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Ethnopragmatics: a new paradigm


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This is the introductory chapter of the edited collection "Ethnopragmatics: Understanding Discourse in Cultural Context" (Goddard, ed 2006, Mouton de Gruyter)
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Chapter 1
Ethnopragmatics: a new paradigm
Cliff Goddard
1. Situating ethnopragmatics
For many years the dominant paradigm in linguistic pragmatics was
strongly universalist: human communication was seen as largely governed
by a rich and substantive inventory of universal principles. Variation be-
tween cultures was described in terms of local adjustments to and local
construals of the presumed pan-human universals of communication. Dif-
ferent versions of this universalist paradigm are represented in works such
as Grice (1975), Brown and Levinson (1978), Blum-Kulka, House and
Kasper (1989), Sperber and Wilson (1995), among others. Universalist
pragmatics necessarily imposes an “external” perspective on the description
of the speech practices of any particular local culture, since the basic de-
scriptive parameters have been decided in advance without reference to that
local culture. Furthermore, these descriptive parameters such as positive
and negative politeness, the maxims of quality and quantity, “relevance”,
collectivism and individualism, etc. are of such an abstract and technical
nature they would be unrecognisable to the people of the culture being de-
scribed. At the same time, universalist pragmatics carries with it the as-
sumption that local variations are somehow minor when compared with the
grand groundplan of “human” communication.
Fortunately, concern with culture-internal accounts of speech practices
and with the profound cultural shaping” of speech practices has refused to
go away over the long period of universalist dominance. It was kept alive
by research trends such as the ethnography of communication (Hymes 1968;
Bauman and Sherzer eds 1974; Gumperz and Hymes eds 1986), interactional
sociolinguistics (Gumperz 1982), linguistic anthropology (cf. Duranti 1997),
and the cross-cultural pragmatics of Anna Wierzbicka (1985, 2003a) and
colleagues. In recent years, there are signs that the tide has been turning, as
the weaknesses of the universalist paradigm, especially its ethnocentrism,
2 Cliff Goddard
terminological slipperiness and descriptive inadequacy, have attracted
mounting criticism (Ochs Keenan 1976; Irvine 1979; Sohn 1983; Matsumoto
1988; Ide 1989; Wierzbicka 2003a; Janney and Arndt 1993; Clyne 1994:
176–201; Davis 1998). Nevertheless, the field of pragmatics as a whole still
suffers from a remarkable degree of “culture blindness”.
In sharp contrast, the studies in this volume start from the premise that
speech practices are best understood from a culture-internal perspective.
Focusing on examples from many different cultural locations, the contribut-
ing authors ask not only: What is distinctive about these particular ways of
speaking?”, but also: Why from their own point of view do the people
concerned speak in these particular ways? What sense does it make to
them?” In addition to this common objective, the contributors share a
common methodology based on two decades work in cross-linguistic se-
mantics, and a common concern for grounding in linguistic evidence. To-
gether, this three-fold combination objective, methodology, and evidence
base constitutes a venture which is distinctive enough to warrant a new
term: “ethnopragmatics” (cf. Goddard 2002a, 2002b, 2004a).
Ethnopragmatics is necessarily intertwined with cross-linguistic seman-
tics because the whole idea is to understand speech practices in terms
which make sense to the people concerned, i.e., in terms of indigenous
values, beliefs and attitudes, social categories, emotions, and so on. For
example, much can be understood about Malay ways of speaking by refer-
ence to the Malay concepts of malu ‘shame, sense of propriety’ and maruah
‘personal dignity(Goddard 1996, 1997). Similarly, the Japanese concepts
of wa ‘harmony and omoiyari ‘empathy’, the Yankunytjatjara concept of
kunta ‘shame, sense of being out of place’, and the (Anglo) English con-
cepts of being fair and reasonable are essential to an ethnopragmatic un-
derstanding of ways of speaking in their respective cultures (Travis 1998;
Goddard 1992; Wierzbicka 2006). Such concepts have been aptly termed
cultural key words (Wierzbicka 1997a). Since they are the concepts within
which indigenous cultural psychology is framed, ethnopragmatics is com-
patible with the insight from cultural psychology (Shweder 1991, 1993,
2004) that people in different cultures speak differently because they think
differently, feel differently, and relate differently to other people. As Clyne
(1994: 3) puts it: “cultural values constitute ‘hidden’ meanings underlying
discourse structures.”
To understand and explicate the key ethnopragmatic concepts of another
culture, however, is no easy matter, precisely because of their embedded-
ness within their own language. Simple glosses such as those used in the
Ethnopragmatics: a new paradigm 3
previous paragraph (e.g., maruah ‘personal dignity’, wa ‘harmony’) are
hopelessly inadequate. How then can culture-specific discourse practices be
understood from an insider perspective, while at the same time articulating
this understanding in terms which will be clear and intelligible to outsiders
from other languages and cultures? The contributors share the conviction
that the solution to this problem is provided by the natural semantic meta-
language (NSM) approach originated by Anna Wierzbicka, which employs
simple culturally-shared meanings (semantic primes) as its vocabulary of
semantic and pragmatic description.
The natural semantic metalanguage theory (Wierzbicka 1996a; Goddard
and Wierzbicka eds 1994, 2002; Goddard 1998; Goddard ed. in press) is
based on evidence supporting the view that, despite their enormous differ-
ences, all languages share a small but stable core of simple shared mean-
ings (semantic primes), that these meanings have concrete linguistic expo-
nents as words or word-like expressions in all languages, and that they
share a universal grammar of combination, valency, and complementation.
That is, in any natural language one can isolate a small vocabulary and
grammar which has precise equivalents in all other languages. The number
of semantic primes appears to be in the low-sixties. Examples include the
primary meanings of the English words: someone/person, something/thing,
people, say, words, do, think, want, good, bad, if, can and because. Seman-
tic primes can be combined, according to grammatical patterns which also
appear to be universal, to form simple phrases and sentences such as: ‘peo-
ple think that this is good’, ‘it is bad if someone says something like this’,
‘if you do something like this, people will think something bad about you’,
and so on. The words and grammar of the natural semantic metalanguage
jointly constitute a surprisingly flexible and expressive “mini-language”.
