martedì 13 aprile 2010


Cultural scripts for different ways of thinking ( and associated ways of speaking)

One of the oldest question in language and cultural studies are linked with that idea where different cultures encourage different cognitive styles, or “way of thinking”( (Whorf 1938, Hymes 1961).
For example, modern Anglo culture can be characterised as more rationalistic (more “thinking– oriented”, more “logical”) than many other cultures of the world.
Unfortunately, discussion of these topics have always been plagued by methodological difficulties with how to state and how justify specific proposals.
In this paper, Goddard will illustrate how different ways of thinking can be characterised using the “cultural scripts” approach. This is an approach to cultural description which uses lexical and conceptual universals as its medium of cultural notation, with the goal of reducing terminological ethnocentrism and enabling a close integration of cultural and linguistic description.
Goddard argued that modern Anglo–American culture encourages a portfolio of interrelated attitudes which can be described in informal terms as “positive thinking”, a “can do attitude”, and as placing a high value on “self–esteem”. In the metalanguage of semantic prime, these notions can be spelt out as in this example:

Some partial Anglo–American cultural scripts for thinking
a. It is good if I often think that something good will happen
b. It is good if I often think “ if I want to do something, I can do it”
c. It is good if I can think many good things about me

As another example, traditional Chinese Culture endorsed a set of attitudes sometimes referred to as the “Philosophy of the Middle Way”, and this cultural script encourages something like an acceptance of change in life, and an emotional detachment from the events of the moment.

A partial Chinese script for thinking in line with the Philosophy of the Middle Way
when something very bad happen to me, it is good if I think like this:
something good can happen to me because of this
if I think like this, I will not feel something very bad at that time

... when something very good happens to me, it is good if I think like this:
something bad can happen to me because of this
if I think like this, I will not feel something very good at that time

The scripts above concern what one might call “culturally endorsed attitudes”. Scripts of a different kind many embody different cultural stances about the expression of one's thoughts.
For example, this precedents scripts contrasts Anglo and Japanese attitudes about “saying what one thinks”. Essentially, the Anglo speech culture encourages relatively free expression of personal views, whereas Japanese culture traditionally values a more “guarded” stance.

Some Anglo scripts for being able to say what you think:
a. when someone thinks something about something,
this person can say things like this about it:
'I think like this', 'I don't think like this'

b. no one can say to another person something like this:
“ you have to think like this
because I want you to think like this”

c. no one can say to another person something like this:
“you can't think like this because I don't want you to think like this”
Japanese script inhibiting people from saying all that one thinks:

before I say something to someone
it is good to think like this:
I can't say all that I think
if I do, someone could feel something bad

Wierzbicka (2002) traces this cultural ideology back to John Locke and the empiricist tradition, which holds, on the one hand, that opinion grounded in rational thinking is valuable and that everyone has the right to express their opinion, but insists that opinions should not be held out to be “more” than just that: opinions. They should not be presented as knowledge.

Anglo “I think” vs “I know” script

when I want to say something about something
it is good to think like this:
if I don't know something I can't say that I know it
if I think something about something
I can say that I think like this, I can't say that I know it

Different discourse patterns

Given different cultural scripts, different ethnotheories of the person, different set of epistemic verbs and qualifiers, different degrees and modes of grammaticalisation, it is not surprising that in normal discourse the range of use of the basic THINK verb differs greatly from language to language. Variation in discourse patterning constitutes the sixth and final dimension of variation to be considered in this study.
Wierzbicka (2002) does not hesitate to propose that the function and hight frequency of I think are linked with the cultural importance in the modern Anglo world with distinguishing between what 'I think' and what 'I know'. The basic point is that culturally–based routinisation creates distinctive patterns of usage.

