English: Meaning and Culture

Overview


It is widely accepted that English is the first truly global language and lingua franca. Its dominance has even led to its use and adaptation by local communities for their own purposes and needs. One might see English in this context as being simply a neutral, universal vehicle for the expression of local thoughts and ideas. In fact, English words and phrases have embedded in them a wealth of cultural baggage that is invisible to most native speakers. Anna Wierzbicka, a distinguished linguist known for her ...
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Overview


It is widely accepted that English is the first truly global language and lingua franca. Its dominance has even led to its use and adaptation by local communities for their own purposes and needs. One might see English in this context as being simply a neutral, universal vehicle for the expression of local thoughts and ideas. In fact, English words and phrases have embedded in them a wealth of cultural baggage that is invisible to most native speakers. Anna Wierzbicka, a distinguished linguist known for her theories of semantics, has written the first book that connects the English language with what she terms "Anglo" culture.

Wierzbicka points out that language and culture are not just interconnected, but inseparable. This is evident to non-speakers trying to learn puzzling English expressions. She uses original research to investigate the "universe of meaning" within the English language (both grammar and vocabulary) and places it in historical and geographical perspective. For example, she looks at the history of the terms "right" and "wrong" and how with the influence of the Reformation "right" came to mean "correct." She examines the ideas of "fairness" and "reasonableness" and shows that, far from being cultural universals, they are in fact unique creations of modern English. This engrossing and fascinating work of scholarship should appeal not only to linguists and others concerned with language and culture, but the large group of scholars studying English and English as a second language.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A great book, one which must be applauded. The strength of this book is to propose a kind of linguistics which takes into account the various, subtle, rich, and extremely interesting interactions between language and cultural scripts. Given that books like this are rare, the author deserves countless words of praise." —Studies in Language

"This is an important book. The strength of this book lies in its accurate and insightful analysis of various linguistic elements and their cross-linguistic equivalents. Wierzbicka's comman of a large number of European languages and her personal experience of cross-cultural communication provide an excellent background for this type of study." —Language in Society

"There is a huge literature on the relation between language and our perception of the world, including well-known myths involving words for snow, but a feature of much previous work in this area has been a focus on an exotic (to anglophone readers) language whose strange structures appear to remake the world. The shock of this book is that the exotic language under the construction of English, and the world which is remade may very well be your own. This is a striking contribution to the history of English, and the history of ideas." —Language

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195174748
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 4/7/2006
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.40 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Anna Wierzbicka is Professor of Linguistics, Australian National University.

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Table of Contents

Part I Meaning, History and Culture
1 English as a Cultural Universe 3
1.1 English-the most widely used language in the world 3
1.2 English and Englishes 5
1.3 An illustration: Words, scripts, and human lives 7
1.4 "Anglo English" as a historical formation 9
1.5 The tendency to mistake "Anglo English" for the human norm 11
1.6 The cultural underpinnings of (Anglo) English 13
1.7 A framework for studying and describing meaning 16
2 Anglo Cultural Scripts Seen through Middle Eastern Eyes 20
2.1 Linguistics and intercultural cCommunication 20
2.2 The theory of cultural scripts 22
2.3 The Anglo ideal of "accuracy" and the practice of "understatement" 25
2.4 "To the best of my knowledge..." 35
2.5 Anglo respect for "facts" 41
2.6 "Cool reason": to think vs. to feel 46
2.7 To compel or not to compel? The value of autonomy 50
2.8 Conclusion 56
Part II English Words: From Philosophy to Everyday Discourse
3 The Story of Right and Wrong and Its Cultural Implications 61
3.1 Introduction 61
3.2 "Right" and "wrong": A basis for ethics? 64
3.3 The link between "right" and "reason" 70
3.4 "That's right" 74
3.5 An illustration: English vs. Italian 76
3.6 "Right" as a neutral ground between "good" and "true" 78
3.7 Procedural morality 80
3.8 "Right" and "wrong": Increasingly asymmetrical 82
3.9 The changing frequencies of true, truth, right, and wrong 85
3.10 "Right" as a response in dialogue 87
3.11 "Right" and cultural scripts 92
3.12 Retrospect and conclusion: The Puritans, the Enlightenment, the growth of democracy 95
4 Being Reasonable: A Key Anglo Value and Its Cultural Roots 103
4.1 Introduction 103
4.2 The pre-Enlightenment uses of "reasonable" 104
4.3 The main themes in the modern meanings of the word reasonable 105
4.4 "A reasonable man" 107
4.5 "It is reasonable to" think (say, do) ... 112
4.6 "Reasonable doubt" 117
4.7 "Reasonable force" and "reasonable care" 123
4.8 "A reasonable time," "A reasonable amount" 125
4.9 "Reasonable" as "reasonably good" 127
4.10 "Reasonable" and "unreasonable" 128
4.11 An internal reconstruction of the semantic history of "reasonable" 133
4.12 "Reasonable" and Anglo cultural scripts 135
4.13 Is the Anglo value of "reasonable" unique? English vs. French 138
5 Being Fair: Another Key Anglo Value and Its Cultural Underpinnings 141
5.1 The importance of "fairness" in modern Anglo culture 141
5.2 The meaning of fair and not fair 144
5.3 "Fairness" and Anglo political philosophy 152
5.4 "Fairness" vs. "justice" 155
5.5 The illusion of universality 160
5.6 "Fairness" and "fair play": A historical perspective 163
5.7 "Fairness" and "procedural morality" 165
Part III Anglo Culture Reflected in English Grammar
6 The English Causatives: Causation and Interpersonal Relations 171
6.1 The cultural elaboration of causation 171
6.2 The English "let"-constructions and the cultural ideal of "noninterference" 183
7 I Think: The Rise of Epistemic Phrases in Modern English 204
7.1 Introduction 204
7.2 I think 208
7.3 I suppose 208
7.4 I guess 209
7.5 I gather 210
7.6 I presume 212
7.7 I believe 213
7.8 I find 220
7.9 I expect 226
7.10 I take It 230
7.11 I understand 233
7.12 I imagine 235
7.13 I bet 236
7.14 I suspect 237
7.15 I assume 239
7.16 Conclusion 241
8 Probably: English Epistemic Adverbs and Their Cultural Significance 247
8.1 Introduction 247
8.2 Developing a format for the semantic analysis of epistemic adverbs 257
8.3 "Probably" and "likely": The heart of the category of epistemic adverbs 261
8.4 "Confident" adverbs: Evidently, clearly, obviously 270
8.5 "Nonconfident" adverbs: Possibly and conceivably 276
8.6 Hearsay adverbs: Apparently, supposedly, allegedly, and reportedly 278
8.7 The "uncertain" status of certainly 284
8.8 Epistemic adverbs vs. discourse particles 287
8.9 The history of epistemic adverbs in modern english 291
Part IV Conclusion
9 The "Cultural Baggage" of English and Its Significance in the World at Large 299
9.1 The legacy of history 299
9.2 Living with concepts 300
9.3 Two illustrations: International law and international aviation 301
9.4 Communication and "vibes" 305
9.5 Intercultural communication and cross-cultural education 308
9.6 English in the world today 310
Notes 315
References 325
Index 341
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