The full set of semantic primes is listed in Table 1. Comparable tables
could now be adduced for a wide range of languages, and in principle, for
any language. It is impossible here to review the large body of research
exploring the lexical and grammatical properties of semantic primes in
many languages. It can be mentioned, however, that detailed whole meta-
language” studies have been carried out for English, Polish, Malay, Lao,
Mandarin Chinese, Mbula, Spanish, Korean, and East Cree, and more se-
lective studies on French, Italian, Russian, Amharic, Japanese, Ewe,
Yankunytjatjara, and Hawaiian Creole English, among other languages; see
the chapters in Goddard and Wierzbicka (eds 1994, 2002) as well as Yoon
(2003), Maher (2000), Stanwood (1999), Amberber (2003, in press), Junker
(2003, in press) and Junker and Blacksmith (in press).
4 Cliff Goddard
Table 1. Table of semantic primes
Relational substantives:
Mental/experiential predicates:
Actions, events, movement,
Location, existence,
possession, specification:
Life and death:
Logical concepts:
Augmentor, intensifier:
Notes: primes exist as the meanings of lexical units (not at the level of lexemes)
exponents of primes may be words, bound morphemes, or phrasemes they can
be formally, i.e., morphologically, complex they can have different morphosyn-
tactic properties, including word-class, in different languages they can have
combinatorial variants (allolexes) each prime has well-specified syntactic
(combinatorial) properties.
Unlike complex English-specific terms (such as ‘politeness’, ‘direct-
ness’, ‘harmony’, ‘collectivism’, etc.) the universal mini-language of se-
mantic primes can be safely used as a common code for cross-linguistic
semantics and for ethnopragmatics, free from the danger of “terminological
ethnocentrism”. As the distinguished anthropologist Roy D’Andrade (2001:
246) remarks, the natural semantic metalanguage: “offers a potential means
to ground all complex concepts in ordinary language and translate concepts
from one language to another without loss or distortion in meaning”.
Ethnopragmatics: a new paradigm 5
2. Cultural scripts
One of the key techniques for ethnopragmatic description, used extensively
by contributors to this volume, is the “cultural script”. Essentially, this re-
fers to a statement framed largely or entirely within the non-ethnocentric
metalanguage of semantic primes of some particular attitude, evaluation,
or assumption which is hypothesised to be widely known and shared among
people of a given speech community. The earliest explicit statement of the
cultural scripts approach can be found in an article by Anna Wierzbicka
published in 1994, though the roots of the approach are evident in her
landmark volume Cross-Cultural Pragmatics (first published 1991, reis-
sued 2003). Since then, the cultural scripts approach has been explored and
refined via studies of a growing number of languages and cultures, most
recently in the edited collection Cultural Scripts (Goddard and Wierzbicka
eds 2004). A sample of this work is tabulated in Table 2.
Table 2. Sample of previous studies using cultural scripts
Publication details
Related publications
Peeters (1999, 2000),
Wierzbicka (2002b,
Peeters (2004), Béal (1990, 1992, 1993,
1994), Stollznow (2004), Wierzbicka (1985,
1992: Ch 11, 1997a: Ch 5)
Wierzbicka (1996c), Ye
(2004a, b)
Ye (2001, 2002), Kornacki (1995, 2001)
Ameka (1994), Ameka/
Breedveld (2004)
Ameka (1987, 2002)
Peeters (1999, 2000),
Travis (2004),
Wierzbicka (1998a)
Béal (1990, 1992, 1993, 1994), Travis
(1998a, 2002), Durst (2001), Wierzbicka
(1999: Ch 3)
Wierzbicka (1996b),
Hasada (1996)
Asano (2003), Hasada (1998, 2001, 2002),
Travis (1998b), Wierzbicka (1997b: Ch 6)
Yoon (2004a)
Yoon (2003, 2004b)
Goddard (1997, 2000,
2002b, 2004a)
Goddard (1994, 1995, 1996, 2001a, b, 2002b)
Wierzbicka (1999: Ch
5–6, 2002a)
Wierzbicka (1985, 1992: Ch 12, 1997a: Ch 3-
4, 1997b, 1998b, c, 2001), Gladkova (2005,
to appear)
Wong (2004a)
Besemeres/Wierzbicka (2003), Wierzbicka
(2003a, b), Wong (2004b, c, 2005)
6 Cliff Goddard
Cultural scripts exist at different levels of generality, and may relate to
different aspects of thinking, speaking, and behaviour. To illustrate, script
[A] below is arguably a high-level script (sometimes termed a master
script”) of Anglo culture, expressing a cultural preference for something
like personal autonomy (cf. Wierzbicka 2003a, this volume). Script [B] is
arguably a master script of Russian culture, expressing a cultural endorse-
ment of, roughly speaking, an expressive” stance in speech and action
(Wierzbicka 2002a). In both cases, it can be argued that the high-level con-
cern captured in these scripts is played out in detail by way of a whole fam-
ily of related speech-practices in the Anglo and Russian speech cultures.
High level scripts such as these are often closely associated with cultural
key words, such as English freedom (and free) and Russian iskrennost’
(roughly ‘sincerity’), respectively.
[A] A high-level Anglo cultural script connected with personal autonomy
people think like this:
when a person does something, it is good if this person can think about it like this:
“I am doing this because I want to do it”
[B] A high-level Russian cultural script connected with “expressiveness”
people think like this:
it is good if a person wants other people to know what this person thinks
it is good if a person wants other people to know what this person feels
Needless to say, societies are heterogeneous, and not every member of
Anglo or Russian society would accept or endorse scripts [A] and [B].
However, the claim is that even those who do not personally identify with
the content of a script are nonetheless familiar with it, i.e., that it forms part
of the interpretative backdrop to discourse and social behaviour in a par-
ticular cultural context.