Chapter 2 of Cross cultural pragmatic: semantic of human being

Different cultures,different languages, different speech acts

The cultural norms reflected in speech acts differ not only from one language to another, but also from one regional and social variety to another. There are considerable differences between Australian English and American English. There is also a great deal of variation within Polish. Nonetheless, there is also a remarkable amount of uniformity within English, as there is within Polish, or French or Italian.

The speech act verbs to be examined here are salutare, raccomandare and raccomandarsi (in the form of mi raccomando). These verbs have been chosen because they are of interest both semantically and culturally, they do not have exact equivalents in English, and it seems probable that their importance in Italian is due to some extent to certain characteristics of the culture.
Examples of use of the verbs are mostly drawn from novels and film, as well as some overhead uses and sentence say, but it must be remembered that these are only approximations of the meaning of the original Italian, because English speech act verbs rarely coincide exactly with Italian ones. To explain more fully and exactly the verbs meaning is, of course, the purpose of the NSM explications.

1. Salutare: 'greet', 'farewell, ' say hello to', ' say goodbye to'

Salutare is a word whose full meaning is particularly difficult to translate into English because it is something like a combination of the meanings of more than one English speech act verb. The following examples and their English glosses show some of the different contexts in which salutare can be used:

1) Eravamo a Zurigo, abbiamo pensato di passare a salutarla.
' we were in Zurich so we thought we'd pass by and say hello to her.
2.Settimio salutava e scortava alle poltrone chiunque entrasse.
'Settimio greeted everyone who came in and escorted them to the armchairs'.

3.Era mille volte più rock.... di quando l'avevo salutata la notte della sua festa di matrimonio.
She was a thousand times more 'rock' ... than when I'd said goodbye to her farewelled her on the night of her wedding reception.

4. Misia ha telefonato per salutare suo figlio
'Misia phoned to say hello to her son'.

5. Adesso ti saluto se non perdo l'aereo.
' I have to say goodbye now, otherwise I'll miss the plane'.

6. Salutami Angelo/ la tua mamma/ tutta la famiglia
' Say hello from me to Angelo/ your mum/ the whole family

What can be seen by comparing these example sentences to their English is that salutare has more than one English translation. In similar situations, an English speaker would use the speech act verbs greet or farewell, or simply the expression say hello and say goodbye. It would be incorrect, however, to say that salutare was polysemous between 'greet' and 'farewell', since there is no evidence that this is the case. Italian, it would seem, does not make the distinction that English makes bewteen saying something to someone at the beginning of an encounter ( greeting), and saying something to them at the end ( farewelling). My proposed explication of salutare, formulated uing NSM, is as follows:


(a) I want to say something to you now
(b) I think that it will be good if I say it
( c) I know I can't say things like this to you at all times
( d) I can say it now
( e) I say: I'm thinking about you now
because of this I feel something good
(f) I think that if you can you will say something like this to me at the same time

As shown by precedent examples 4, 5 and 6, salutare can be done not only in person, but also by telephone or by letter, or through a third person,which means that our explication cannot require speaker and addressee to be in the same place. This is one way in which the Italian verb differs from some related English speech act verbs such as greet and farewell. What one has instead is the notion that the speaker is in some kind of unspecified situation which means that he or she can say something to the other person. This is not necessarily because they are together, they could be many miles apart, but they nevertheless have an opportunity to communicate. Component refers to the nature of salutare as a means of delimiting an encounter between two people. It is done either after a period of time has passed when two people have not been able to say things to each other ( 'say hello' in English), or it is used when such a period is about to begin ( 'say goodbye').
Salutare, therefore, is a means of taking an opportunity while we have it of saying something to a person, knowing that we cannot do this at all times. It can be performed not only by speaking, but also by means of a gesture ( such as a wave), so we must remember, when reading this explication, that the prime SAY need not necessarily involve spoken words. It is also not necessarily to know a person to salutare him or her, which is why the explication contains no component like “I know you”. One might easily salutare someone on an afternoon walk in the country, or if one sat next to them on a train, even if one had never met this person.

