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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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Thinking about “Things” in Yucatec and in English

Thinking about “Things” in Yucatec and in English

(p.129) 11 Thinking about “Things” in Yucatec and in English
Imprisoned in English

Anna Wierzbicka

Oxford University Press

This chapter looks at the structure of the physical world as it is interpreted in two languages, English and the Mayan language Yucatec (using data from the work of anthropologist John Lucy). Like NSM researchers, Lucy strongly emphasizes the need for a neutral framework of description and comparison and opposes stimulus-based approaches that try to circumvent language and to avoid in-depth semantic analysis. Unlike NSM, however, Lucy’s work seeks such a neutral framework in technical English. Using as its main illustration a detailed comparison of the meanings of the English word candle and of its closest counterpart in Yucatec, the word kib’, the chapter shows that the physical world is indeed interpreted differently in Yucatec and in English—and it makes these differences visible without imposing English categories on the meanings of Yucatec words and grammatical constructions.

Keywords:   Yucatec (Mayan), regular polysemy, neutral frameworks, John Lucy’s approach, semantic structures of nouns, semantic typology

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