Article published in:Intercultural Pragmatics and Cultural Linguistics
Edited by Ulrike Schröder, Milene Mendes de Oliveira and Hans-Georg Wolf
[International Journal of Language and Culture 7:1] 2020
► pp. 121–145
Linguistic expressions as cultural units
How a cultural approach to language can facilitate the description of modern means of communication and expression
The paper argues in favor of including cultural aspects in the description of communicative interaction. According to Eco (1976), a linguistic sign is a cultural unit. In order to use it properly, a speaker relies on communicative experience with this unit within a culture (Wittgenstein 1960; Feilke 1996, 1998; Everett 2012). We expand the notion of ‘cultural unit’ by including internet memes found in social media (Shifman 2013, 2014; Diedrichsen 2013a, 2013b, 2019a, 2019b). The term builds on Richard Dawkins’ 1976 definition of a ‘meme’ as a unit that is the cultural equivalent of a biological gene. The paper proposes three knowledge sources for the production and comprehension of these units. The first is semiotic knowledge, the second is common ground knowledge (Clark 1996), and the third knowledge source involves culturally shared cognitive conceptualizations on which word meanings and other linguistic conventions are founded (Sharifian 2003, 2011, 2015, 2017). These three knowledge sources are established through daily interactions and learning processes within a culture (Kecskés and Zhang 2009). The paper characterizes the application of these three knowledge sources for a variety of sign uses. We will also show that a cultural view on pragmatics, as suggested by Sharifian (2017), serves to describe speech acts by identifying their culturally based source. The paper therefore demonstrates that the inclusion of cultural knowledge enables a perspective on communication that goes beyond the analysis of spoken and written words within communities of speakers, as it includes emerging means of communicative interaction in the digital age.
Keywords: cultural unit, internet memes, semiotics, pragmatics, common ground
Published online: 08 July 2020
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