It can be seen that both scripts are hinged around evaluative compo-
nents: ‘it is good if –– ’. Evaluative components can also take the form ‘it is
not good if ’, ‘it is bad if ’, ‘it is not bad if –– ’, etc.; or other variants
such as ‘it can be good if –– ’and ‘it can be bad if –– ’. Many cultural
scripts are of this general format. Another kind of framing component, use-
ful for other scripts and in other contexts, concerns people’s perceptions of
what they can and can’t do: ‘I can say (think, do, etc.) –– and ‘I can’t say
(think, do, etc.) ’. Lower-level, more specific, scripts are often intro-
duced by when’-components and ‘if’-components, representing relevant
Ethnopragmatics: a new paradigm 7
aspects of social context. Script [C], for example, is a lower-level script
linked with Anglo “personal autonomy”. It expresses the Anglo distaste for
abrupt directives, reflected in many ways in the phraseology and discourse
patterns of English (Wierzbicka, this volume).
[C] An Anglo cultural script for avoiding “strong” directives
people think like this:
when I want someone to do something,
it is not good if I say something like this to this person:
“I want you to do it
I think that you will do it because of this
Mere possession of a common language does not mean that people nec-
essarily share all their cultural scripts and associated ethnopragmatic behav-
iours. Particularly with a global language such as English, there are marked
regional and social variations, as one would expect of societies with differ-
ent histories and lived experiences. The cultural scripts of “non-Anglo”
English-speaking societies can differ extensively from Anglo English varie-
ties. Wong (2004a) shows that Singapore English, for example, has no cul-
tural scripts endorsing Anglo-style personal autonomy in the style of scripts
[A] and [C], and, consequently, that Singapore English speakers employ a
very different interactional style so far as directives are concerned.
Even different varieties of Anglo English, such as Australian English,
British English, and American English, may have significantly different
cultural scripts in certain respects. For example, Wierzbicka (1999: Ch 6)
has argued that Anglo-American English, even more than other varieties of
Anglo English, values and encourages the display of ‘good feelings that
one may not necessarily feel, and, conversely, the suppression of ‘bad feel-
ings’ whose display may be seen as serving no useful purpose or as un-
pleasant for other people. This is reflected, for example, in what has been
called the American ‘Smile Code’ (Klos Sokol 1997: 117): “In American
culture, you don’t advertise your daily headaches; it’s bad form; so you turn
up the corners of the mouth – or at least try – according to the Smile Code.”
Another reflection of this attitude is the ubiquitous presence of the word
great in American discourse (cf. Wolfson 1983: 93), both as a modifier
(especially of the verb to look, e.g., You look great! or Your X (hair, gar-
den, apartment, etc.) looks great!) and as a “response particle”, e.g., That’s
great! or Great! The importance of positive feelings is also reflected in the
key role of the adjective happy in American discourse, used, among other
8 Cliff Goddard
things, as a yardstick for psychological well-being and social adjustment
(Bellah et al. 1985: 115). To capture these attitudes, in part, Wierzbicka has
proposed the “verbal cheerfulness” script given in [D].
[D] An Anglo-American cultural script for “cheerfulness in verbal interactions
people think like this:
when I say something to other people,
it is good if these people think that I feel something good
it is not good if these people think that I feel something bad
Scripts like the one presented in [D] touch upon the area sometimes
termed “communicative style”. And indeed, a significant part of the corpus
of work on cultural scripts concerns communicative styles and strategies in
different languages and cultures. As another example, script [E] below has
been proposed as one of a suite of Malay cultural scripts enjoining caution
in speech and action generally, and in particular, caution about other peo-
ple’s feelings (Goddard 1997, 2000). Many traditional Malay sayings and
expressions echo this theme, such as jaga hati orang ‘look after people’s
feelings’, memilihara perasaan ‘looking after feelings’, and bertimbah
perasaan ‘weighing feelings’. One cultural commentator’s list of Malay
values includes the following: “showing consideration and concern, antici-
pating the other... and, above all, being sensitive to the other person” (Wil-
son 1967: 132); another stresses “the great emphasis placed on harmonious
personal relations in Malay culture” (Rogers 1993: 30).
[E] A Malay cultural script for verbal caution about others’ feelings
people think like this:
it is not good if when I say something to someone,
this person feels something bad because of it
because of this, when I want to say something to someone,
it is good if I think about it for some time before I say it
To a certain extent, this script overlaps with an Anglo script which encour-
ages people not to “hurt other people’s feelingsunnecessarily. However,
the Malay script in [E] goes beyond this to spell out a specific strategy
namely, a period of premeditation before saying anything, and this creates a
quite different communicative mode to Anglo ways of speaking, which
privilege something like “personal expression” for its own sake.
Ethnopragmatics: a new paradigm 9
In introducing the notion of cultural scripts at the beginning of this sec-
tion, I said that they were framed “largely or entirelyin the metalanguage
of semantic primes. This qualification was necessary because it has recently
become apparent that to formulate certain kinds of cultural scripts opti-
mally requires not only semantic primes, but also certain “semantic mole-
cules”. Semantic molecules are complex word-meanings which function as
chunks or units in cultural scripts and/or semantic explications. Many cul-
tural scripts must include as semantic molecules the concepts of men’,
‘women and children’; for example, the rules governing the usage of T/V
pronoun forms and other terms of address in European languages (Wierz-
bicka 2004).
Script [F] gives a similar example. According to Ameka and Breedveld
(2004), this is an “areal cultural script shared by many languages of West
Africa. It simply specifies that one cannot say a person’s name, when
speaking to a person, if this person is not thought of as a child. In this
script, the terms ‘child’ and ‘name’ are both semantic molecules (and are
marked as such by the notation [M]).
[F] A West African cultural script for name avoidance in adult address
people think like this:
if I think about someone like this: “this person is not a child [M]”
when I want to say something to this person, I can’t say this person’s name [M]
The semantic molecules men, women’ and ‘children may well be
universal or near-universal in the world’s languages, since they seem to
represent a basic and widely shared system of social categorisation (cf.
Goddard and Wierzbicka to appear). It is clear, however, that cultural
scripts may also draw on language-specific semantic molecules, represent-
ing language-and-culture-specific social categorisations. For example,
Yoon (2004a) has shown that certain Korean scripts make reference to the
Korean social category noin (roughly) ‘respected old people’. The word
noin is a cultural key word of Korean. Script [G] captures the culturally
expected attitude of younger Koreans when they are with noin (Yoon
2004a). This includes seeing noin as “above” them,
being aware of verbal
and nonverbal constraints, a perceived inability to defy the expressed
wishes of old people (and even a positive attitude towards complying with
their will), and the perceived need for caution in order to avoid causing
them any negative feelings.