Naturally, not everyone who perfoms the speech act of salutare does so genuinely, because they really do feel something good about the other person, as captured in component. In example 2, when Settimio “ greets” people coming to a film festival he has organized, it is above all because he wants to make the right impression, that is, he wants them to think he feels good things when he thinks about them. Nevertheless, such examples not change the meaning of the word salutare. Component expresses the message conveyed by salutare, regardless of whether this message is exploited by an insincere speaker to give a false impression of “ good feelings”.
There is considerable cultural significance attached to the speech act salutare. One can easily think up scenarios of people being offended because the salutare ritual was not carried out when it should have been.
7) L'ho vista in città ieri e non mi ha neanche salutato.
' I saw her in town yesterday and she didn't even say hello to me'.
8) E' andato via senza neanche salutarmi.
' he left without even saying goodbye'

Italian even has an expression andarsene all'inglese meaning to leave senza salutare 'without salutare', something that is considered quite rude.
There is also something reciprocal about salutare. In doing it one assumes the addressee will do the same in return. I have used the words “if you can” in this component, since it would not always be possible for someone to return a saluto. Normally, though, one is expected to do so, and if one failed to, this too would be an affront, as is expressed by this proverb:

9) Salutare è educazione, rispondere è obbligo.
' Greeting is polite, replying is one's duty'.

Thus, an examination of the speech act verb salutare not only gives us an insight into a new and different semantic structure, it also gives us an idea of certain Italian cultural norms which go along with it. In many culture, for example, Australian Aboriginal culture,there is no particular norm stipulating that one should greet or farewell people. In contrast to this, salutare is a very important cultural ritual for Italians.

5. Raccomandare

Raccomandare, too, has not exact English translation. It has a number of different senses,only two of which will be explicated here. The first sense we will examine is sometimes translated as ' recommend' or ' entrust', but these are rather inadequate glosses. Raccomandare involves saying to someone that you would like them to help a certain other person in need of some kind of assistance or protection. Often this assistance may be in the form of lenience regarding a punishment, or favour in a search for work, with exams, or with some complicated bureaucratic process. The following examples of this sense of raccomandare come from a Italian dictionary:

10) Francesco Crispi vorrebbe, recandosi in Jersey, far la vostra conoscenza e per mezzo vostro quella di qualch'altro buono. Io ve lo raccomando caldamente. Francesco Crispi would like, in going to Jersey, to make your acquaintance and through you, to meet some other good men. I warmly recommend/entrust him to you.

11) ....dovette ricevere nel suo ufficio una vecchia donna che gli presentava e raccomandava una fanciulla, la propria figlia.
'..... he had to receive in his office an old woman who introduced and recommend/entrusted to him a girl, her own daughter.

“ Recommend” is clearly an inadequate gloss here, it sounds a little odd in English to recommend a person ( unless you are explicitly recommending their services, for example, as a tradeperson), and it doesn't give the full sense of what is meant by the Italian. Replacing “ recommend” with “entrust” does not help a great deal either.

One final examples uses raccomandazione, the nominal form of the speech act verb. In his autobiographical film Caro Diario, Moretti (1994) says that he was finally able to get an appointment with Rome's most highly regarded and sough-after dermatologist “ grazie alla raccomandazione di un amico” ( 'thanks to a friend's raccomandazione'). In this case, the friend used some kind of influence to get Moretti the necessary appointment as quickly as possible, so that he didn't have to wait as long as everyone else. In NSM, the meaning of raccomandare could be expressed along the following lines:



a) I say to you:
b) I know this person (X)
c) I think that X is a good person
d) I think that you can do very good things for x
e) I can't do good things like this for x
f) I want you to do good things for x
g) I think that you think good things about me
h) I think that if you know that I think x is a good person
you will think that x is a good person
i)I think that because of this you will want to do good things for x

