by Laurence Goldman

This treatise is concerned to provide a semantically and linguistically informed study of disputes among the Huli people of Papua New Guinea. The theoretical perspectives adopted are tangential to the ideas found within the two divergent traditions of dispute analysis which characterize present anthropological literature. In this regard, I have wholly embraced neither the approach of law-centred proponents – oriented towards circumscribing the legal as a “generic field of study” (Roberts 1979: 203) – nor the implications of process-focused research where rejection of the need for eliciting a corpus juris has often been construed as tantamount to “rule-skepticism”( Gluck man 1973:614). The interpretative schemata here utilised, conceived neither as a statement of methodological dogma, nor as a covert critique of past approaches, have be undetermined in accordance with an interest in explaining the indigenous system as it manifests itself to the Huli. Insofar as “talk” is the dominant medium through which dispute participants define, interpret and negotiate behaviour. As well as the Hulis organizational model for conceptualizing inter-personal and inter-group relations – I have pursued an investigation that delineates the interaction between language and social context. The exposition is an explicit endorsement and application of sociolinguistic precepts. The tenor of the argument forwarded stresses the significant benefits to be gained from a rapprochement between the ethnography of speech and the ethnography of disputes. Notwithstanding the manner in which discourse analysts have defined areas of importance, suggested terms of description, and located foci of purpose and emphasis, with certain notable exceptions (e.g.Frake 1969) few have made verbal practices in disputes a topic for sustained empirical research or an object for reflection and report in itself. Constituted as ethnographic semantics, the analysis is developed from the inclusive concepts and categories relating to verbal and non-verbal conflict.

The shift in analytical perspective derives from the manner in which the ethnographic data reveal disputes and dispute management processes to be defined and realised in verbal terms. In the absence of any total programmatic precedent in this field of enquiry, the modus operandi has been to analyse relevant lexical sub-systems . The resources of the Huli language have been culled to yield idiom, metaphor, and patterns of figurative and allusive speech as an index of the stock of discriminations made concerning quarrels . Whilst primarily oriented towards defining the nature of “communicative competence” in debate I have not to delimit a field of relevance as a determinant of what is, or is not, germane to the endeavor; rather, I have located the specific interest in ‘disputing ‘ in a description of the total speech framework. In this respect, particular attention has been paid to eliciting the evaluative criteria by which argument is assessed as appropriate / inappropriate or acceptable / unacceptable; that is, the discursive apparatus used to describe the bounds of sense and nonsense. Beyond a concern with indigenous modes of criticism, I have considered the role of talk in the Huli philosophy of action, as a mediatory and mandatory element between an actor’s aims / purposes and their successful attainment.

Moreover, the social control facets of speech have been discussed in relation to education in mediums and the transmission of knowledge, the extent to which speech defines status and role differentials, marks life-cycle stages, and is instrumental in expressing the societal consequences of “excessive” behaviour. This venture being necessitated furthering the study of lexicography to include an overview of how speech is shaped by aesthetic norms and rhetorical motives, evidenced by situations of vocabulary change and acoustic engineering (reduplication, minimal / constructive sets and forms of phonological disjunction) . Integrating content and form through a consideration of Huli stylistics is a salient concern of the analysis. In this context, the dissertation may properly be viewed as a more complete development of ideas first presented in my publication on speech categories in Oceania(1980). An understanding of metaphor, both in speech as well as in “talk about talk”, is essential for any study of social behaviour. In s ofar as the linguistic repertoires explained herein incorporate metaphorical statements, we are able to discern levels of consistency and congruency in the semantic dimensions they embody. In this respect, one unifying theme of this analysis is the contention that such semantic axes (e.g. of control, futility and
covertness)are not context-specific in application.

