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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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The Givens of Human Life

The Givens of Human Life

(p.19) 3 The Givens of Human Life
Imprisoned in English

Anna Wierzbicka

Oxford University Press

In his widely read book The Saturated Self, Kenneth Gergen (1991) sums up anthropology’s main message as “beware the solid truths of your own culture.” This chapter shows how this warning applies to the truths of Anglo culture such as “people can be divided into male and female,” “sex is a given of human life,” “pain is a human universal,” and “in all countries people can have brothers and sisters,” and it shows that concepts such as “male,” “female,” “sex,” “pain,” “brother,” and “sister” are socially constructed and lack exact equivalents in many languages of the world. At the same time, the chapter shows how the universal “human story” can be told from a universal point of view, independent of English and Anglo culture.

Keywords:   Gergen on emotion and culture, facial expressions, “sex” in Russian, “sex” in English, “pain” in French, “sister” in Kayardild, human universals

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