10 Cliff Goddard
[G] A Korean cultural script for interacting with noin
people think like this:
when I am with some people, if these people are noin [M] I have to think like this:
“these people are not people like me, these people are people above me
because I am with these people now I cannot do some things, I cannot say
some things, I cannot say some words
if these people say to me: ‘I want you to do something’, I can’t say to them:
‘I don’t want to do it’
if these people want me to do something, it will be good if I do it
it will be very bad if these people feel something bad because of me”
In a similar vein, Ye (2004a) has shown that many Chinese interactional
norms hinge on the distinction between the Chinese social categories of
shúrén (roughly) ‘an acquaintance, someone known personally’ and
shēngrén (roughly) ‘a stranger, a non-acquaintance’. Script [H] shows one
such script. It sets out the perceived obligation, in Chinese society, to enact
a certain kind of greeting routine (dǎ zhā ohu), when meeting after some
time with people who are shúrén. It should be clear at this point that cul-
tural scripts can “reach down” to very specific details of communicative
practice, such as name avoidance, greeting routines, responses to particular
conversational moves, and the like. Naturally, these more specific scripts
are often longer and more involved than higher-level scripts.
[H] A Chinese cultural script for dǎ zhāohu routine with shúrén
people think like this:
when I see a shúrén [M], if I have not seen this person for some time
I have to say something like this to this person:
“I see you now
because of this I know that you are doing something now
I want to know more about it”
if I say this, this person can think because of this that I feel something good towards
this person
if I don’t say this, this person can think that I feel something bad towards this person
I don’t have to say something like this to a person if this person is not a shúrén [M]
Cultural scripts can be used to develop improved descriptions and inter-
pretations of rhetorical” speech practices such as, to use conventional la-
bels, active metaphor, irony, sarcasm, hyperbole, euphemism, and so on
(Goddard 2004b; Wierzbicka 2002b, 2002c, 2004). The problem with the
conventional labels is that they gloss over major differences between lan-
guages and between contexts. Just as there is no unitary phenomenon of
Ethnopragmatics: a new paradigm 11
“directness” in terms of which speech styles in different languages can be
compared, neither is there any unitary phenomenon of “metaphor” or
“irony”. The concept of metaphor”, for example, is an artefact of a par-
ticular cultural tradition which can be traced back to classical Greek rheto-
ric. It encapsulates a complex meaning which lacks precise equivalents in
many probably most of the world’s languages. For example, the Malay
term kiasan includes allusion and innuendo, as well as metaphor and sim-
ile; another term ibarat can be used not only about metaphors but also
about didactic analogies, fables, and illustrative examples. Furthermore,
there are cultures, such as the Yankunytjatjara of Central Australia, in
which active metaphorising is marginal at best (Goddard 2004b).
Cultural scripts allow us to “unpack culturally shared understandings
of particular ways with words from an insider perspective, without re-
course to such technical and language-specific labels. Goddard (2004b) has
argued, for example, that one type of English metaphor (the traditional
“active metaphor”) can be understood in terms of script [I] below (pre-
sented in a revised and improved version). This script sums up a chunk of
cultural common knowledge about Anglo speech practices; namely, that
speakers sometimes knowingly use words which can express a meaning
different to the intended meaning, with a view to making the listener think
about what is being said; in more abstract terms, in the interests of securing
cognitive engagement from the listener. The speech practice described in
script [I] is not universal, but is linked with culture-specific goals of ex-
pressiveness, originality, and individuality.
[I] An Anglo cultural script about active metaphorising and related speech
people think like this:
sometimes when a person wants to say something about something,
this person says it with some words, not with other words,
because this person thinks like this:
“I know that these words can say something else
I want to say it with these words because if I say it like this, people will have to
think about it
I want this
it can be good if a person can say things in this way
Other work on “rhetorical” speech practices includes the work of
Wierzbicka (2004, 2002c) on “dramatic hyperbole” in Biblical Hebrew,
and in Arabic discourse. The application of the cultural scripts approach
12 Cliff Goddard
promises to bring improved clarity and precision to the field of comparative
rhetoric, a field which, as Kennedy (1998) observes, is almost entirely lack-
ing in theoretical and methodological underpinnings.
Cultural scripts are not necessarily confined to matters directly related to
ways of speaking, or more generally, to communication. They may also be
employed to articulate cultural preferences for particular ways of thinking
and feeling; in other words, to describe aspects of cognitive style and emo-
tional style. For example, Wierzbicka (1999: Ch 6) has argued that Anglo-
American culture favours a cognitive stance which may be dubbed “posi-
tive thinking” (using a common ethno-description of the culture con-
cerned). It can be partially portrayed as in script [J]. Traditional Chinese
culture, by contrast, encouraged an attitude which can be partially captured
in the Middle Way script given in [K], associated with Buddhism and
Confucianism (Wierzbicka 1993).
[J] An Anglo-American cultural script for “positive thinking
people think like this:
it is good if a person can often think that something good will happen
it is good if a person can often feel something good because of this
[K] A Chinese cultural script for the philosophy of the “Middle Way”
people think like this:
when something very bad happens to a person, it is good if this person thinks like this:
“something good can happen to me afterwards because of this”
if a person thinks like this, this person will not feel something very bad
this is good
when something very good happens to a person, it is good if this person thinks like this:
“something bad can happen to me afterwards because of this”
if a person thinks like this, this person will not feel something very good
this is good
Cultural scripts can also be employed to spell out widespread cultural
beliefs beliefs which may be profoundly explanatory of aspects of com-
municative practice. The following examples of “belief scripts” are intro-
duced with the same ‘people think like this: –– component as the scripts
we have seen so far. The difference is that the content they express is not
presented in an evaluative form (i.e., in components involving ‘it is
good/bad if…’), but in a “plain” statement-like form.
