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The story of “Danish Happiness”: Global discourse and local semantics

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Abstract

According to a new global narrative, the Danes are the happiest people in the world. This paper takes a critical look at the international media discourse of “happiness”, tracing its roots and underlying assumptions. Equipped with the Natural Semantic Metalanguage approach to linguistic and cultural analysis, a new in-depth semantic analysis of the story of “Danish happiness” is developed. It turns out that the allegedly happiest people on earth do not (usually) talk and think about life in terms of ”happiness”, but rather through a different set of cultural concepts and scripts, all guided by the Danish cultural keyword lykke . The semantics of lykke is explicated along with two related concepts livsglæde , roughly, ‘life joy’ and livslyst ‘life pleasure’, and based on semantic and ethnopragmatic analysis, a set of lykke -related cultural scripts is provided. With new evidence from Danish, it is argued that global Anglo-International “happiness discourse” misrepresents local meanings and values, and that the one-sided focus on “happiness across nations” in the social sciences is in dire need of cross-linguistic confrontation. The paper calls for a post-happiness turn in the study of words and values across languages, and for a new critical awareness of linguistic and conceptual biases in Anglo-international discourse.

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... The Anglo-international discourse of 'the mind' is also in dire need of cross-linguistic confrontation. Not only does the Anglo English concept of 'the mind' not translate (directly) into European languages such as French, German, Danish, or Russian (Wierzbicka 1992(Wierzbicka , 2013Levisen 2012Levisen , 2014; recent studies in Japanese, Malay, Korean, and Thai personhood constructs have further questioned the Anglophone stronghold of 'the mind' (Hasada 2000;Goddard 2001Goddard , 2008Yoon 2006Yoon , 2008Svetanant 2013). 2 Wierzbicka (2013: 192) calls for an end to the absolutization of the Anglo mind and demonstrates how Anglo-specific concepts in general can become 'conceptual prisons' (see also Goddard & Wierzbicka 2014). We want to continue this attempt to dethrone 'absolutized categories' in Anglo English and to challenge the view that modern Anglo English concepts are representative of what it means to be 'human' . ...
... Below, we have replicated the most recent explication for the Anglo English mind from Wierzbicka (in press), with one minor adjustment based on the discussions in Goddard (2008) and Levisen (2014). ...
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Chapter
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... Recently, there has been a critique of approaches to happiness which make it into a universal matter, recognizing that "cultural variations on happiness are considerable" (Stearns 2012b: 104; see also Levisen 2014;Wierzbicka 2010). Ashley Frawley (2015: 63f) suggests that any universal idea of happiness is troublesome, as it involves a kind of unchanging essence, rather than being a relational and changing matter. ...
Thesis
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