The Financial System Depends on Language

In the article In Whose Interest by Mauro Rodriguez, language defines the way people perceive interest, or “the extra money [needed] to clear a debt” (Rodriguez). Although charging interest defied the laws of many cultures, the Portuguese translation of interest seems to imply that individuals hold a right by law to get paid back their money with interest (Rodriguez). This article relates to anthropology through the topic of language and thought.

Depending on a person’s culture, people think about certain ideas based on the language spoken in their society. The enthnography, How Language Shapes Thought, by Lera Boroditsky discussed the different languages spoken within different cultures. In the enthnography, Boroditsky talked about the Pormpuraaw, an Aboriginal community in northern Australia. People of the Pormpuraaw tribe spoke Kuuk Thaayorre, which caused these people to “talk in terms of absolute cardinal directions” (Boroditsky). Since the Pormpuraaw talked in terms of direction, they possessed the ability to determine their orientation in space. Thus, the Pormpuraaw tribe perceived direction and their location in space differently from other cultures.


Figure 1: A Portuguese banknote worth ten escudos

The language of the Pormpuraaw people relates to the discussion of the Portuguese word for interest because both cultures perceive certain ideas differently from other societies because of their language. Most cultures use relative spatial terms to provide directions, so those cultures possess a different perception of space compared to the Pormpuraaw. In addition, most cultures prohibited the charge of interest for loans because their perception of interest related more to an act of kindness rather than a requirement (Rodriguez). Since the term for interest in Portuguese, taxa de juro, means “a tax on a promise” (Rodriguez), the Portuguese community perceives the idea of interest a right individuals possess by law.

Words and ideas differ among cultures because of the differences in the languages spoken within cultures. The way Portuguese people perceive money and loans will differ from the way other cultures perceive that idea because of the different languages spoken among cultures. In addition, the translation of terms between languages will seem different depending on the way the terms translate. For example, the term for interest (juro) in Portuguese literally means “to vow” or “to promise” while interest in the many other European languages means to pay a fee to the owner for borrowing money (Rodriguez). One translation appears more like a requirement while the other appears more like a recommendation. Since both words possess different meanings, Portuguese people will perceive interest differently from other cultures. Therefore, depending on language spoken, the perception of ideas and material objects will differ among cultures.

The Perception of Love Cross-Culturally

The article The Brain in Love by Erin B. Taylor discusses love cross-culturally and explains studies of love correlated with the brain. Anthropologist Helen Fisher studied the different brain regions related to love. She conducted functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) on individuals in love or those who recently experienced a break-up. The results showed that a specific part of the brain relates to intense romantic love, calculating gains and losses, and deep attachment (Taylor): the ventral tegmental area.

Fisher’s studies relate to cultural anthropology through the study of biological anthropology. She needed to conduct biological tests, through the use of fMRI, to determine if certain parts of the brain actually correlate to feelings of love. These studies showed that the ventral tegmental area contains “cells [that] make dopamine, a natural stimulant that is released in response to rewarding experiences” (Taylor). When someone experiences love, these cells release dopamine within the brain. Since Fisher performed these brain tests on individuals from numerous cultures, the fMRI tests prove that people across cultures experience love in similar ways.


Figure 1: Biological anthropologist Helen Fisher

In addition to experiencing love in the same way, Fisher claims that people tend to fall in love with individuals in the same social class, economic status, and level of physical attraction. The enthnography Arranging a Marriage in India by Serena Nanda discussed arranged marriages between Indian men and women. One of the major concerns for parents when arranging a marriage related to matches “only within the same caste and general social class” (Nanda 92). Along with that, the boy and girl must appear similar in the level of attractiveness, or those individuals would seem like an imperfect match.

Most cultures seem to evolve around the idea of falling in love and marrying an individual within their same social, economic, and physical status. Although lacking in research, Fisher thinks that a biological drive pushes people towards others that share similar connections with them socially, economically, and physically. Thus, Fisher’s research could potentially explain the differences among cultures when finding someone to fall in love with even though people experience love in similar ways.

Medical Apps: A Tool for Maintaining Beauty and Forming a Cyberculture

The article, App-ograph: A Critical Perspective on Medical and Health Apps, discusses the role of apps in the medical field and the different reasons medical professionals and the average citizen use these apps. Deborah Lupton, the ethnographer behind this research, found that “the most popular of these apps were related to monitoring exercise, diet and weight” (Lupton). Using these apps to maintain a certain body type relates to anthropology through the study of culture and each culture’s perception of beauty of the body.

