Cultural conceptualisations and language

Cultural conceptualisations and language: Theoretical framework and applications. By Farzad Sharifian. (Cognitive linguistic studies in cultural contexts 1.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2011. Pp. xvii, 238. ISBN 9789027204042. $135 (Hb).

Reviewed by Lucas Bietti, Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut Essen

This book begins with a comprehensive preface, in which, besides providing a brief summary of the contributions that will follow, the author presents a helpful and clarifying chart that summarizes the sources of his synthetic and multidisciplinary model of cultural conceptualizations and language in situated social practices. The book is organized into six major sections: (i) theoretical framework, (ii) case studies, (iii) intercultural communication, (iv) cross-cultural pragmatics, (v) culture, body, self, and language, and (vi) political discourse.

In the first section, Ch. 1 presents the notion of cultural conceptualization using a distributed approach to social cognition in cultural groups. Ch. 2 looks at how emergent cultural cognition in cultural groups across different time scales develops and forms the basis for event/action-planning and strategic thinking in cultural experience. The following chapter explains the idea of cultural cognition as a sort of collective cognition in which micro (individual) and macro (group) cognitive structures are coupled.

The second section of the book begins with an empirical analysis of the ways in which a number of Aboriginal languages and the varieties of English their speakers employ reflect cultural conceptualizations of kinship. Ch. 5 presents a case study in which Aboriginal and Anglo-Australian students, who were speakers of Aboriginal and Australian English, respectively, participated in word association task with English words. The first chapter of the third section shows the importance of cultural conceptualization in the inquiry of intercultural communication between Aboriginal and non-aboriginal English speakers in Australia. Ch. 7 illustrates the extent to which non-native English speakers rely on their first-language systems of cultural conceptualization, assuming that their interlocutors, English native-speakers, will be able to automatically assign meaning to such descriptions that emerge from the blend of conceptual systems in non-native English speakers. Ch. 8 provides further empirical evidence from Persian to illustrate the key role that cultural schemas play in the use of formulaic expressions by Iranians.

The first chapter of the fourth section looks at the instantiations of the specific Persian cultural schema of ‘modesty’ in Persian and Anglo-Australian speakers. Ch. 10 explores the ways in which the study of cultural schemas instantiated in Persian English can work as a first step towards a better understanding of how non-native English speakers would be able to develop their ‘metacultural competence’ when communicating in English with other native and non-native English speakers. The next section begins with a chapter that examines the cultural conceptualizations of ‘self’ and ‘spiritual heart’ in Persian. Ch. 12 looks at the role of the body parts in perceptually related metaphors in Persian.

The first chapter of the final section examines the use of cultural metaphors in political discourse in Iran and demonstrates how English translations of these ideologically loaded metaphors have changed their original meanings. Ch. 14 provides further evidence about problems found in translating politically and ideologically loaded concepts (e.g. ‘jihad’) from Persian into English in the discourse of international politics. The book ends with a short afterword, which the author uses to create explicit bridges between the book’s thematically distinct sections.