Which comes first – culture or language? The symbiotic relationship between culture and language should render this question meaningless. Language is a part of culture and culture is a part of language. The two are inseparable.
However, the scholarly community continues to treat culture and language as distinct entities, ignoring the possibility that they might influence each other. A relatively new movement in linguistics, namely Cognitive Linguistics, facilitates research on linguistic phenomena as artifacts of human experience. With its focus on how human beings conceive of, manipulate, and metaphorically extend meaning, Cognitive Linguistics can potentially open a bridge between linguistic and cultural studies. This article will propose a new line of research on Cultural Linguistics (2.0), showing what contributions Cognitive Linguistics can make to this endeavor (3.0). Case studies of linguistic phenomena with possible cultural import will be presented (4.0), as well as a concluding argument supporting future research on Cultural Linguistics (5.0).
2.0 Cultural Linguistics
Language is a part of culture because language is the vehicle for nearly every type of cultural expression. Culture includes not only the monuments of prose and poetry representing culture with a capital C, but also the jokes, sayings, songs and idioms of everyday culture with a small c that hold a speech community together. Even seemingly wordless artifacts in media such as music, dance, food, costume and handicrafts are ultimately transmitted from one generation to the next via lessons, apprenticeships, recipes and instructions that are expressed using language. Indeed, for this reason language is considered to be the single most important factor in shaping group identity. Since language is the vehicle of a group’s culture, if a group’s distinctive language is lost, access to both types of cultural expression (lofty and everyday) is cut off forever. When this happens, group identity is always severely compromised and most often vanishes. Unfortunately the vast majority of minority groups in the world are in the process of losing their languages, putting their cultures in jeopardy as well.
Culture is a part of language because the language that has grown with a community has also to some extent been molded to the task of expressing that community’s culture. As a result, cultural concepts are embedded in language, and the architecture of each language contains culturally specific features. These include both lexical and grammatical characteristics. The lexical characteristics are often the most obvious and tend to attract more attention. Here, for example, we can cite nomenclature systems relating to specific ecological niches, such as the multitude of names used in some Siberian languages to reference reindeer according to their age, sex, level of domestication, breeding status… (Harrison 2006). Other salient examples are lexemes that exist in one language, but require lengthy explanations in another. For example, Czech has the verb mlsat, which is extremely difficult to translate into English, because English lacks a single word to describe eating something particularly delicious, not because one is hungry, but just because it is enjoyable. Another example is the Norwegian verb å slurve, which likewise lacks an English equivalent, but is marvelously well-adapted to describing the behavior of a student who does a rapid, sloppy job with homework. Less visible to the naked eye, but potentially more significant are language-specific grammatical characteristics such as syntactic constructions and verb inflections. Grammatical differences among languages are more likely to go unnoticed because they surface only under linguistic analysis, and they can be difficult to compare across languages. However, the significance of grammatical differences is great because grammar dictates the way in which content can be organized and presented. Unlike lexical items which tend to be isolated facts, grammar is systematic and its impact is potentially more profound.
Linguistic output is not a direct expression of reality. There are several “prisms” through which information must pass before a speaker pronounces an utterance. Our sensory perception organs of necessity filter out some information from our observable environment, and already as information is being perceived it is conceptually categorized for storage and retrieval. Indeed the acts of perception and conception are concurrent and cannot be meaningfully separated, a fact that led Talmy (1996) to coin “ception” as an umbrella term for the per-/conceptual process. Beyond “ception”, we must recognize that any information can be subject to various construals, and furthermore that linguistic utterances present more than observations on perceived reality: they can express mental states, imagined scenes, hypotheses, and pragmatic intentions. Thus, when confronted with a scene in which a boy picks a flower, there are many possible linguistic outputs, even for one and the same speaker, including: The boy picked the flower, The flower was picked by the boy, or What a lovely thing to do for Mother’s Day! The first two options contrast in construal, with the first focusing more on the perspective of the boy and the second on the perspective of the flower. The third output integrates extralinguistic knowledge (that today is Mother’s Day), as well as hypothesis and imagination (presuming that the boy will give the flower to his mother, envisioning her joy…). All three outputs are influenced by the grammatical options available in English, such as active vs. passive and exclamatory constructions like What a…! The overall choice of possible outputs is facilitated and constrained by grammar. Though the choices presented by grammar are largely unconscious, they are pervasive and can have powerful cultural implications since they connect to essential concepts such as human relations and time/event structure.