The article Where Fat is a Mark of Beauty by Ann Simmons discussed the beauty behind fat women. In order for these women to gain weight, they lived in a “fattening room”, in which they maintained a starchy diet and an inactive lifestyle. After gaining a certain amount of weight, these women left the “fattening room” and married.

Simmons’s article relates to Lupton’s article because, in their respective cultures, both the “fattening room” and medical apps act like “sociocultural products…active participants that shape human bodies” (Lupton). In Nigeria, the “fattening room” acts like a tool for Nigerian women to follow their cultural traditions of gaining body-fat before entering marriage. Contrasting to the fattening process in Nigeria, Americans use medical apps like a tool to maintain a thin and lightweight physique. Both cultures perceive beauty of the body in different ways and use different tools to help maintain their society’s ideal of beauty. Since their cultures shape beauty of the body through social ideals, the tools they use will aid in maintaining those ideas of beauty. Therefore, medical apps allow Americans to remain thin and lightweight while the fattening room allows women to gain weight, both ideal body types that represent beauty in their respective cultures.

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In addition to maintaining beauty through sociocultural products, medical apps allow for the formation of a cyberculture among Americans that use these fitness and health related apps. Many apps “often invite users to generate and share digital data about themselves” (Lupton), forming a virtual world among these individuals. This idea of a cyberculture relates to anthropology through the idea of “space and place” in cyberspace. When individuals use medical apps, the space appears like “a world of pure information freed from its physical substrate, configurable at will, and infinitely accessible” (Gessler and Read) while the meaning (place) behind the use of medical apps relates to the many ways an individual shares about their progress with other individuals involved in maintaining a thin, lightweight body-type.

Ultimately, Lupton’s research on medical apps connects to anthropology through the sociocultural ideals of beauty, particularly the body, and the formation of a medical-related cyberculture through the idea of “space and place”. Since many Americans share the same perception of beauty and actively participate in online networks, medical apps allow individuals to maintain America’s standards of beauty while sharing their progress with others that actively participate in that lifestyle. Furthermore, her research could potentially lead to the study of other cybercultures formed through the use of apps.

Changing Consumerism with a Cup of Coffee

In the PopAnth blog site, I read an article titled “Turning Coffee into Charity” by Samuel Victor. This article connects to cultural anthropology through the relationship between religion and cultural perceptions of consumerism. Victor’s article discusses the way a minister uses his religious beliefs to encourage people to adopt a conscious act of generosity through consumer practices.

Within the consumer world, corporations encourage consumers to embrace a materialistic lifestyle through their advertisements. Additionally, promoting materialism causes consumers to depend on the consumption of material items. Ultimately, consumerism evolves around selfish practices because business owners sell products for financial gain and consumers buy products for their own benefit.


Caption: a cup of coffee at The Well Coffeehouse.

Rob Touchstone, a practicing minister and the founder of The Well Coffeehouse, designed the company to provide impoverished communities around the world with financial subsistence. His idea of consumerism differs from the cultural perceptions of Western society. Instead of mimicking the selfish attitudes of multi-million dollar corporations, Touchstone “strives to infuse purpose and meaning into the consumption of his coffee” (Victor) by encouraging consumers to support “oppressed, underprivileged, and impoverished children, women and men” (Victor). A non-profit organization, Touchstone donates the profits made by the company to “religiously affiliated development projects with clean water projects around the world” (Victor) instead of using the profits for his own benefit.

Touchstone’s purpose is to encourage customers to foster generosity through the love of God by showing consumers the “important Biblical teachings about the relationship between people and material goods” (Victor). Ultimately, Touchstone believes that using God’s love will direct consumerism towards generosity rather than selfishness.

