Linguistic Theory and Cultural Conceptualisations

Document Type : Research Paper


Monash University, Asturalia


Formal theories of language have so far been developed out of the study of a limited set of morphosyntactic properties of Indo-European languages. Motivated by a search for linguistic universals, these theories have often led to the formulation of highly idealised models encompassing abstract mechanisms and components. This paper challenges such models and argues for the role of culture in linguistic theories. It presents examples from several languages where various syntactic and discoursal features appear to embody schemas and categories that dwell in cultural and ontological systems. The examples show how grammatical properties such as noun classifiers, pronoun systems, honorifics, demonstrative, etc. may reflect culturally constructed conceptualisations of experience. It is therefore maintained that theories of language need to employ cultural conceptualisations as a tool in accounting for many aspects of linguistic structure.