The grammar of a language determines a large set of parameters that its speakers must attend to in order to produce intelligible utterances, and these parameters differ widely across languages. A speaker of Czech, for example, needs to know the gender of any person or thing that will be expressed with a noun or pronoun, and must be prepared to mark gender in a variety of nominal, adjectival and verbal inflectional endings. A speaker of Finnish has no such worries, for the Finnish grammatical landscape makes no gender distinctions whatsoever (Lehečková 2003). A Czech also has to pay close attention to number (singular vs. plural), since number has to be marked on nouns, pronouns, adjectives and verbs, but there are many languages like Chinese where grammatical number is not an obligatory category and can often be ignored. Some differences are not stark contrasts between the presence of a category in one language and its absence in another. There can be differences in the prioritizing of concepts in different grammars. In verb-framed languages (Talmy 1985) like Spanish, path of motion is usually encoded in the verb, while manner of motion is relegated to an adverbial, if it is expressed at all, as in El perro entró corriendo ‘The dog ran in (lit.: The dog entered running)’. In a satellite-framed language like Czech, the priorities are reversed, and the manner of motion is usually expressed by the verb, while the path of motion is expressed in a prefix, as in Vběhnul pes ‘The dog ran in (lit.: In-ran dog)’. Thus verb-framed languages focus on the path of motion, whereas satelliteframed languages primarily emphasize the manner of motion, giving the path only secondary priority, and this does indeed result in measurable differences in the ways that speakers of the two types of languages react in psycholinguistic tests (Malt–Sloman–Gennari 2003). Different metaphorical motivations can yield different grammatical structures. In Czech, for example, days of the week are understood as containers for events, as evidenced by phrases like v pátek ‘on Friday’. Here Czech uses the preposition v ‘in’, which describes containment of physical entities. The English equivalent on Friday, shows us that English conceives of days of the week as surfaces, since it uses the preposition on, which signals location at the surface of an open space.
Decisions concerning whether and how to encode concepts like gender, number, manner of motion and temporal location might seem too minor to worry about until we recognize that any grammatical system entails hundreds of such decisions. In their entirety, the decisions specific to a given language constitute a distinctive linguistic profile which might be connected to culture in profound ways. The use of the word “connected” is crucial. It would not make sense to say that language is the driving force influencing culture, or conversely that culture determines language structure. Language and culture co-evolve in a symbiotic relationship, and are thus continuously tailored to each other. The cultural values of a speech community are relevant in distributing the differential investments that community will make in linguistic structures, and the linguistic options that have evolved in a language will variously facilitate or discourage certain types of expression. This does not mean that a language is a conceptual prison that predetermines the opportunities of its speakers. It does, however, mean that a given speech community will have distinctive patterns of what Slobin (1987) calls “thinking for speaking”, namely decisions about what concepts receive relatively more attention. The “thinking for speaking” that one does if one is speaking Czech is different from the “thinking for speaking” that one does if one is speaking any other language. The purpose of this article is to examine concrete examples of differences in “thinking for speaking” and to argue that these differences might be just as significant as other cultural differences.
Every language meets the expressive needs of its speech community. No language is in any way superior to any other language. However, the equality of effectiveness of languages should not be confused with identity or interchangeability. In other words, if there had never been a Czech national revival (obrození) in the mid 19th century, and the Czech language had died out and been replaced with German, the Czech culture probably would have died out with the language. One can’t just take the contents of Czech culture and translate them into German without losing much of what makes Czech culture distinctive. The co-evolution of culture and language means that the matching of expressive needs (culture) and expressive capacity (language) is specific to each speech community. The Czech language is perfectly adequate for the expression of Czech culture, just as German is perfectly adequate for German culture. But they can’t be swapped because a mismatch in language and culture endangers both. Again this article will present empirical evidence for specific linguistic differences with cultural significance.
