The first-hand experience of learning an alien language is seldom the subject of a discussion on phenomenology, and yet the insights from fieldwork can be very rich in this regard. Immersed in a very different language culture where the pragmatics of silence, jokes and gestures have to be carefully interpreted to be understood, this article explores briefly a number of issues relevant to the phenomenology of speech such as the arbitrariness of the sign. In doing so, it engages with language, indigenous environmental philosophy as well as ‘ways of speaking and knowing’. These issues are discussed both from the perspective of fieldwork and from that of my informants – the Inugguit of north-west Greenland, a remote community of Arctic pseudo hunter-gatherers. It is shown that an intersubjective, non-Cartesian approach to language shared by this Arctic speaker community leads one to question some of the assumptions underpinning contemporary linguistic research. Further research is encouraged in order to develop a more complete and comprehensive phenomenology of speech whose basis should be the anthropology of experience and a healthy scepticism towards determinate systems of knowledge.
Phenomenology of speech in a cold place: The Polar Eskimo language as “lived experience”
International Journal of Language Studies 7, Issue 1, pages 151-174, 2013