There is, indeed, an indigenously attested to stratum of structural homology between the three domains of pigs, paint and parlance. This is constituted by the fact that · manipulation of pigs or decoration is perceived a s a form of speech surrogate ship; the same cognitive mechanisms appear to operate across the systems. It is on account of these inter prestige procedures – essentially the discrete categories of environment (public / private), evaluative dimensions, and the rationale of action (self-presentation) in these spheres – that these three behavioural fields provide a unitary social source for metaphorical abstraction and modes of symbolic proposition. A fundamental aspect of this whole system of meanings is the manifestation of the male-female distinction, a dominant cultural motif that permeates all facets of Huli society. Identifiable as both a constituent feature of the phenomena studied and a critical discursive instrument, the investigation proceeds to consider the ramifications of related ideologies of pollution. In this regard, I have attempted to show in Chapter 1 how language use and structure -the rhetoric of ma le-female behaviour – provides diagnostic evidence for prevalent stigma philosophies. Specifically, social structural terrminology, contexts where choice of lexeme is exercised and where it is predetermined, idioms associated with anger, shame, sickness and other “negative” states, and the language used in intersexual conduct are analysed to reveal a consistent set of ideas about the tenure and implications of female sexuality. Transposed to the field of disputes, these concepts underline the different incriminatory and defensive speech patterns utilised by male/female disputants; in sum, the dimension of language as a medium for discrimination is explored. However, even beyond detailing the complex web associations between talk:sickness:women, Chapters 4 and 5 seek to develop the senses in which the relationship between disputes: compensation is, f or the Huli, analogous to that of illness:healing rite.

Settlement-directed talking is here oriented towards the eradication of anomaly, situations where transactions breach defined boundaries. Deviance is controlled through specific verbal rituals of separation and sanitisation. This identity bet ween dispute-management and “dirt-elimination (cf. Donglas 1966 ), encapsulates the central importance of reciprocity in Huli society, for the settlement or process is construed as a “speech exchange” system. The mechanisms of censure and praise are based on an implicit division bet ween behaviour involving “exchange”, and egocentric appropriation of action. This is linguistically reflected in the opposition of bi (ordered talk, debate) and lai ( argument), where lai is a contracted form of lai ha: to finish saying: argument begins when ordered ex change ceases. Given then that speech reciprocity – “to share the talk” – is an axiomatic norm of the settlement system, I have further considered the extent to which a c tors employ sequencing rules to order these exchanges. The crux of the conversational analysis here undertaken involves delineating how the sequential organisation of speech-turns is constrained by norms operative in all discourse contexts, in addition to those norms articulated by the speech genre taxonomy. It is in the context of this discussion that I show how the allocation of speech turns can be determined by relative status, either between groups or persons, in particular types of dispute. The necessity to integrate these aspects with the supra-sentential structures that obtain, has been succinctly stated by Roberts:

“Because of this, mastery of the approved conventions of speech represents an important skill in almost any society. Such conventions lay down what may be said in given circumstances, how it may be said, and to whom it may be said. By virtue of its enormous range and flexibility, the control implications of speech must everywhere be significant, and some scholars are now urging that studies of order in any society should begin with detailed examination of speech forms, both within and outside the context of dispute”(1979:44).

To this end, prudence requires that an analysis of Huli oratory and rhetoric embrace the Aristotelian divisions of the political (the do and do not), epideictic(censure and praise) and forensic (attack and defence) modes of persuasion. The present study is thus concerned with the concept of normative breach on two distinct, but related, levels: behavioural delicts which lead to disputes ‘ (defined below), and those violations of rules associated with the process of claim presentation. This interrelationship between how something is said and what is said – i.e. between form and content – is a particularly important focus for any study of Huli culture. The reason for this is simply that verbal and non-verbal norms from all fields of social interaction, and indeed even the diacritical features by which Huli distinguish themselves from their immediate cultural neighbours, are expressed in standard formulaic terms which Huli call pureremo. Furthermore, the semantics of the kin relations hips of cross-cousinship (hanini) and certain other non-agnatic cognates(aba), are discoverable only once the relevant pureremo has been delineated. This essential characteristic of Huli culture forces the analysis to consider the following two themes. First, what stylistic aspects . (particularly the segmental and non-segmental phonological correlates) of this linguistic variety are important to the maintenance, expression and communication of such norms? What mnemonic functions can we attribute to particular a esthetic patterns? Second, is there a level of differentiation between the ideal statement of these norms in interview contexts or everyday conversation, and their formal presentation in particular disputes to censure, reprimand or remind others of their obligations? With regard to these important questions, Chapter 3(devoted specifically to outlining the speech framework) considers the indigenous metalinguistic scheme and cluster of concurrent features by which Huli define the identities and relationships between their speech genres. Through this system of “talk about talk” we can perceive the terms in which Huli categorise and construe their own verbal behaviour. Further reflexive properties of talk have been noted by other sociologists: “members count on its presence as an indication that ‘all is well’, and members also use talk as a built-in feature of some arrangement of activities to produce a descriptive account of those same arrangements” (Cicourel 1973:55).