Goddard (1997) has argued that traditional Malay culture includes a
high-level “belief script concerned with the concept of balasan, a noun
Ethnopragmatics: a new paradigm 13
derived from the verb balas ‘to return (to someone), return in kind’. It is
presented in [L]. Numerous traditional sayings convey the message that a
person’s deeds, whether good or bad, will be repaid in kind: Setiap perbua-
tan, baik atau jahat, akan ada balasan ‘every deed, whether good or
wrong, will have its balasan’. This script leaves it open as to whether the
balasan ‘return is likely to come from other people, or in the form of an
apparently inexplicable event (which can be interpreted as the will of God),
or whether the balasan might not be apparent until the afterlife. As can
easily be imagined, a script like [L] has far-reaching implications for atti-
tudes and behaviours.
[L] A Malay cultural script on balasanreturn in kind” for one’s deeds
people think like this:
good things will happen to a person if this person does good things
bad things will happen to a person if this person does bad things
According to Ameka (1987; cf. Goddard and Wierzbicka 1997), Ewe
culture includes a cultural belief that good things cannot happen to people
without the intervention of supernatural beings, such as ancestral spirits or
local divinities, and, ultimately God (Máwú). Such a belief can be modelled
as follows.
[M] An Ewe cultural script on the efficacious role of supernatural beings
people think like this:
good things cannot happen to a person
if beings of another kind don’t do some things
It is on account of this belief, Ameka argues, that verbal routines used in
response to the news that various ‘good thingshave happened to a person
include expressions such as:
úwò w
! ‘Beings around you have
worked!’, Máwú w
! ‘God has worked!, and T
gbéwó w
! ‘Ances-
tors have worked!’
The two previous scripts were concerned with how things happen in the
world. Another class of belief scripts which can be particularly pertinent to
people’s ways of speaking and interacting can be termed “social models”;
i.e., widely shared representations about what people are like, about what
kinds of people there are, about what kinds of relations exist between peo-
ple, and so on. Yoon (2004a) has proposed a widely shared script of this
kind for Korean culture. It is given, in a slightly adapted form,
in [N]
14 Cliff Goddard
below. It presents a picture of society as consisting, broadly speaking, of
two groups. One of these groups consists of ‘people above me’; and these
people are seen as necessarily ‘people not like me’. The other group, i.e.,
those who are ‘people not above me’, is further seen as apportioned be-
tween some who are ‘people like me’ and others who are ‘people below
me’. The script portrays what one may term a “vertical” model of society.
[N] A Korean cultural script for a “vertical” model of society
people think like this:
some people are people above me, they are not people like me
other people are people not above me
some of these other people are people like me
some of these other people are people below me
The broad two-way division corresponds to the major cleavage in the
highly elaborated Korean system of speech styles and honorification. One
uses contaymal (polite, respectful language) with ‘people above me’ and
panmal (plain, non-respectful language, lit: half language) with others (cf.
Lee and Ramsey 2000). As described above, respected elder people (Ko-
rean noin) necessarily fall into the “above” category, but so do many oth-
ers, including categories of people such as teachers and doctors.
Cultural scripts can also deal with nonverbal communicative practices,
as indicated by the reference above to the possibility of different cultural
functions of smiling. The semantics and ethnopragmatics of facial expres-
sions have been discussed by Wierzbicka (1999: Ch 4, 1995), Hasada
(1996), and Ye (2004b). Ye’s contribution to the present volume is an im-
portant addition to this growing literature. Doubtless a great deal remains to
be explored in this area, including applications of the cultural scripts ap-
proach to other nonverbal practices, such as gestures and gesturing, body
postures, touching and proxemics, voice and vocalisation styles, and so on.
3. Linguistic evidence for ethnopragmatics
Ethnopragmatics does not disregard nonlinguistic evidence, such as that
produced in ethnographic and sociological studies. On the contrary, such
evidence can be very helpful. However, ethnopragmatics places particular
emphasis upon linguistic evidence, for three reasons. The first is that lin-
guistic evidence the evidence of usage is anchored in everyday dis-
Ethnopragmatics: a new paradigm 15
course, in routine daily communicative practice. Common words and ex-
pressions, phraseological patterns, interactional routines, and the like, are
part of the texture of everyday life. Second, linguistic usage is for the most
part unconscious, in the sense that it is not subject to deliberate monitoring
and adjustment. In a very real sense, linguistic usage functions as an “in-
dex” of routine ways of thinking (cf. Boas 1911; Whorf 1956; Slobin 1996,
2000). In recent times, the increasing availability of large corpora is making
the evidence of linguistic usage more accessible and more detailed than
ever before.
The third reason for the importance attached to linguistic evidence is
that, if analysed with appropriate tools, linguistic evidence allows us to stay
close to an insider perspective. Ethnographic and sociological studies, on
the other hand, often re-code” indigenous terms and viewpoints into those
of the external observer, thereby losing touch with the indigenous view-
point. For example, sociologist Geert Hofstede (1997: 28) reported that
Malaysia ranked most highly of 53 countries and regions on his “power
distance index”, which indicates the extent to which less powerful” indi-
viduals expect to and are willing to obey authority. From an ethnoprag-
matic perspective it is striking how distant this formulation is from ordinary
Malay ways of speaking about social relationships, which are typically
framed not in terms of “power (Malay kuasa), but in terms of the cultural
key word hormat (roughly) “respect” (Goddard 2000).
Many different kinds of linguistic evidence have been used in the devel-
oping literature on ethnopragmatics. Some critics have seen in this wide
range of evidence types a lack of systematicity. It is true that there is in
ethnopragmatics, as in many fields of inquiry, a danger of selective use of
evidence. On the other hand, given the very wide range of cultural types,
language types, and communicative practices, it is misguided to expect that
any set inventory of evidence types would work equally well for all lan-
guages. Even so, it may be helpful to itemise some of the kinds of linguistic
evidence which have proved valuable to date. It goes without saying that
any such evidence has to be interpreted with the aid of appropriate analyti-
cal methods – above all, with sound methods of semantic analysis.
Cultural key words (cf. Wierzbicka 1992: Ch 1, 1997a, 2006; Goddard
2000, 2001a, b; Peeters 2000, 2004; Yoon 2004b; Ye to appear). Terms for
values, social categories, ethnopsychological constructs, and ethnophiloso-
phical terms have proved particularly fruitful sources, but cultural key
words can also turn up in unexpected places, as with the Australian English
16 Cliff Goddard
swearword and discourse marker bloody (Wierzbicka 2002b). It is of course
important to be wary of singling out any term as “the” cultural Rosetta
Stone. No matter how revealing, any single key word must necessarily give
an unbalanced picture of the complexities and cross-currents in any culture.
