Landscape and Language
at the University of Santa Cruz

Anthro 119: Language and Culture
Dr. D. Brenneis
Copyright © 1996, 2000 B. Collie Collier
Where we look for the Western Apache connections between wisdom and location... in Santa Cruz students. Amusingly enough, I was the only person in the 70+ class not to find such connections -- but the professor thought my points were clear and convincing enough that he did not penalize the paper whatsoever. ;-)


In Keith Basso's book, Wisdom Sits in Places, the use of location is explored as a medium for cultural consistency and implementation of culturally desired norms (such as correct behavior, respectful use of the land, and proper manners of speech) amongst the Western Apache. In the research done by my group at Santa Cruz, the meaning of location was also explored. While some of the uses of location were similar to those of the Apache, most were different. This paper will attempt to explore some of those differences, and find a coherent reason for these differences.

The Apache are closely tied to their land. Their clans name themselves after striking geographic markers or locations, and the land is seen as something to be treated with respect and care. Indeed, the Apache view the land as a part of them, and on occasions places or objects can become so strongly associated with an individual or family that the Apache will refer to that location or object as being a member of their family. Since the land is harsh, water is of central importance. Place names are straightforward and highly descriptive, that they may be easily found and envisioned; maps are as much oral histories as locations. The Apache is firmly centered in his environment -- indeed, he considers himself a part of the natural, physical environment.

This is not the case with Santa Cruz students. When asked to draw a cognitive map, the student demonstrates no sense of centered-ness of self, such as might be shown by starting in the middle of the paper and working outwards. Instead, a location or building, frequently the college the student is from, is usually used as a starting point, but is placed off to one side of the paper. Roads are laid in but not named. Buildings are put in around the roads, showing the roads are being used as points of reference. Some other colleges and heavily used buildings (such as Financial Aid, or Bay Tree Book Store) are noted, usually with their name within a box, or sometimes just a hastily scribbled name. Locations that stick out in the individual's memory are also marked down, often with little explanatory names, such as 'the crazy blonde gate guard that lets everyone in' or 'meadow -- cows here sometimes!'. Sometimes these memorable locations inspire a quick little sketch, like the pitchfork next to one disliked building, or the characteristic squiggle for the 'flying IUD' sculpture.

There is a possible explanation for these generalized characteristics in map-making. The culture from which most Santa Cruz students come from is that of the United States. The US has an on-going love affair with the automobile - and thus most students will lay in the roads on their maps as boundaries or points of reference when they are drawing. Also, in modern 'white-man's' maps, roads are always the most important objects on the maps -- indeed, most 'white-man's' maps are of road systems. Thus while most people today may not be able to read a topographical map, almost everyone can use a AAA road map. This common knowledge about certain types of maps may also have led to another characteristic often found in Santa Cruz students, namely the inclination not to mark up an 'official' map. However, I will speculate further on this later.

There is another possible explanation for the lack of centralization shown by the cognitive maps of most individuals. The modern Santa Cruz student is in effect a type of transient. The average student here will be leaving Santa Cruz in about 4 years, and as a consequence does not appear to feel centered or anchored within the 'world' of Santa Cruz. Consequently, this feeling of a lack of anchoring causes a de-centralized starting point in most of the cognitive maps. Since most of the map-makers are 'transients,' they do not bother with the exploration of location that they might have if they knew they'd be spending the rest of their life here. Thus few trails and streams are shown -- most students don't know those landmarks. This also accounts for students not really strongly identifying themselves with a location or college -- since they're going to be gone in a few years, investing themselves in the land and the land into themselves is counter-productive. Why bother putting that kind of time and effort into a place if you're going to leave sometime soon?

There is a sense, when one is not 'part' of a community, that one is a guest. It is possible this lack of feeling of ties, or this 'someday I'll leave here' feeling is why the 'official,' white-man's maps are so often viewed as complete and not needing correction, as something that shouldn't be marked up. Indeed, during the speech events relating to white-man's maps, there seemed to be an almost uniform type of communicative repertory used by the students. Initially there was an almost blank lack of context on how to respond to repeated urgings to write on the official maps from the interviewer, followed by prosodic features indicating an apologetic attitude when actually doing so. It is true that a good interviewer should not prejudice the informant with contextualization cues, but it was noteworthy that a lot of reassurance and repeated pushing was needed to initiate any marking up of the official maps. This leads one to the following tentative conclusions: either there is a sort of pack mentality that says no one should stand out too noticeably from the crowd (which marking up an official map would certainly do), or, as noted above, the average student has no strong connection with Santa Cruz -- they're all 'guests,' in a way. Thus they do not have the inclination to 'fix' something when it's wrong. It's not their problem, or that's the way it's always been and always will be, or those in charge must surely know best since they've been here from the beginning. Thus it would be rude to mark up an official map.