The program of rule elicitation is here applied to the micro-level of particular delict categories. In Chapter 4 I suggest a framework for categorizing and ordering the grounds on which particular arguments are adjudged as sufficient or insufficient(a plausibility structure). The model encapsulates both the arguments about the relationship between form and content, in addition to the complex connections between explanations and their justifications. Apportionment of credit or discredit in debate thus seems to focus on the following three sufficiency-grounds: Truth-sufficiency: context-dependent concepts of evidence and veracity; type-sufficiency: the speech format is assessed as conforming to situationally appropriate invocations of genre; and Role sufficiency: the discourse is judged against the kind of talk (open or covert) required to realise an outcome to a dispute. It is precisely in the phases of debate concerned with the above evaluations that we may understand how the genre taxonomy is utilised as a grid for defining speech aberrations, and infelicities in case presentation.

At this juncture of the prolegomenon I feel it is essential to distinguish the activity of disputing from other speech situations where groups of people talk together. Settlement-directed talking is not a termino-logically differentiated form of bi (talk) in Huli. Without wishing to add to the plethora of definitions already made in the anthropological literature, I have felt the need to develop a more adequate mode of description and classification which lends the traditional treatment of disputes a novel focus. Utilising the descriptive framework of Hymes(1972), and accepting the Huli as a speech community, a dispute is a speech situation comprising both verbal and nonverbal events. Any occasion of talk concerning related claims arising from a perceived breach of norms is a speech event, while particular types of verbal practices within such events a re speech acts. Providing the notion of a “dispute” with some integrity is a matter of specifying the range of demarcation criteria:topic (claims), setting (environmental categories), participant categorisation, the associated linguistic rituals and communicative routines, and purpose. Whilst not wishing to minimise the inherent dangers in attempting to give the “dispute” a structural discreteness, I have always held it methodologically naive, if not a gross distortion of the empirical situation, to allow a quarrel / dispute to be counted as a unit where a multiplicity of claims are “rooted in the same set of grievances” (Young 1971:117), and thence to subsume this matrix of claims under a single rubric through attention only to the nature of the “precipitating offence”(ibid.). We cannot, in my opinion, profess to have explained a dispute which incorporates claims and counter-claims, if we focus the analysis on only one part of the sequence, either descriptively or in the statistical computation, ignoring the remainder of the sequence. The implications of this point, simple as it may appear, have not always been made clear in the literature. To circumvent this serious criticism, I have proposed we distinguish between a dispute and a claim. A dispute is a situation of disagreement or conflict between two or more parties, in which rights are alleged to have been infringed, interfered with, or denied by the other party”(Gulliver 1969:14). The Huli recognise these complex situations to manifest causal sequence (tene), expressing the unity of this manifold in such phrases as, this trouble belongs (naga) to X (where X is a person or important issue).” For the purposes of reference in this thesis, the terms case and dispute are inter-changeable. A dispute, then, is a construction from known entities. It is an analytical unit because we “carve a sequence of events which we call a case – out of its matrix and dissect it” (Epstein 1967:230). A claim is a recognisable unit within disputes – a demand for acknowledgement or material recompense for conventionally accepted normative breaches. In Huli, for example, an accusation of lying is an accepted type of claim only where it is categorised as ‘insult’. The claim is the analogue of the linguistic unit, and is amenable to analysis along syntagmatic and paradigmatic axes (the choice / chain dimension). The relation between dispute:claim is that between connected series: constituent elements. For statistical computation, the claim is the only proper and countable unit of importance; a means of avoiding the perils of reductionism in which a multiplicity is subsumed under a logical whole. Retaining the dispute/claim distinction permits rigorous analysis of correlations between claim-type and form of resolution, independent of ”precipitating offence”.