Proverbs and common sayings. These often tap into the same layer of
“cultural common sense” as key words.
Common words and expressions. No matter how humble, these can often
be a revealing index of the tenor of ordinary discourse, especially if fre-
quency data is available from corpora, e.g., the high frequency of Russian
expressions for ‘absolutely and similar meanings in combination with
judgements and evaluations (Wierzbicka 1992: Ch 12).
Words for speech acts and genres. These represent a kind of “cultural
catalogue” of interaction types. Languages differ markedly, however, in the
number and nature of their speech act inventories (Wierzbicka 1985, 1987,
2003a: Ch 2, Ch 5; Goddard 2004c, 2002b; Béal 1990, 1994).
Terms of address; such as various pronouns, titles, quasi-kin terms, des-
ignations by profession or role, terms of endearment or familiarity, etc.
(Wierzbicka 1992: Ch 7–8).
Interactional routines; such as greetings and partings, appropriate things
to say (if anything) when good things happen, when bad things happen,
when someone does something good for one, etc. (Wierzbicka 2003a: Ch 4;
Ameka 1987, 1994, 1999; Ameka and Breedveld 2004; Béal 1992, 1993).
Phraseological patterns; such as the English “interrogative imperatives”
and tag questions, or the numerous Russian expressions based on “neces-
sity” and “obligation” (Wierzbicka 1992: Ch 12, 2003a: Ch 2).
Patterns of “turn taking” and other conversational management strate-
gies; such as preferences for non-interruption, for overlap, for incomplete
or elliptical expressions, etc. (Peeters 2000; cf. Béal 1992, 1993).
Derivational morphology expressive of social meanings; such as interper-
sonal warmth, “respect”, etc; including diminutives and honorifics
(Wierzbicka 1992: Ch 7–8; Travis 2004; Yoon 2004a)
– Discourse particles and interjections (Ameka ed. 1992; Asano 2003;
Wierzbicka 2002b, 2003a: Ch 8; Wong 2004a).
To this non-exhaustive list of valuable sources of evidence for ethno-
pragmatic analysis, one can add the literature of cross-cultural experience,
especially the life stories of bilingual language immigrants, cf. Besemeres
(2002), Besemeres and Wierzbicka (eds in press).
Ethnopragmatics: a new paradigm 17
4. The seven deadly sins of “universalist pragmatics” (UP)
Before passing to the studies in the present volume, it is well to remind
ourselves of the major trends in the “universalist pragmatics” (UP) para-
digm, against which these ethnopragmatic studies can be counterposed.
Perhaps the three leading trends in universalist pragmatics are: (i) Gricean
and neo-Gricean pragmatics, from Grice (1975) through to Sperber and
Wilson (1995) and Levinson (2000), (ii) the “politeness theory inaugu-
rated by Brown and Levinson (1978), and (iii) the contrastive pragmatics of
Blum-Kulka and colleagues, which focuses on variable cultural realisations
of speech acts (Blum-Kulka, House, and Kasper eds 1989; Blum-Kulka and
Kasper 1993). These three trends are of course universalist in different
respects and with different emphases. Neo-Gricean pragmatics assumes
certain universal principles of communication, politeness theory assumes a
universal model of positive and negative face needs (generating positive
and negative politeness strategies), and contrastive pragmatics assumes a
universal inventory of speech act types.
As mentioned in section 1, it is increasingly evident that these avowedly
universalist models are Anglocentric, in the sense that they adopt some
aspect of Anglo norms or practices as a baseline or template, and then at-
tempt to generalise or adjust this to suit all other cultural settings. The criti-
cism is most readily illustrated with Grice’s (1975) maxims such as ‘Say no
more than is required and ‘Avoid obscurity’. As critics have often re-
marked, these sound more like the ideals of an Anglo-American philoso-
pher than the outcomes of the natural logic of human communication. The
situation hardly improves when reformulated in terms of “relevance”, given
that the term relevance itself, which is supposed to sum up the overriding
principle of communication, is so culture-specific that it lacks equivalents
even in most European languages, let alone in most of languages of the
world. Of course it is possible for a defender of relevance theory (or
Grice’s maxims) to make light of the culture-specific nature of their central
construct, but this merely illustrates ethnocentrism in action.
Brown and Levinson’s politeness theory betrays its Anglo origins in its
profoundly “individualist” character, as pointed out by an increasing number
of critics, especially from East Asia. It is also deeply flawed by terminologi-
cal ethnocentrism in its primary dichotomies of “positive face” and negative
face”, and in its uncritical use of descriptors such as “direct” and “indirect” –
not to mention the quintessentially Anglo term imposition. As for contrastive
pragmatics, it is flawed by the assumption that English speech act categories
18 Cliff Goddard
such as ‘request’, ‘apology’, and ‘compliment’ are appropriate tools for de-
scribing languages and cultures which have no such indigenous categories.
The weaknesses of universalist pragmatics can be usefully itemised in
the following list – the Seven Deadly Sins of Universalist Pragmatics (UP).
1. Universalist Pragmatics (UP) grossly underestimates the cultural shap-
ing of speech practices.
2. Being framed in terms which are alien to the speakers concerned, UP
necessarily imposes an “outsider perspective”.
3. UP creates a gulf between pragmatics and the description of other
cultural phenomena.
4. UP describes, but it seldom explains.
5. UP is terminologically “slippery”: different authors use its technical
descriptors with different meanings.
6. UP is Anglocentric: it implicitly adopts Anglo norms and practices as
baseline universals, and its English-based descriptors are replete with
terminological ethnocentrism.
7. Being locked into the vocabulary of a foreign language, UP closes off
the description to the people concerned.
5. This volume
The studies in this volume amply demonstrate that cultural scripts are able to
“do the job” of ethnopragmatic description in fine detail and with great ex-
planatory force, while avoiding terminological ethnocentrism, and in such a
way as to integrate ethnopragmatic description with broader cultural themes.
