits were named by just one person (prickly pear and quince, for example) and almost everyone named a few items (apple and orange, for example). Compare that to the results for lists of‘‘things that mothers do.’’ For this domain, our 34 informants named 554 items, of which 515 were named by just one person and only a handful (love, clean, cook) were named by five or more people.

The difference is that fruits (and animals, and names of racial/ethnic groups, and emoBOX 16.1

 
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