3.0 How Cognitive Linguistics facilitates Cultural Linguistics
Before turning to the linguistic examples that I will present in support of recognizing grammatical structure as a type of cultural norm, it is necessary to introduce the framework that will be used in the analysis. Cognitive linguistics (Janda 2004c, 2006a) is particularly appropriate as a framework for exploring the grammatical interface between language and culture because of the way it approaches meaning and cognition. The attributes of Cognitive Linguistics that are relevant here are recognition of meaning as inherent to all linguistic structures, grounding of meaning in human experience and extension of meaning via metaphor, integration of linguistic and non-linguistic cognition, and the absence of a presumed set of “language universals”.
Cognitive Linguistics dos not view language as consisting of autonomous “modes” such as lexicon vs. syntax. Cognitive Linguistics sees meaning as the driving force behind all linguistic phenomena; in other words, all grammatical units and structures are meaningful. Meaning is thus not something exclusive to the lexicon, but rather permeates all of grammar. Thus the use of a particular linguistic category (number, gender, case, aspect, etc.) or a particular grammatical construction (active, passive, indirect object, etc.) is not a matter of mere “mechanics”. All grammatical units are meaningful and there is a continuum of meaning that joins the lexicon and syntax. If syntax is viewed as nothing more than a plumbing system that squirts out grammatical utterances, then there is no point in asserting that grammar might be relevant to culture. But if grammar is engaged in the project of conveying meaning, as asserted by Cognitive Linguistics, then it is both possible and necessary to recognize grammar’s relevance to culture.
Within the framework of Cognitive Linguistics, meaning is grounded to reality via the embodied experience of human beings, and metaphor is the main vehicle for extrapolation beyond this physical experience. For example, all human beings experience gravity at work on their own bodies, yielding a distinction between UP as a state that requires energy as opposed to DOWN which is where things fall. It is probably the case that most languages employ metaphorical extensions of UP vs. DOWN in order to classify and manipulate more abstract concepts, but the range of such concepts and the details of these metaphors is language-specific. Both Czech and English use UP vs. DOWN to organize various scales – temperatures, prices, etc. ‘rise’ and ‘fall’ in both languages. But there are some differences. There are several abstract domains where Czech uses a vertical scale, with nad ‘above’ marking a point on the scale that is exceeded, but the usual English equivalents use the non-vertical beyond, as in nad očekávání vs. beyond expectation and nad mé chápání vs. beyond me (beyond my understanding). In the case studies below we will see more compelling (and more complex) examples of differences in metaphorical motivations for linguistic structures across languages. The point here is that Cognitive Linguistics views metaphor as a pervasive and necessary component of linguistic meaning (both lexical and grammatical). Because the details of metaphorical extension differ from language to language, each language has a unique metaphorical profile, and this profile has cultural relevance.
Cognitive Linguistics does not assume any division between linguistic and “extralinguistic” cognition. In other words, Cognitive Linguistics assumes that linguistic categories behave in the same way as all other human cognitive categories and are subject to the same constraints on psychological and neurological plausibility. Thus the structure of the per-/conceptual category for the color blue is subject to the same cognitive constraints as the linguistic category represented by the lexeme blue in English (or modrý in Czech, etc.). This does not imply that colors (or anything else) are conceived of in the same way in all speech communities, nor that there is any conformity in the associations with color terms across languages (indeed there is significant variation; cf. Rakhilina 1995). But the basic architecture of both per-/conceptual categories and linguistic categories is the same. “Extralinguistic” knowledge, such as what a concept like blue means for an English-speaking culture, is part of the same package, fully integrated with the linguistic category. The parallels that Cognitive Linguistics acknowledges among experiential, linguistic and cultural knowledge yield a coherent approach in which the study of linguistic phenomena is de facto the study of cultural phenomena, for the two are inseparable. On this basis, Zaliznjak, Levontina and Šmelev (2005) argue that by studying the use of “key words” in Russian one can shed light on the Russian world-view, directly connecting lexical and cultural phenomena. In this article I will explore linguistic and cultural parallels at the level of grammar.