Anna Wierzbicka describes cultural scripts which inhibit speakers of
mainstream Anglo Englishfrom putting pressure on others, thereby mo-
tivating a range of alternative strategies and conversational moves. Cliff
Goddard contextualises and explicates a characteristically Australian form
of deadpan jocular irony, often misunderstood by English speakers of other
cultural backgrounds. Jock Wong shows how terms of address and related
speech practices of Singapore English reflect and enact a model of social
hierarchy based on generational differences. These first three studies, it
should be pointed out, all focus on aspects of the English language. To “de-
naturalise” the pragmatics of English is one of the most urgent tasks of
ethnopragmatics (cf. Wierzbicka 2006).
Zhengdao Ye focuses on facial expressions, and their corresponding
lexical expressions, in Chinese. To understand the significance of these
Ethnopragmatics: a new paradigm 19
expressions in context, she argues, one must grasp the underlying norms
that encourage and prescribe certain emotional expressions in Chinese cul-
ture. Rie Hasada explores cultural attitudes towards the expression of emo-
tions and their implications for interactional style in Japanese. Catherine
Travis shows how the values of confianza (‘trust’) and calor humano (‘hu-
man warmth’) influence various discourse features of Colombian Spanish.
Felix Ameka discusses the ethnopragmatics of speech formulas for “grati-
tude” in West African languages such as Ewe, Akan, and Buli, showing
how they presuppose deeply culturally embedded values and beliefs about
death and the rituals related to it.
The studies in this volume address languages and cultures from every
continent. Taken together, they are an impressive demonstration of the
power and subtlety of the new methods and techniques of a semantically
grounded ethnopragmatics.
1. For example, in a recent and supposedly comprehensive Handbook of Prag-
matics (Horn and Ward eds 2004), with 32 individual chapters running to over
800 pages, the term ‘culture’ does not even appear in the Index.
2. A good deal of ethnopragmatics has been conducted under the banner of
“cross-cultural pragmatics”, including Anna Wierzbicka’s (2003a) ground-
breaking volume of this name. Ethnopragmatics is a more appropriate desig-
nation, however, for several reasons. First, ethnopragmatics does not necessar-
ily adopt a contrastive or comparative approach: it can be undertaken within a
single language and culture. Second, many works conducted under the general
banner of cross-cultural pragmatics do not share the three-fold alignment of
objectives, methods, and evidence base described here. Third, the term ethno-
pragmatics is more perspicacious because it highlights the key feature which
differentiates it from the universalist mainstream, namely, its emphasis on cul-
turally anchored explanations.
3. This Table is an updated version of the one presented in Goddard (2002c: 14).
The newly proposed primes BE (SOMEWHERE) (‘be of location’) and BE
(SOMEONE/SOMETHING) (‘be of specification’) have been added, as have
TOUCH (‘contact’) and MOMENT (cf. Goddard 2002d, in press).
. In this volume, cultural scripts are introduced by the component ‘people think
like this’. Though this is simple and clear, it is not clear that the wording is
fully optimal. For some purposes, one could argue that more complex ver-
sions such as ‘many people think like this’, or ‘people know that many people
20 Cliff Goddard
think like this’ would be more appropriate. It is also possible that different
kinds of scripts might require somewhat different framing components. This
issue is left open for further research.
5. Yoon (2004a) cites the following set of Korean fixed expressions, which all
refer to the cultural imperative to show respect for people who are older than
oneself. Notice the repeated use of ‘above’ and ‘below: wuy ala an kali-ko
[regardless of above and below], wuy alay pwunpyel epsi [without thinking of
above and below], nen wuy alay-to eps-e? [don’t you have above or below],
wuy alay-lul molu-ta [not knowing above or below].
6. An earlier formulation of “belief scripts” assumed that a different introductory
frame was required, hinged around the semantic prime KNOW, namely, eve-
ryone knows: –– ’. (The word ‘everyone’ can be regarded as a language-
specific portmanteau for ALL and SOMEONE.) The idea was to directly portray
the “taken for grantedstatus of the cultural belief. Despite the attractions of
this idea, there were also problems: in particular, the proposed ‘everyone
knows: –– component seemed a bit too “strong”. Comments by Bert Peeters
have persuaded me that the requisite effect is achieved by the simpler means
described in the chapter.
7. Yoon’s (2004a) original script was introduced by an initial component it is
good if a person thinks about people like this’; but it seems debatable whether
such a component is necessary or appropriate. It would present the content of
the social model as a “recommended” way of thinking about society, rather
than as a “social reality”, so to speak. The version given as script [N] is
slightly condensed as compared with Yoon’s (2004a) original phrasing, but
the essential content remains the same.
I would like to thank Bert Peeters, Anna Wierzbicka, Zhengdao Ye, and
Kyung-Joo Yoon for helpful comments on earlier versions of this chapter.
Amberber, Mengistu
2003 The grammatical encoding of thinking in Amharic. Cognitive
Linguistics 14 (2/3): 195–220.
In press The lexical exponents of semantic primes in Amharic. In Cross-
Linguistic Semantics, Cliff Goddard (ed.). Amsterdam: John Ben-
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... Since "the study of names cannot be isolated from the study of the societies in which those human beings live, nor from the study of their minds, their mental and emotional processes and their behavioural patterns" (Neethling 2000: 209), this study had to be theoretically undergirded by an ethnopragmatic paradigm (Goddard 2006) and the social constructivist theory (Vygotsky 1978). Goddard's (2006) paradigm studies the locally relevant construction of cultural and contextual meanings in the interpretation of language practices on locally constitutive, culturally specific meanings that make sense to the people concerned, and which take into account the indigenous values, beliefs, attitudes, social categories and emotions of a community of speakers (Mensah et al. 2019). ...
... Since "the study of names cannot be isolated from the study of the societies in which those human beings live, nor from the study of their minds, their mental and emotional processes and their behavioural patterns" (Neethling 2000: 209), this study had to be theoretically undergirded by an ethnopragmatic paradigm (Goddard 2006) and the social constructivist theory (Vygotsky 1978). Goddard's (2006) paradigm studies the locally relevant construction of cultural and contextual meanings in the interpretation of language practices on locally constitutive, culturally specific meanings that make sense to the people concerned, and which take into account the indigenous values, beliefs, attitudes, social categories and emotions of a community of speakers (Mensah et al. 2019). Among the Vhavenḓa, personal names are cultural resources, and naming is a culture-specific discourse practice (Mandende et al. 2019). ...