As can be seen from this explication, it is usual to raccomandare a friend or acquaintance to a third person who has some kind of superiority and is thus a position to offer the friend something which one cannot offer oneself. In the example from Caro Diario, Moretti's friend is unable to cure his skin condition himself, but he does know a good dermatologist who can help. One makes a raccomandazione precisely because one cannot help oneself, at least not directly. Instead one uses one's good standing with someone who can help. This involves saying that the friends is a good person. Raccomandare is not concerned with giving proof that the friend is a good person, the understanding is rather that the friend must be good simply because the trusted person making the raccomandazione say so. Raccomandare is to do with persuading the addressee to have faith in one's judgement, on the basis of some kind of prior trust or respect: “I think that you think good things about me”. This is a speech act firmly rooted in a society based around notions of family, friendship, acquaintance (conoscenze) and favours. These are concepts which are considerably more salient in Italy than in Anglo society, which is undoubtedly why there is no English speech act verb corresponding closely to this sense of raccomandare.
6. Raccomandarsi (mi raccomando)

The reflexive form, raccomandarsi, also has a number of different senses, one particularly common one being the form mi raccomando. This works as a kind of exhortation to do something, because the speaker knows how important this is. For example, a friend's father once gave me the following warning about Bologna train station, a place he considered very dangerous for a naïve overseas visitor:

12) Stai attenta alla stazione, mi raccomando.
' Make sure you're very careful at the station'

Another example of the way the phrase is used is in this excerpt from a novel, in which the writer describes the chaotic making of an amateur film in the expensively furnished lounge room of a friend's unknowing parents.

13) Ci muovevamo in un'alternanza assurda di gesti incuranti e gesti cauti, schiocchi e schianti e “Piano, piano” e “mi raccomando, mi raccomando”
“ We moved in an absurd alternation of careless gestures and cautious gestures, of cracks and crashes and “Keep it down” and “Careful,careful”

One final example, from a tutorial about interpreting:

14) Dovete tradurre tutto. Mi raccomando.
' You have to translate everything. It's very important.

There are no obvious ways of translating mi raccomando into English. It essentially serves to reinforce the speaker's words and the authority they have because of their awareness of the “bad thing” that might happen if the addressee doesn't follow their advice. In English, of course, this has to be done quite differently, so the glosses above really only go a short way to conveying the meaning of the Italian. A clearer idea can be gained from an explication expressed in simple and universal concepts:


mi raccomando

a) I know that something bad can happen
b) I think that you do not know this
c) I want you to know this
d) I think that if you know this, you will do something
e) I think that if you do this, maybe this bad thing will not happen
f) because of this I say to you:
something bad can happen
you have to think about this
you have to do something because of this
g)I can't not say this

The illocutionary purpose of the expression mi raccomando is to make the addressee realize that something bad can happen, effecting a change in their behaviour which will hopefully avert such an outcome. There is an expectation that one's message will be heard and acted upon ( “if you know this, you will do something”). The speaker feels so strongly about the potential danger that s/he feels almost forced to bring it to the addressee's attention. This is expressed by the final component of the explication.

The person who says mi raccomando is effectively putting their own knowledge, wisdom and judgement forward, quite strongly, in order to convince another person to think hard about what will be the best thing to do. This is a powerful way of providing advice (Parks 1996 on the importance in Italian culture of giving others advice). It is not surprising that English has no speech act corresponding to this, since English, as Wierzbicka (1991) has noted, advice tends to be given rather tentatively. This is because in Anglo culture it is generally unacceptable to 'impose' one's ideas on another person. As a result, English speakers go to great pains to avoid “ putting pressure” on others generally trying to acknowledge, when giving advice or making suggestions, that the addressee does not have to do what they say, for example, by proffering advice in the form of a question, such as “Why don't you speak to your boss about it?”.

In conclusion, a brief examination of some Italian speech act verbs can provide an insight into some semantic, pragmatic, and cultural aspects of the Italian language.

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