Cognitive Linguistics makes no a priori assumptions about the content of languages. Cognitive Linguistics does not adhere to the presumption (common in other linguistic frameworks) that there is a single “universal grammar” underlying all languages. If the purpose of linguistic inquiry were to find specific universals that all languages are based upon, then linguistics would ultimately be about eliminating the “noise” of diversity to discover uniformity. A framework that assumes uniform universals does not facilitate the exploration of diversity, be it linguistic or cultural. Cognitive Linguistics assumes only that linguistic cognition is part of overall cognition and behaves in the same way. Human perceptual experience may be categorized in many different ways, focusing on and ignoring various parts of the information continuum. In both Czech and English, for example, much of physical location is organized around concepts of containment and supporting surfaces, using prepositions such as Czech v and na and English in and on. In Korean, however, the important distinction is between tight (kkita) and loose (nehta) fit (Bowerman & Choi 2003). Thus whereas speakers of Czech and English would make a distinction between kazeta v obalu/a cassette in its wrapping and prsten na prstu/a ring on one’s finger, for a Korean speaker, both are described as kkita ‘tight fit’, and overall the pattern of how locations are categorized is quite different. Cognitive Linguistics does not assume that Czech, English and Korean are all working with the same universal set of distinctions. This framework celebrates diversity and supports investigation of the inherent values of the different distinctions made in different languages. In this way it also supports the exploration of parallels between linguistic and cultural diversity.
To sum up, Cognitive Linguistics is well-suited to research on how grammatical differences serve also as cultural differences. If meaning plays a role in all linguistic phenomena, and grammar is connected to culture via shared content, then grammar is part of the semiotic endeavor of projecting values and identity. Recognition of the pervasive role of metaphor in grammar likewise strengthens the bond between language and culture, since both use metaphor to elaborate their content. The inclusion of “extralinguistic” knowledge in linguistic categories integrates language and culture by acknowledging that cultural knowledge is actually embedded in linguistic categories. By not assuming that all languages boil down to a single set of universals, Cognitive Linguistics encourages us to focus on language-specific values and their culture-specific parallels. I will present a few such parallels in section 4.
4.0 Case Studies
The grammar of any single language presents a mass of details, and a comparison across grammars necessarily compounds this complexity. In order to prevent the main ideas from being drowned in a flood of miscellaneous facts, the presentation is organized thematically and restricted to two domains: 1) human relations and 2) time and event structure. The details are important, however, since the purpose here is to find the cultural meaning in what at first glance appears to be a chaos of minutia subconsciously manipulated by speakers. Because it is essential to respect the details, I will limit the case studies primarily to languages that I am well-acquainted with (Czech, Russian, Polish and English), and will draw upon decades of research on language-specific details. Thus the generalizations I will be making here rest upon thorough appreciation of the complex realities of the languages in question.
In the case studies, the objective is to find how one language consistently directs attention to certain characteristics of human relations or time/event structure, while other languages show different patterns of directing attention. The cultural implications are tentative and subtle, but they are significant because they are systematic – they reflect patterns of conceptualization that affect every speaker every day. In some instances (aspect, for example) these patterns are so widespread that they have to be attended to every time a speaker opens his/her mouth.
4.1 Human relations
Given that meaning is grounded in human embodied experience, it is perhaps no surprise that human relations are often prominently encoded in the grammars of languages. Human beings and their relations to events and each other constitute a core feature of human experience. Below I present four case studies contrasting grammatical portrayals of human relations in various Slavic languages.