Names and naming practices are an integral part of Tshivenḓa culture. Among the Vhavenḓa people of South Africa, names serve not only as identity markers, but also function as communication tools and may be assigned in the hope that they will have a bearing on a person's "destiny" in life. Therefore, an analysis of Tshivenḓa names can help to unearth the complex and rich traditions of the Vhavenḓa as well as their selfhood. In this article, a representative selection of Tshivenḓa poetry is analysed in light of the insights it provides into the essence and meaning of Tshivenḓa names. In the analysis, it is revealed that Tshivenḓa names and the Vhavenḓa's naming practices enable people to gain a deeper understanding of their selfhood, identity and ideologies. Undergirded by a dual theoretical framework (ethnopragmatics and social constructivist theory), this study involved the analysis of five Tshivenḓa poems which thematised five Tshivenḓa anthroponyms. The selected poems were all published by Tendamudzimu Robert Ratshiṱanga (1987) in Vhadzimu vho tshenuwa. The study was purely qualitative in approach and relied on thematic analysis to access the selected texts. It was found that names are not only used to identify people, places and varied phenomena and noumena, but also carry intrinsic philosophies and meanings that serve as indices into the Vhavenḓa's selfhood, identity and culture. It is recommended that African onomastics and anthroponomy be considered in the ongoing discourse on decolonising centres of knowledge production in the African context.
... Además de lo expuesto hasta ahora, nos parece igualmente interesante la aproximación que a este tema ha realizado la etnopragmática, disciplina que trata de entender los usos lingüísticos con una perspectiva intracultural, describiendo para ello el guion cultural (cultural script), compuesto por los valores, creencias, conductas y formas de comunicarse que son propias de una comunidad de habla (Fernández, 2020: 410;Goddard, 2004Goddard, , 2006Goddard y Wierzbicka, 2004: 157;Peeters, 2013) y que constituyen el ethos comunicativo de dicha comunidad (Wierzbicka, 2006: 22-25;Baran, 2010: 140). Todo ello actúa como un "telón de fondo interpretativo del discurso y del comportamiento social en un contexto cultural particular" (Goddard y Wierzbicka, 2004: 157). ...
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La importancia del contexto en el análisis de las secuencias formulaicas (SF) y su aprovechamiento en ELE: aproximación sociocognitiva y etnopragmática a las actitudes de hablantes nativos Narciso Miguel Contreras Izquierdo 1 Enviado: 1 de noviembre de 2021 / Aceptado: 17 de enero de 2022 Resumen. En la competencia léxica, considerada un componente central y transversal del sistema lingüístico, las denominadas unidades fraseológicas (UF) o secuencias formulaicas (SF) constituyen una amplia parte de la misma. En la enseñanza de segundas lenguas, el dominio de estas unidades es fundamental, pues aportan fluidez, precisión y mayor expresividad al discurso. Para el adecuado análisis, enseñanza y aprendizaje de estas expresiones es necesario atender tanto a sus características socioculturales, pues son el reflejo del ethos comunicativo de las comunidades que las emplean, como a las pragmático-discursivas por su dependencia situacional. Para ello, consideramos oportuno estudiar, desde una aproximación sociocognitiva y etnopragmática, las creencias y actitudes de los hablantes nativos sobre el marco situacional y el escenario prototípico en el que son empleadas. Nuestro estudio analiza, desde ese enfoque, las creencias y actitudes de hispanohablantes nativos sobre la función de despedida en contextos informales para el aprovechamiento de esta información en el ámbito del español como lengua extranjera (ELE). Palabras clave: Enseñanza del español como lengua extranjera (ELE); unidades fraseológicas; contexto; actitudes lingüísticas. [en] The importance of context in the analysis of formulaic sequences (FS) and its use in SFL: sociocognitive and ethnopragmatic approach to the attitudes of native speakers Abstract. In lexical competence, considered a central and transversal component of the linguistic system, the so-called phraseological units (PU) or formulaic sequences (FS) constitute a large part of it. In the teaching of second languages, mastering these units is essential, as they provide fluency, precision and greater expressiveness to speech. For the proper analysis, teaching and learning of these expressions, it is necessary to attend both to their sociocultural characteristics, since they are a reflection of the communicative ethos of the communities that use them, and to the pragmatic-discursive ones due to their situational dependence. For this, we consider it appropriate to study, from a sociocognitive and ethnopragmatic approach, the beliefs and attitudes of native speakers about the situational framework and the prototypical scenario in which they are used. Our study analyzes, from this approach, the beliefs and attitudes of native Spanish speakers about the farewell function in informal contexts to take advantage of this information in the field of Spanish as a foreign language (SFL). Keywords: Teaching Spanish as a foreign language (SFL); phraseological units; context; linguistic attitudes. Índice. 1. Introducción. 2. Las secuencias formulaicas (SF), componente esencial de la competencia léxica. 3. Dimensión sociocultural y pragmático-discursiva de las SF. 4. Las creencias y actitudes lingüísticas. 5. Estudio del contexto discursivo de las SF para la despedida en situaciones informales. 5.1. Metodología. 5.2. Análisis y comentario de los datos. 6. Conclusiones. 7. Referencias bibliográficas. Cómo citar: Contreras Izquierdo, N. M. (2023). La importancia del contexto en el análisis de las secuencias formulaicas (SF) y su aprovechamiento en ELE: aproximación sociocognitiva y etnopragmática a las actitudes de hablantes nativos. Círculo de Lingüística Aplicada a la Comunicación, 93, 151-163.
... Latar belakang etnis memiliki kontribusi, karena beberapa masyarakat etnis tertentu memiliki nilai-nilai, keyakinan dan sikap, kategori sosial, emosi dan sebagainya (Goddard, 2006: 2) Hal ini telah dipaparkan berdasarkann konsep dalan etnopragmatik, yang berbicara tentang kekhasan pola setiap etnis termasuk cara khas beberapa etnis di kelas VIII SMP Institut Indonesia. ...