Click to access Chapter%207%20–%20consumerism%20–%20Norton%20August.pdf

Cultural Perceptions of Inherited Diseases

In continuation from my last blog, I want to show that the Mervar’s story connects to medical anthropology through people’s cultural perceptions.  Society assumes that a parent and child suffering from an inherited disease will experience identical symptoms and treatment. Additionally, people assume that inherited diseases should affect the parent before the child. However, Karli Mervar started experiencing symptoms when she turned five-years old, six weeks before her father. Along with the oddness of her experiencing symptoms before her father, Karli suffered from severely different symptoms. Occasionally, the left side of her body would stiffen, causing Karli to lack motor control. By the time she turned nine-years old, she “developed pneumonia three times due to difficulty swallowing” and “required a feeding tube, suffered seizures, and would go long periods without sleep” (Lewis). Unlike Karli, Karl expressed a change in personality by acting “abusive, paranoid, and unemployable due to his drunken appearance” (Lewis). He eventually “spent his final years in a nursing home” (Lewis) because of his violent behavior. Most people assume that an inherited disease will cause both the parent and child to experience similar symptoms, making the different symptoms experienced between Karli and Karl seem unusual in society.


Caption: Karl Mervar (right) with his daughter, Karlie Mervar.

In addition, people assume, because of their cultural perceptions, that a parent and child suffering from the same disease will receive the same treatment. However, parents with a child suffering from Huntington’s disease experience difficulty in finding the appropriate doctor to treat their child. Since only 10% of children inherit the disease, “a child with HD symptoms will either be seen by a pediatric neurologist who knows little about HD, or by an HD neurologist who knows little about kids” (Nance). Usually, the diagnosis of Huntington’s disease in children occurs within two to seven years, causing parents to seem unprepared when their child is diagnosed. So, even though genetic testing might immediately and accurately diagnose the child with Huntington’s disease, the disease is rarely found in children, causing most doctors to lack the knowledge and experience to treat the child properly. Therefore, the cultural perception of inherited diseases differs from Huntington’s disease in that children might suffer from the disease before their parent and treatment differs between parent and child.

The Social Construct of Science Through Genetic Markers

On the Neuroanthropology blog site, I read an article about the Mervar family and their history with Huntington’s disease. The story of the Mervars connects to medical anthropology through the social construct of science. Huntington’s disease connects to the social construct of science through the discovery of a genetic marker. In 1983, Rickie Lewis, author of the Mervar story with a PhD in genetics, wrote about the genetic marker for Huntington’s disease, which was discovered by Dr. Margaret Wallace. However, because the marker was discovered before the proposal of the human genome project, the marker lacked meaning in the medical field, which caused genetic testing to seem pointless to most individuals. In today’s society, the field of science and medicine rely heavily on genetic markers in the human genome to diagnose people with diseases. The genetic marker for Huntington’s disease lies on the end of chromosome four. If someone possesses the marker, they will most likely suffer from Huntington’s disease.

An autosomal dominant mutation in the Htt gene causes Huntington’s disease, a progressive brain disorder that leads to physical, emotional, and cognitive impairment. The Htt gene synthesizes the Huntington protein, which geneticists assume play an important role in the function of neurons in the brain. The trinucleotide repeat sequence, CAG, causes the mutation in the Htt gene that leads to the disease. Usually, the trinucleotide sequence repeats ten to thirty-five times in the Htt gene, but repeating the sequence thirty-six times or more is prevalent in people suffering from Huntington’s disease. Sometimes, if fortunate, people containing the sequence thirty-six to thirty-nine times may avoid experiencing the symptoms of the disease. However, if the trinucleotide sequence appears forty or more times, the disease is unavoidable.


Caption: an infected neuron (yellow circle) caused by mutated Huntington protein.

If carrying the mutated Htt gene, the symptoms of Huntington’s disease will start in one’s thirties to forties. Early signs of the disease include changes in behavior and personality, along with poor coordination. Eventually, the individual may experience difficulty walking, swallowing, and an uncontrollable twitch. An individual may live an additional fifteen to twenty years after the onset of one’s symptoms. In rare instances, children will experience the disease, known as juvenile Huntington’s disease. Children experience different symptoms from adults, which include motor skill impairment, slow cognitive abilities, and slurred speech. Additionally, about thirty to fifty percent of children diagnosed with the disease experience seizures. Children will live an additional ten to fifteen years after their symptoms start to occur.

The construction of the human genome provided scientists with the meaning of genetic markers, which proved that genetic testing is beneficial for diagnosing diseases. In current society, genetic testing provides immediate and accurate results for people suffering from Huntington’s disease. These results allow families to prepare for the disease in advance so they understand ways to care for their diagnosed family member. Therefore, Huntington’s disease connects to medical anthropology through the social construct of science because the construction of the human genome makes genetic testing beneficial for both doctors and patients than in previous years.