Language, culture and cognition: The view from space
This paper addresses the vexed questions of how language relates to culture, and what kind of notion of culture is important for linguistic explanation. I first sketch five perspectives - five different construals - of culture apparent in linguistics and in cognitive science more generally. These are: (i) culture as ethno-linguistic group, (ii) culture as a mental module, (iii) culture as knowledge, (iv) culture as context, and (v) culture as a process emergent in interaction. I then present my own work on spatial language and cognition in a Mayan languge and culture, to explain why I believe a concept of culture is important for linguistics. I argue for a core role for cultural explanation in two domains: in analysing the semantics of words embedded in cultural practices which color their meanings (in this case, spatial frames of reference), and in characterizing thematic and functional links across different domains in the social and semiotic life of a particular group of people.
Publication typeJournal article