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Conceptual frameworks: what we
(perhaps) take for granted when
researching across languages
Jane Woodin
University of Sheffield
• This contribution will offer some insights into possible
linguistic differences in conceptual frameworks relating
to everyday words in languages (in this case
English/Spanish). Through the consideration of
examples of bilingual conversations between language
learners, it will ask how easy it is in real-time
communication to 'decentre' from the communication
focus and consider the communication process itself.
Possible implications of this question will be linked to
'Doing Research Multilingually', whether through
research in multilingual groups, or working with
multilingual data.
Weirzbicka (1992, 1997, 2003)
- aims to find universals across languages
In 1992, she proposed 13 semantic universals: I, you, someone, something, this, want,
don’t want, say, feel, think, know, where & good (1992:10), and in later work (e.g.
2003) suggests that around 60 should be enough for a ‘practical lingua franca for
articulating different culture-specific conventions, norms and values.’ (2003xviii)
They would need to fall into the following criteria:
•
•
•
•
•
these concepts must be intuitively clear and self-explanatory;
they must be impossible to define
they should be demonstratively active as ‘building blocks’ in the construction of other
concepts.
they should ‘prove themselves’ in extensive descriptive work involving many different
languages of the world
they should also ‘prove themselves’ as lexical universals, as concepts which have
their own ‘names’ in languages of the world.
•
(1992:12)
Thank (Wierzbicka)
thank
(a) I know: you did something for me
(b) I feel something good towards you because of this
(c) I say this because I want you to feel something good
kansha suru
(a) I know: you did something good for me
(b) I say: I feel something good towards you because of this
(b’) I know: I couldn’t do something good like this for you
(b’’) I feel something bad because of this
(c) I say this because I think I should say it
Conceptual frameworks
It is generally accepted that word associations are closely related to the
understanding of conceptual meaning (Schmitt and Meara, 1997).
This is not simply cultural but also individual:
Shore (1996) : origins of concepts reside in both personal mental
models and cultural mental models.
He groups lexical sub-models within cultural mental models, which
include linguistic structural models. For Shore, lexical sub-models
include for example taxonomies and lists.
Díaz-Guerrero & Szalay (1991): Equality
• ‘Cooperation and communication about
anything whatever requires some minimal
access to the interlocutor’s current states
of belief and intention. …..
• [It] also requires a shared conceptual map
of the world, as represented in the group’s
commonly-held lexical-semantic
categories’
(Givón, 2005:62)
Modern Foreign Languages
(MFL) perspective
Research into conceptual frameworks (Szalay &
colleagues, Grabois, 1997, Hinkel 1999, Lantolf,
2000) has shown:
• differences in the conceptual frameworks of
native speakers of different languages
• even after 10 years of living in another country.
- inseparability of language and culture?
- ‘languaculture’ (Agar 1993)
- not totally overlapping (Risager, 2006)
An example
• Tandem learners’ conversations about
word meaning
• Cooperar/cooperate
• The broader frame: evidence from
association activities undertaken by 62
native English and 62 native Spanish
speakers
Cooperate/cooperar
Cooperar/Co-operate
Spanish
%
English
%
obligation/control /obligación/control
0
0
7
2.5
fiesta/party
3
1.3
9
3.3
gente/grupo/people/group
30
12.9
33
12.1
desarrollo/futuro/development/pobreza/poverty
33
14.2
19
7
importante/important
17
7.3
11
4
auyda/r/help/(buena) voluntad/(good)will
93
40
69
25.3
juntar/to bring/come together
6
2.6
9
3.3
comunicación/communication
17
7.3
30
11
gobierno/sociedad/government/society
8
3.4
41
15
trabajo/work
25
10.8
45
16.5
Total
232
99.8
273
100
40
30
Spanish
20
English
10
0
oblig.
party
people
devpt
impt
help bring tog. comm.
govt.
work
Lily & Maica (cooperar) Sequence 4
• 1. M: pero para ti cooperar significa (.) ayuda, o?
but does co-operar mean (.) help for you, or?
• 2. L: um (.) no, no ayuda
um (.) no, not help
• 3. M: ¿no?
no?
• 4. L: hablar, pero...
to speak, but….