In this context, I distinguish between claims that are compensated, those considered(unilaterally or bilaterally) pending, and those claims renounced by a claimant. Furthermore, the claim / dispute division allows the concept of “sequence” to be applied in a hitherto unforseen way. We can elicit structures wherein certain claims regularly appear in particular positions in disputes, reflecting a relation between their semantic weighting and strategies of impression management. It is plain that not all types of claim will have equal valency within a given system, and that therefore the “positional incidence” of a claim within a sequence of claims will impinge on the outcome of that claim, and of the dispute of which it is part. The notion of sequential orders in claim presentation is an advance on the uncritical employment of traditional parameters such as the relationship between disputants, grievance type, dispute process and sanction (as formulated by Starr 1978:111 and Young 1971:116). This is not to minimise the problems o f claim identification, the possibility of confusing a passing reference with a real demand, but these concerns of fieldwork methodology do not (in my opinion) significantly alter the theoretical argument for warded. Indeed, I would further contend that this mode of analysis enables us to explore fully the implications of two general observations ma de about New Guinea disputes; (1) that past grievances
are invariably resuscitated, forming complex webs of claim and counter-claim; and (2) the overt issues expressed may have little bearing on underlying patterns of tension and conflict. Few Melanesian ethnographers would dispute these generalisations. The present study attempts to establish for the Huli the elements of meaning which attach to particular claims, and which render them particularly suitable instruments for “indirectly” initiating debate on “underlying” issues.

In accordance with the above, Tables 10-18 (Appendix 6) present a breakdown of claims in terms of their positional incidence. There is an element of arbitrary judgement concerning the private/public dimension, though the ascriptions reflect the degree of scheduling and the explicit environmental categorisations (i.e. anda or hama) utilised by participants. The choice of which cases to include from the many recorded, has been dictated by a concern to provide wide coverage of the types of claim pursued, a degree of continuity in dramatis personae, an outline of the range of procedures that may come into play, and cases which would illustrate the use of the spectrum of linguistic varieties. A noticeable omission is any inclusion of memory cases. I recognize that these can provide an important source of cultural distortion where people minimize occurrences of conflict or apportion blame to opposing units. 1

While oral accounts of past disputes were collected, I have chosen instead to concentrate on showing how the citation of myth in ordinary narration or interview situations is changed, adapted and accommodated to political ends when the same myth is cited for public consumption. This allows us to examine in detail processes of information deletion, and the requirements of verbal exactitude.

In this introduction I have attempted to do no more than indicate a pool of hitherto neglected foci which are the concern of this present investigation. The study of disputes should be, in part, but an aspect of the study of conversation. If we allow that disputes “are much more of a roughly prescribed ritual than most people think”(cf.Firth 1964:67), we need to make clear, through explication de texte, what these rituals are, and how they are defined by the people themselves. For the Huli, disputes are pathological events, but they are also conceived as an inevitable facet of relationships. There is a Sisyphean element in the Huli philosophy by which they recognise that the same parties will probably quarrel again because all the claims in a dispute are rarely resolved satisfactorily. In this context, the Huli phrase “talk never dies (bi na homaga)” clearly parallels the Bemba saying “a case never ends” (mnlandu taupwa:Epstein 1967:230).”

(An extract from Talk Never Dies: An Analysis of Disputes Among the Huli. A thesis submitted by Laurence R. Goldman for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, University College, London. February, 1982., p. 10-19.)

  1. A brief note on field methodology is perhaps in order here. All cases were tape-recorded, transcribed into Huli and then translated. I concentrated on a small number of disputes in order to follow the events in greater detail. The laborious task of tape-transcription yielded a rich reservoir of idiom, metaphor and elliptical speech patterns at a time in my fieldwork period when my control of Huli was insufficient to elicit them in normal conversation. This is particularly true for D.1 which occurred only a few weeks after arriving in Ialuba. In presenting the texts I have been restricted by considerations of space, and have therefore abstracted
    sections which I regard as potentially rewarding for a reader. The original sequence of discourse has been
    maintained where possible. The approach taken here is in a c cord with Van Velsen’s concept of “situational analysis” ( 1967: 40), whereby the ethnographer presents some of the material from which his inferences are made. []

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