Natural semantic metalanguage
|Applied and experimental|
The natural semantic metalanguage (NSM) is a linguistic theory based on the conception of Polish professor Andrzej Bogusławski. The theory was formally developed by Anna Wierzbicka at Warsaw University and later at the Australian National University in the early 1970s, and Cliff Goddard at Australia's Griffith University.
The natural semantic metalanguage theory attempts to reduce the semantics of all lexicons down to a restricted set of semantic primitives, or primes. Primes are universal in that they have the same translation in every language, and they are primitive in that they cannot be defined using other words. Primes are ordered together to form explications, which are descriptions of semantic representations consisting solely of primes.
Research in the NSM approach deals extensively with language and cognition, and language and culture. Key areas of research include lexical semantics, grammatical semantics, phraseology and pragmatics, as well as cross-cultural communication.
Semantic primes are by definition universal and primitive. They are universal in the fact that they can be translated literally into any known language and will still have the same semantic representation. They are primitive in that most of them are abstract, and all of them are "indefinable" because they cannot be defined using only other primes.
Proponents of the NSM theory argue that every language on the globe shares a core vocabulary of concepts. In 1994 and 2002, Goddard and Wierzbicka studied languages across the globe and found strong evidence supporting this argument.
Wierzbicka's 1972 study proposed 14 semantic primes. That number was expanded to 60 in 2002 by Wierzbicka and Goddard, and the current agreed-upon number is 63, as put forth by Goddard in 2010.
Each language's translations of the semantic primes are called exponents. Below is a list of English exponents, or the English translation of the semantic primitives. It is very important to realize that some of the exponents in the following list can be associated with meanings in English that are not shared with other languages. However, when used as an exponent in the Natural Semantic Metalanguage, we are only concerned with the meanings that are universal.
The English exponents of semantic primitives:
- I, YOU, SOMEONE, PEOPLE, SOMETHING/THING, BODY
- relational substantives
- KIND, PART
- THIS, THE SAME, OTHER/ELSE
- ONE, TWO, MUCH/MANY, SOME, ALL
- GOOD, BAD
- BIG, SMALL
- mental predicates
- THINK, KNOW, WANT, FEEL, SEE, HEAR
- SAY, WORDS, TRUE
- actions, events, movement, contact
- DO, HAPPEN, MOVE, TOUCH
- location, existence, possession, specification
- BE (SOMEWHERE), THERE IS, HAVE, BE (SOMEONE/SOMETHING)
- life and death
- LIVE, DIE
- WHEN/TIME, NOW, BEFORE, AFTER, A LONG TIME, A SHORT TIME, FOR SOME TIME, MOMENT
- WHERE/PLACE, HERE, ABOVE, BELOW, FAR, NEAR, SIDE, INSIDE
- logical concepts
- NOT, MAYBE, CAN, BECAUSE, IF
- intensifier, augmentor
- VERY, MORE
An explication is a breakdown of a non-prime concept into prime ones.
E.g., Someone X killed someone Y:
someone X did something to someone else Y
because of this, something happened to Y at the same time
because of this, something happened to Y's body
because of this, after this Y was not living anymore
- Murphy, M. Lynne (2010). Lexical Meaning. Cambridge. pp. 69–73. ISBN 978-0521677646.
- Goddard, Cliff and Wierzbicka, Anna (2002). Meaning and Universal Grammar: Theory and Empirical Findings. John Benjamins. ISBN 9781588112644.
- "The natural semantic metalanguage approach", in Bernd Heine and Heiko Narrog (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Analysis (2009) Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Pedersen, Jan (2010), "The different Swedish tack: An ethnopragmatic investigation of Swedish thanking and related concepts", Journal of Pragmatics 42:1258–1265.
- Goddard, Cliff (2010). "The natural semantic metalanguage approach". The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Analysis: 459–484.
- Goddard, Cliff. "The Natural Semantic Metalanguage Approach" (PDF). Retrieved 27 May 2013.
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- Goddard, Cliff and Wierzbicka, Anna (eds.). 2002. Meaning and Universal Grammar: Theory and Empirical Findings (2 volumes). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
- Harkins, Jean & Anna Wierzbicka. 2001. Emotions in Crosslinguistic Perspective. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
- Peeters, Bert (ed.) 2006. Semantic Primes and Universal Grammar: Empirical evidence from the Romance languages. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
- Wierzbicka, Anna. 1972. Semantic Primitives. Frankfurt: Athenäum.
- Wierzbicka, Anna. 1992. Semantics, Culture, and Cognition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Wierzbicka, Anna. 1996. Semantics: Primes and Universals. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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- Wierzbicka, Anna. 1999. Emotions Across Languages and Cultures. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Wierzbicka, Anna. 2003 (1991). Cross-cultural Pragmatics: The semantics of human interaction. 2nd edition. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
- Wierzbicka, Anna. 2006. English: Meaning and culture. New York: Oxford University Press.