All Slavic languages (except probably Slovene) have some grammatical means to express virility, the distinction between male human beings and all other possible entities (women, horses, books, substances, locations, abstractions). These grammatical means include special numerals used only for counting men, inflectional endings used only in association with nouns denoting men, and special syntactic constructions. As I have shown (Janda 1997, 1999, 2000), the phenomenon of virility is far more robust in Polish than in any other Slavic language. Polish has, in addition to numerals used for counting other items, two sets of numerals dedicated only to counting men: dwu/dwóch ‘two’, trzech ‘three’, czterech ‘four’, pięciu ‘five’, wielu ‘many’ (this series includes all possible numerals); and dwaj ‘two’, obaj ‘both’, obajdwaj ‘both two’, trzej ‘three’, czterej ‘four’ (a series limited to these items). The virile numerals are remarkable in that both series specify that all of the items counted are male humans (unlike other Polish virile morphology which can be used for mixed groups, provided they include male humans). The first series (the one that can be used for all possible integers, plus indefinite numerals) is associated with a special syntactic construction in which the verb appears with neuter singular (default) agreement, the noun designating the male humans is marked with the Genitive plural, and there is no Nominative subject, as in: przyszło trzech studentów ‘three male students came (literally: came three of male students)’. In the marking of virility on plural nouns Polish provides a selection of options: honorific virility, neutral virility, and deprecatory virility. Both honorific and neutral virility entail special Nominative plural and Accusative (= Genitive) plural endings for nouns denoting male humans, along with virile syntactic agreement on associated adjectives, pronouns, and verbs. Deprecatory virility assigns the same inflectional endings and syntactic agreement patterns as used with females, animals, and inanimate objects. In the Nominative plural, the endings are as follows: -owie is the honorific ending, -i/(-y) with consonant mutation and -e are neutral virile endings, and -y/(-i) without consonant mutation is the deprecatory ending. The distribution of these endings among nouns that refer to men is revealing. Nouns that typically receive the honorific -owie include prestigious titles and professions, such as królowie ‘kings’, generałowie ‘generals’, geografowie ‘geographers’, ethnonyms (if monosyllabic) Bałtowie ‘Balts’, and male kinship terms like ojcowie ‘fathers’. Some professions can receive either honorific or neutral virile endings, such as psychologowie/psycholodzy ‘psychologists’ and profesorowie/profesorzy ‘professors’. Most remaining virile nouns receive the neutral ending -i /(-y ) with consonant mutation, as in studenci ‘students’ and autorzy ‘authors’. A few nouns occur with either neutral or deprecatory virility marking, such as Żydzi/żydy ‘Jews’, Murzyni/murzyny ‘Negroes’, and cyganie/cygany ‘Gypsies’. Nouns referring to male human beings that belong to marginalized or maligned segments of the population tend to have the deprecatory ending, as in bękarty ‘bastards’, koniokrady ‘horsethieves’, karły ‘midgets’, pedały ‘homosexuals (vulgar)’. Clearly the grammar of Polish focuses attention on a scale of virility that places certain “outstanding” types of men at the top of the scale and negatively-evaluated men at the bottom. Elsewhere I have argued that virility, along with other phenomena peculiar to the morphology of masculine nouns in Polish, is motivated in part by a SELF vs. OTHER continuum that identifies the SELF as an “ideal” Polish male at the top end of the virility scale. Groups that diverge from an Idealized Cognitive Model (cf. Lakoff 1987) of the adult Polish male in terms of size, race, religion, socio-economic status, or sexual orientation are disadvantaged in terms of the recognition of their virility. Certainly it would be unfair to suggest that Polish language and culture are more discriminatory against peoples of different race and persuasion than any other language and culture. It would make more sense to acknowledge that such distinctions are rampant in many societies, and just happen to be somewhat more salient in Polish grammar. However, there are some parallels here that should not be ignored either. According to the 2006 CIA World Fact Book, 96.7 % of Polish citizens today are ethnic Poles, with no minority group constituting more than 0.4 % of the population. This makes Poland the most ethnically homogeneous state in the EU for which we have reliable data on ethnic composition (some states do not collect such information, and a few, like Greece, ingenuously report that “there are no ethnic divisions”). Homogeneous societies are often less accustomed to accepting diversity. Poles are demonstrably more nervous than most of their neighbors about the “purity” of their language (Dybiec 2003). The correlation of homogeneity and linguistic xenophobia with the use of a virility scale topped by the “ideal” Pole might not be accidental. Poland is also a country where chivalry has been particularly prized and cultivated – it may be the only place in Europe where a woman can still expect a man to kiss her hand when introduced. We cannot say for certain that there is any link between these linguistic and cultural realities, but neither can we rule out the possibility that they have co-evolved to be consistent with each other.
Both Russian and Czech inherited from Proto-Slavic a system of grammatical cases including the Instrumental and the Dative. Even today, the semantic profiles of the two cases in the two languages are quite similar, but if one looks very closely, there are a few striking differences. One such difference involves the case government of verbs that express domination (for more data, see Janda–Clancy 2002 & 2006). In both Russian and Czech, the Instrumental case is used with verbs that express mastery.
