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Imprisoned in EnglishThe Hazards of English as a Default Language$
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Anna Wierzbicka

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199321490

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199321490.001.0001

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Recognizing the Contingency of One’s Own Language

Recognizing the Contingency of One’s Own Language

(p.3) 1 Recognizing the Contingency of One’s Own Language
Imprisoned in English

Anna Wierzbicka

Oxford University Press

This chapter takes as its point of departure British writer Zadie Smith’s definition of language as “shared words that fit the world as you believe it to be” and illustrates its aptness with examples from English and the Australian language Warlpiri. Each language offers its speakers a set of words that appear to “fit the world as it is” but that in fact derive from the speakers’ own culture, history, interests, and needs. The chapter shows how this insight applies to the domain of color and how English color words have been reified in the successive versions of the Berlin and Kay popular theory of “basic color words.” It also discusses the different conceptualization of landscape in English (British and Australian), drawing on Australian historian Jay Arthur’s observation that Australians are trapped in the language of the ‘Default Country’ (England).

Keywords:   Oliver Sacks on color, Warlpiri words, landscape, color concepts, “Default Country” (England), “Default Language” (English)

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