English: Meaning and Culture

ISBN : 9780195174755

Anna Wierzbicka
368 ページ
157 x 237 mm

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.


Part I. Meaning, History and Culture
1: English as a cultural universe
2: Anglo cultural scripts as seen through Middle Eastern eyes

Part II. English words, From Philosophy to everyday discourse
3: The story of RIGHT and WRONG and its cultural implications
4: Being REASONABLE: A key Anglo value and its cultural roots
5: Being FAIR: Another key Anglo value and its cultural underpinnings

Part III. Anglo culture reflected in English Grammar
6: The English Causatives: Causation and interpersonal relations
7: I THINK: The rise of epistemic phrases in modern English
8: PROBABLY: English epistemic adverbs and their cultural significance

Part IV. Conclusion
9: The "cultural baggage" of English and its significance in the world at large


Anna Wierzbicka is Professor of Linguistics at Australian National University. She has an international reputation for her work on semantics, pragmatics, and cross-cultural linguistics. Other published works include What Did Jesus Mean? (OUP, 2001), Semantics, Culture, and Cognition (OUP, 1992), and Semantic Primitives, in which she is credited with establishing the Natural Semantic Metalanguage.