Schema analysis combines elements of anthropological linguistics and cognitive psychology in the examination of text. For example, we hear sentences every day that we’ve never

Table 19.4 Summary of Repatriates' Ambivalent Statements about Greece

Negative aspects of Greece


  • 1. Wages are low.
  • 2. Few jobs are available, especially for persons with specialized skills.
  • 3. Working conditions are poor.
  • 4. Inflation is high, especially in the prices of imported goods.


  • 1. People in general (but especially public servants) are abrupt and rude.
  • 2. The roads are covered with rubbish.
  • 3. Everyone, even friends and relatives, gossips about each other and tries to keep each other down.
  • 4. People of the opposite sex cannot interact easily and comfortably.


  • 1. The government is insecure and might collapse with ensuing chaos or a return to dictatorship.
  • 2. Fear of actual war with Turkey creates a climate of insecurity.

Negative aspects of Germany


  • 1. Economic opportunities are limited because a foreigner cannot easily open up a private business.
  • 2. People are reluctant to rent good housing at decent prices to migrant workers.


  • 1. One feels in exile from one's home and kin.
  • 2. Life is limited to house and factory.
  • 3. The weather seems bitterly cold and this furthers the sense of isolation.
  • 4. Migrants are viewed as second-class citizens.
  • 5. Children may be left behind in Greece, to the sometimes inadequate care of grandparents.
  • 6. Lack of fluency in German puts Greek workers at a disadvantage.
  • 7. Parents must eventually choose between sending their children to German schools (where they will grow away from their parents) or to inadequate Greek schools in German cities.
  • 8. Factory routines are rigid, monotonous, and inhuman and sometimes the machinery is dangerous.


1. Migrants have no political voice in Germany orintheirhome country while they are abroad.

SOURCE: ''Return Migration to Greece'' by H. R. Bernard and S. Ashton-Vouyoucalos, 1976, Journal of the Steward Anthropological Society 8:31-51. Table reproduced with permission from the Journal of the Steward Anthropological Society.

heard before and somehow we manage to decode them. We don’t have a list of sentences in our heads. Instead, we learn a list of rules for making words and for putting words together into sentences.

Some rules are phonological. Consider this sentence: ‘‘He worked for two bosses at the same time.’’ We don’t pronounce the word ‘‘bosses’’ as if it were ‘‘bossiss’’ (where the iss rhymes with the second syllable in ‘‘practice’’). That would violate the phonological rule that demands voicing of sibilants (like the final s in ‘‘bosses’’) after vowels like the э, or schwa (the second vowel in ‘‘bosses’’). When you add voice to the s sound, it becomes a z sound.

Some rules are syntactic. We don’t say ‘‘He is writing book’’ because that violates the English syntactic rule that requires an article (either ‘‘the’’ or ‘‘a’’) before the noun ‘‘book.’’

And some rules are semantic. We don’t say ‘‘busy, purple forests dream indignantly’’ because, even though the syntax is correct, that would violate semantic rules about the kinds of things that can be busy or purple or that can dream. It is, however, the prerogative—even the mandate—of poets to concoct new images by violating just these rules.

Phonology, syntax, and semantics are increasingly complex sets of rules for building sensible utterance. Schema analysis takes this rule-based explanation of behavior a step further. Everyday life—to say nothing of special situations, like major rituals—is just too complex for people to deal with one scene at a time. There must, the reasoning goes, be some rules—a grammar—that help us make sense of so much information. These rules comprise schemas (Casson 1983:430).

Schemas, or scripts, as Schank and Abelson (1977) called them, enable culturally skilled people to fill in the details of a story. We often hear things like ‘‘Fred lost his data because he forgot to save his work.’’ We know that Fred’s forgetting to save his work didn’t actually cause him to lose his data. A whole set of links are left out, but they are easily filled in by listeners who have the background to do so.

When you buy a car, you expect to bargain on the price, but when you order food in a restaurant you expect to pay the price on the menu. You know that you are supposed to tip in certain kinds of restaurants and that you don’t tip at fast-food counters. When someone you hardly know says, ‘‘Hi, how’s it going?’’ they don’t expect you to stop and give them a complete run-down on how your life is going these days. If you did launch into a peroration about your life, you’d be acting outside the prevailing schema—breaking frame, as Erving Goffman put it (1974). When people do that, we react viscerally and wonder ‘‘How the heck did they get in here with all the sane people?’’

When many people in a society share a schema, then the schema is cultural. How can we learn about cultural schemas? Most anthropologists do this by analyzing narratives. Willett Kempton (1987), for example, asked people to tell him about how they adjusted the thermostats for the furnaces in their homes. He found that Americans have two quite different schemas for how thermostats work. Some people hold to a feedback theory: The thermostat senses the temperature and turns the furnace on or off to keep the room at some desired temperature. This theory produces set-it-and-forget-it behavior. You set the thermostat at some temperature and let the system do its job. Other people hold to a valve theory. You set the thermostat at some much higher temperature than what you really want. This forces the furnace to pour out lots of heat, fast. When the temperature is where you want it, you turn the dial down. The first theory is etically correct and the second is etically incorrect, but the second is widely held and is responsible for a lot of wasted energy. (People who push the elevator button over and over again probably subscribe to a valve theory. We could test that.)

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