There is a pattern to how place is talked about at Santa Cruz. People obviously have an oral tradition that is being passed on. Thus we have, as examples, College VIII constantly referred to as "condo-land" or some variant thereof, or "sterile Merrill." These stereotypical and sometimes inaccurate labels signify a commonly held lexicon for referring to place at Santa Cruz. However, the students do not have an equivalent of 'elders,' as the Apache do. Consequently there is a slow, unnoticed change over time in this shared lexicon. Furthermore, since this is an orally communicated lexicon, there is a noticeable preference for what is interesting, rather than strict factuality, and for what can be quickly, easily, and memorably communicated. Thus rumor and suppositions accompany truth in the stories passed on about location in Santa Cruz, and it is possible that over time the false will become as strongly believed as the true. Also, the stories that achieve continuity are very short, frequently consisting of only a memorable and often descriptive name (as in the 'flying IUD') or a name and a short explanatory phrase (as in 'the meadow - sometimes you see cows there').

One can also notice a general preference for what is up-beat or generally happy. There are no stories with a negative or depressing emotional content, as the Apache cautionary tales sometimes are. The closest one comes to this type of story on Santa Cruz are cautionary tales about a friend of a friend who saw a mountain lion in such and such a location, which should consequently be avoided at certain hours; or finding the students at a certain college 'scary.' Students at Santa Cruz do not use location or story to correct behavior. Instead the stories and locations are used as a unifying, shared lexicon, meant to inspire good or shared feelings. A quick example is location stories of places that are used to relax or de-stress; all students get stressed from the pressures of college life, and sharing such a location story is sharing and thus minimizing a difficult situation in life. The students find relaxation or something remarkable to share in their stories and locations, not wisdom. As a consequence, the students' location stories are situated through memory or through "official-ness." Memory does not always map to specific location. Usually place and landscape do not correlate closely, but rather an occurrence or an experience becomes a 'place,' as in associating the Financial Aid building with 'where I jump through flaming hoops so I can get my education' or a particular area as 'great place for sex when the grass is high' -- implying that the experiences, however metaphorically, actually occurred.

Sociolinguistically the students were more than willing to talk with the interviewers, telling stories and drawing cognitive maps with good humor and curiosity as to what exactly was being studied. However, there was a definite feeling from them of being interviewed or guided, which was exemplified in the prosodic features of the students. They had to be repeatedly urged to tell stories, or to mark up official maps. Once sufficiently cued, they would frequently appear to enjoy themselves as they followed directions, as if being forced to do something meant it was an acceptable behavior to demonstrate. Occasionally their actions would contradict their words, as in the student that said he didn't want to say anything negative, but who later wrote negative commentary on his map concerning a particular college when urged once again to mark whatever he liked or disliked on the map.

Again, this might seem odd until one considers there may be noticeable in most of the students a strong sense of 'pack mentality,' or perhaps a feeling that what is not part of the shared lexicon is somehow not 'real' or official. This was somewhat borne out, for me, in the constant repetition of the same themes and stories by the students -- places that were officially named and the amusing variations on those names, places that were personally liked but not official, and the sense that there was nothing singular to be mentioned. Indeed, no one admitted to giving a new or unique label to a place; the label was either a repetition of something they'd heard elsewhere (but who exactly was never stated and possibly not even known), or merely a short descriptive phrase that was not intended as a title.

As a consequence, I found what interested and surprised me most about the research was my lack of connection with the shared lexicon of Santa Cruz. As an example, my initial thought, upon using the official Santa Cruz map, had been frustration at how difficult to follow it was, and consequently I'd considered it rather inadequate. Furthermore, I'd had no problem whatsoever in marking it up, when I'd been trying to answer myself the questions I'd made up for the other members of my group. However, I'd say this was easily explainable if one realizes I am a commuting transfer student. Not only do I spend only two days a week on campus, but I shuttle-bus everywhere. I do not connect to either location or shared lexicon in any meaningful way, since I almost never experience either of them.

In conclusion, it appears clear to me that location to the Apache is an integral part of their being. To the Santa Cruz student, however, location is only part of a shared community lexicon. Location itself appears to have little or no personal connection to individual students, due to a possible feeling of transience. Place names recur in quotidian conversations, but are merely used as geographical or building markers, not as community wisdom stories. What stories are told are either short, memorable phrases and no more, or individual occurrences that come out only under strong urging, and do not seem to become part of the shared lexicon. Furthermore, most of the location names used are white-man's names, rather than individualistic cognitive labels. Thus one can see that the land is not closely associated with the self, nor is there any feeling of real, permanent connection between the student and the land.

Last Updated: Fri Apr 21 2000