In both languages one can say things like (Russian) Devuška vladeet kistočkoj/russkim jazykom; (Czech) Dívka vládne štětcem/ruštinou the Russian language in the Instrumental case in both languages. But only in Russian is the Instrumental used to mark people who are mastered. Some examples of Instrumental-governing verbs of this type in Russian include: dirižirovať ‘conduct (a musical group)’, komandovať ‘command’, praviť ‘govern’, rukovodiť ‘lead, direct’, upravljať ‘govern, administer’, verxovodiť ‘lead’. Thus when speaking Russian, if you want to say that someone (A) dominates another person (B), you use the same construction you would use if you want to say that someone was writing with a pen or moving a chess piece, as in Maľčik pisal avtoručkoj/pošel peškoj ‘The boy wrote with a fountain pen/moved his pawn’. Czech does not exploit this parallel, but instead uses the Dative case to express the domination of human beings, as described below.
In both Russian and Czech the Dative case can be used with verbs that denote human relationships, be they equal or unequal. So in both languages, verbs denoting human relationships where the two parties are equally matched use the Nominative for the subject and the Dative for the object, as in Russian ravnjaťsja ‘equal’, protivostojať ‘withstand’ and Czech rovnat se ‘equal’, odolat/odolávat ‘resist’. Both languages can also mark an unequal relationship where the Nominative subject is weaker and therefore submits to a Dative object, as in Russian poddaťsja/poddavaťsja ‘submit to’, ustupiť/ustupať ‘yield to’ and Czech poddat/poddávat se ‘submit to’, ustoupit/ustupovat ‘yield to’. The third logical possibility is that the Nominative subject is the one with the upper hand, thus dominating the Dative object. This option is realized only in Czech, where the set of verbs denoting domination uses the Dative case, as in dominovat ‘dominate’, vévodit ‘rule’, vládnout ‘govern’. The set of Dative-governing Czech verbs fills the same semantic niche as the set of Instrumental-governing Russian verbs listed above. Russian views a person who is dominated as grammatically equivalent to a tool or a means by which domination is achieved, a mere pawn. Czech, however, views domination as a meeting between two human beings with unequal spheres of influence: the person dominated is engaged in a relationship, but just happens to be weaker. It could be that this difference in Russian and Czech grammars is accidental, but it does happen to conform to a difference in historical experience. Russia has been one of the greatest imperial powers on the planet, dominating scores of other ethnic groups and states, whereas the Czechs have more frequently found themselves the objects of domination, and would logically be more invested in the human dimensions of a dominated people.
4.1.3 Being, having, modals and impersonals
Like 4.1.2, this case study contrasts Russian and Czech. For further detail and linguistic data, see Janda–Clancy 2002, Janda forthcoming a. Russian is a be language and Czech is a have language. This means that Russian does not HAVE a neutral verb meaning ‘have’, but uses the verb meaning ‘be’ to express possession. The most neutral way to say ‘I had a car’ in Russian is U menja byla mašina, literally ‘By me was car’, where the verb byla ‘was’ agrees with mašina ‘car’, the Nominative subject in this construction. Without a neutral verb meaning ‘have’, Russian has had no opportunity to develop modal meanings as extensions of such a verb. On the whole, the Russian repertoire of modal verbs is rather impoverished, for it is limited to only one such verb: moč ‘be able’. To compensate, Russian has a rich inventory of impersonal constructions that express modality, placing the logical subject in the Dative case. Thus in Russian one says Mne nužno/nado/pridetsja/udalos’ ujti ‘I need to/have to/will have to/managed to leave’, literally ‘To me (Dative) needed/required/will happen/succeeded to leave’. These and other types of impersonal constructions are pervasive in Russian, which is a language where obligation, desire, and necessity are usually conceived of as experiences that happen to people marked by the Dative case. Czech, as a HAVE language, does have a neutral verb meaning ‘have’, namely mít. Czech mít ‘have’ has developed modal uses roughly equivalent to English should, ought, as in Mám ti koupit ten lístek? ‘Should I buy you the ticket?’, literally ‘Have I to you to buy the ticket?’ And Czech has no shortage of other modal verbs, such as moci ‘be able’, muset ‘have to’, smět ‘be allowed’, potřebovat ