Applied Cultural Linguistics

By | Desember 31, 2016

A. Introduction

This topic will explore implications of research carried out within the general area of cultural linguistics for the learning of second languages and intercultural communication. Cultural linguistics draws on, but is not limited to, the theoretical notions and analytical tools of cognitive anthropology and cognitive linguistics. Through these, it explores the relationship between language, culture, and conceptualisation (Palmer 1996; Sharifian 2003, forthcoming).

Cognitive linguist Ronald Langacker (1999: 16) has described language as “an essential instrument and component of culture, whose reflection in linguistic structure is pervasive and quite significant”. Similarly, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (1999: 69) have argued that cultural knowledge in the form of conventional images feeds into idioms based on metaphors. Moreover, complex categories are structured

by experiential domains, which may be culture-specific (Lakoff 1987: 95). These statements by influential cognitive linguistic theorists suggest that language is embedded in culture. Similarly, cognitive anthropologists have emphasized the cultural grounding of language and thought (e.g., Holland and Quinn 1987).

Language is a cultural activity and, at the same time, an instrument for organizing other cultural domains. Speakers take account of discourse situations, which are structured by culture. Paul Friedrich (1989) referred to this nexus of language and culture as linguaculture and Michael Agar (1994) called it languaculture. Language is shaped not only by special and general innate potentials, but also by physical and sociocultural experiences. It is the concurrence of language-as-culture and language-governed-by-culture that warrants an approach called cultural linguistics (Palmer 1996).

How can we see cultural patterning in grammar? During the past three decades, cultural and cognitive linguists have discovered important links between grammar and cultural schemas. We will mention just a few studies here. Friedrich (1979) reported that spatial suffixes of the Tarascan language of Mexico evoke schemas of body-images. The schemas are metaphorically extended to a variety of cultural domains, such as the shape of a house. Witherspoon (1980) showed that verbal morphology in Navajo (Athabascan) takes into account a hierarchy of animacy that is not universal, but is rather a specifically Navajo ordering of calling and talking beings according to their mental and physical powers. Martin (1988) reported that Tagalog grammar reflects an awareness of social interdependence, evident in such forms as the desiderative prefix ki-, and in lexical constructions marking reciprocity.

B. Applying cultural linguistic

How can cultural linguistics research be applied; that is, what implications does it have for domains such as intercultural communication, bidialectal education, translation, first- and second-language teaching, and conversing with computers? Applications will be most effective if they highlight the cultural basis of language (see, e.g., Hinkel 1999; Kramsch 1993). In the area of teaching a second language or dialect, this may require explicating cultural conceptualisations that are traditionally associated with various features of the language to be learned. Teachers may choose to introduce and highlight cultural models and take account of culture-specific models of learning itself (Strauss 1992; D’Andrade 1995). The models may be any of several types.

Concrete models represent basic experiences that are culturally prototypical and provide source concepts for extension by metaphor and metonymy. Multimodal models offer experiences via a variety of senses and channels. They reinforce a semantic domain by providing multiple points of entry. Domain-specific models are representations of how to talk about particular topics. Discursive models locate speakers in culturally appropriate social contexts. Mastery of discourse conventions should be a high priority in second-language teaching, as discourse reinforces other learning. Cultural developmental models take a learner through the same steps taken by a native speaker. Analytic development mental models are theory-based. For example, Kurtyka (2001) described a progression from teaching prototype usages to teaching extensions based on abstractions and metaphors. Thematic models are very general cultural models that subsume multiple domains. In American English, an emerging cultural theme is covered by the term “extreme”. We have “extreme sports”, “extreme programming”, and even “extreme networking protocols” (Apple’s Airport ExtremeTM).

C. Precedents in applied cognitive linguistics: Pütz, Niemeier and Dirven (2001)

Putz, Niemeier and Dirven’s chapter, and a subsequent paper by Dirven (2001), described unpublished work by Rudzka-Ostyn and derivative work by Kurtyka, who applied a variety of cognitive linguistic concepts to teach phrasal verbs such as run across, sit across from, and come across. The concepts included “trajectory” and “landmark”, metaphorical extensions from prototypes, radial networks, and a continuum from literal to figurative expressions. In the same volume, Kurtyka (2001: 49) spoke of “the exploitation of image schemata and cognitive models, diagrams to accompany language presentation, reference to metaphor and metonymy”. From the standpoint of traditional classroom language instruction, their program seems well-focused and systematic, but from the perspective of cultural linguistics, it is constrained by the classroom format. Learners in these cognitive linguistic classrooms acquire prerequisite cultural knowledge mainly through the media of language and diagrams, so they catch only glimpses of cultural skeletons. The richer cultural world happens mostly outside the classroom. The available discourse model is necessarily classroom oriented; activation of schemas and cultural models is weak; mapping is impaired. The approach systematically applies category theory, but lacks vivid cultural experience. But that is the nature of traditional classrooms, and no fault of Rudzka-Ostyn’s or Kurtyka’s.

D. This volume

The chapters in this volume explore the relationship between language and cultural conceptualisations (Sharifian 2003), such as schemas, categories, models, metaphors and scripts, in several languages and contexts. The authors of these chapters highlight the implications of their research in terms of language teaching/ learning and intercultural communication. All the chapters contribute to the argument that an explicit understanding of the cultural foundation of language can greatly enhance any form of application that it serves in practical domains.

Occhi’s chapter employs the notion of “cultural schema” in teaching archaeology to Japanese students. Occhi teaches at Miyazaki International College, where instruction in English is integrated with other coursework. Thus she teaches English as part of her classes in archaeology and linguistic anthropology. This gives her excellent opportunities to evaluate her students’ understanding of the subject matter in relation to their understanding of English. Occhi observes that the semantic schema [CONDITION A SUPPORTS CONCLUSION B] which underlies the English construction “modal+have+past participle” (e.g. Neanderthals may have been handsome) is central to the structure of a Western science such as archaeology. She further observes that this kind of construction, and therefore its underlying schema, rarely appears in Japanese texts on archaeology. She finds that the cultural schemas that her students bring to the study of prehistory do not rely on an inferential component. Thus, in her teaching Occhi first introduces her students to the English existential modal past perfect constructions (e.g., would have been activated) that are commonly found in Western scientific reasoning. She then shows them documentary films and requires them to read film transcripts. Finally, she asks them to construct their own conclusions using the modal past perfect construction. Neanderthal leg bones were short; therefore Neanderthals must have been short. Flowers were found with the bones; therefore Neanderthals may have had funerals. Occhi’s method has at least two merits. First, it uses film to expose students to non-verbal cultural schemas. Second, after verbally teaching the schemas of Western science and exposing students to documentary films, she requires that the verbal schemas be applied to the knowledge gained from the film. Thus, she presents the students with a very condensed languacultural experience.

The chapter by Sharifian explores cultural conceptualisations that speakers of Persian bring to the task of learning and using English as their L2. He uses the word “conceptualisations” to refer, collectively, to cognitive constructs such as “schemas”, “categories”, “metaphors”, and “blends”. Sharifian concludes his chapter with a discussion of the implications of his observations for the notion of “English as an International Language”. He maintains that if English is to be used by people from different cultural backgrounds, then its speakers should develop an open and informed attitude towards conceptual variety. That is, in order to avoid conflict and miscommunication, speakers of English as an International Language need to develop what he calls meta-cultural competence, based on exposure to various cultural conceptualisations.

The chapter by Malcolm provides a general account of the research that Malcolm and his colleagues, including the second author of this chapter, have carried out over a decade. The research applies the framework of cultural linguistics to the case of Australian Aboriginal students learning Standard English as their second dialect. He argues that educators need to be aware of the observed cultural-conceptual differences to be able to help Aboriginal students achieve their desired levels of literacy and numeracy. Malcolm calls for a two-way bidialectal educational system in Australia and spells out its main principles as (a) awareness raising, (b) easing the transition to the standard dialect, and (c) cultivating alternative ways of approaching experience and knowledge. Bidialectal education in this sense gives recognition and allows room for the development of both the “standard” dialect and students’ native dialect.

E. Conclusions

Cultural linguistics places a great emphasis on culture as a source of conceptualizing experience through cognitive structures such as schemas, categories, metaphors and scripts. In this volume, the authors appeal to cultural conceptualizations to explore implications pertaining to the applied domains of language learning and intercultural communication. It is hoped that the volume as a whole will motivate further research in this direction and in other possible applied domains such as translation, electronic communication, and forensic linguistics.


Farzad Sharifian and Gary B. Palmer. (2007). Applied Cultural Linguistics. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company


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