• 5. M: para mí significa ayuda, (L jeje) significa completamente
distinto (.) tiene un
significado completamente distinto.
for me it means to help (L laughs)..it means completely different, it has
a completely different meaning
6. L: estos son las dos para mí. Ayudar (.) y hablar.
it’s both for me. to help and to speak
7. M: pero hablar, cómo?
but to speak, in what way?
8. L: hablar (.) si tú um (.) di, dices a mí, um vas a, quiero que, no (.) cooperas? con yo
to speak, if you um, say to me you are, I want, you (.) are not cooperating with I
9. M: conmigo
with me
10. L: conmigo, Y (..) yo coopero? jeje
with me and (..) I co-operate (laughs)
11. M: pero no sé no entiendo (2.0) no lo sé (1.0) es que para mí, cooperar es
ayudar, en
todos los sentidos
but I don’t understand (2.0) I don’t know (1.0) for me, co-operate is to help in all
its meanings
Lily & Maica, Sequence 6
1. L: emmm sí creo que en tu (..) what’s opinión?
ummm yes I think that in your (..) what is
‘opinion?
2. M: opinión jeje
opinión (laugh)
3. L: opinión la palabra cooperar significa ayudar,
pero a mí um significa un poco más serioso?
opinion, the word co-operar means to help, but for
me it means a little more serious (serioso)
4. M: serio
serious/formal (serio)
5. L: serio (..) um cuando pienso de la palabra cooperar, pen pen
pienso de la palabra cooperar, um pienso de una un situación
bastante serio, como en una comisaría, porque
serio (..) um when I think of the word cooperar, I think of the word um
I think of a quite a formal situation like in a police station, because
6. M: ah
ah
7. L: La palabra es bastante formal
the word is quite formal
8. M: yo, sí la utilizaría (.) además por ejemplo, también (..) sí, es que
para mí es igual que ayudar. (..) no (.) es igual, no es el mismo
significado, pero prestar tu servicio a alguien o eso, ayudar, sí, lo
que tú has dicho
I would use it as well for example, also (..) yes, for me it is the same as
ayudar, (..) it isn’t (..) the same, not the same meaning, but to offer
your help to someone, or to help, yes, what you have said
Gill (NS) and Eva (NNS): (cooperate)
Sequence 1
6 G like um the people who have contact with do you generally cooperate well with them or
7 E oh then I might not have a good understanding of the word um=
8 G =what did you think, what did you say that you thought it meant cooperate
9 E um for example um two countries that co-operate uh with um
fighting
against terrorism [for example
10 G okay yeah] what you use this word for uh States and Britain cooperating to to fight terrorism and
11 E yeah
12 G what in this case you mean it's bad
cooperation
13 E Well maybe it's maybe they have a good cooperation but [for bad purposes=
14 G
oh I see] sure
Gill (NS) and Eva (NNS): (cooperate)
Sequence 8
6.
G It’s very difficult to think of any other, I think we’ve exhausted
the uh (e jeje)
(2.0)
7.
E uh yeah I can think of the of the police, for example? um that
sometimes to do their investigations needs the co-operation of
people (G uhuh) that have knowledge about
8.
G that’s
9.
E specific areas (Gmhm) or
10. G or things that have happened yeah (..) yeah good idea, actually
yeah, people that co-operate with the police [or
11. E
how] you call that witnesses also co-operate
with the law
12. G mhm
Researching multilingually
• If language learners, on a language learning task, focused on word
meaning, do not find it easy to consider possible differences in
meaning of words, then how easy is it for intercultural teams to do
so?
• How easy is it for us to consider that the results of what we are
researching can be ‘free’ of language – related issues ?
• What assumptions do we make with regard to translatability of
conceptual meaning when working with data/teams multilingually?
• What would happen if we used another language?
What processes might we wish to
adopt when working multilingually?
• definitions of key concepts from/in a variety of
perspectives / languages?
• utilisation of lingua/cultural mediators ?
• reflection/step back moments for consideration
of the process?
• - re-doing research in another language
medium?
Some further thoughts
• How is working multilingually different from
working across multilingual groups using
English as a Lingua Franca?
• Or across for e.g. institututional speech
communities?
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