Dr Bert Peeters, Griffith University

Cultural linguistics and cultural linguistics: Applied ethnolinguistics in search of a home

visitors-Bert-Peeters-02Cognitive linguist Ronald W. Langacker wasn’t talking about cultural linguistics (which didn’t exist yet) when, in 1994, he saw the advent of cognitive linguistics as “a return to cultural linguistics”. It is important to distinguish between the use of a label to identify a broad field of scientific endeavour and the use of the same label to identify a much more narrowly defined framework within that field. cultural linguistics saw the light of day in 1996, but it was not until 2007 that it became really prominent thanks to the work of Farzad Sharifian, who further increased its interdisciplinary base and replaced Gary B. Palmer’s references to imagery with references to cultural conceptualizations. The latter are the analytical tools cultural linguistics uses to examine aspects of cultural cognition and its instantiation in language; they include cultural schemas, cultural categories, and cultural metaphors. Instances of these exist in all the languages of the world. Oddly enough, the term cultural value appears to be shunned in cultural linguistics, where it is used rather sparingly. This raises the question of whether any bridges can be built between cultural linguistics, on one hand, and applied ethnolinguistics, on the other. applied ethnolinguistics is a by-product of the natural semantic metalanguage approach; it was developed without reference to either cultural linguistics or cultural linguistics and makes prolific use of the term cultural value, which it sees as absolutely fundamental to its endeavours. Closer inspection reveals that cultural linguistics does acknowledge the importance of cultural values: even though the term is not used in a technical sense, cultural values are captured in the cultural conceptualizations that speakers draw on. Thus, detailed study of culturally specific schemas, categories, and metaphors may lead to a better understanding of the cultural values that are upheld in particular language communities. In spite of this more or less hidden similarity, there appears to be little prospect for an eventual amalgamation of the two frameworks. Rather, it is argued that lessons can be learned and small adjustments made on both sides, in the interest of overall clarity, and that applied ethnolinguistics finds its home in the broader field of cultural linguistics, where it is hoped it will be able to provide a useful methodology for the study of language and cultural values.

Bert Peeters (PhD 1989, ANU) is an adjunct associate professor at Griffith University. He also holds an honorary appointment at the Australian National University. Previously employed at the University of Tasmania (1989-2006) and at Macquarie University (2007-2013), he recently (2015) guest-edited a special issue of the International Journal of Language and Culture (edited by Farzad Sharifian) on language and cultural values. He is currently working on a monograph focussing on French; its aim is to show how evidence for previously identified French cultural values can be found in the language, and how observation of the language can help the cultural outsider recognize and explore previously unidentified values or values that are only superficially known. Other work includes Diachronie, phonologie, et linguistique fonctionnelle (1992), Les primitifs sémantiques (ed., 1993), The lexicon-encyclopedia interface (ed., 2000), Semantic primes and universal grammar (ed., 2006), Tu ou vous: l’embarras du choix (ed. with N. Ramière, 2009) and Crossculturally speaking, speaking cross-culturally (ed. with K. Mullan and C. Béal, 2013).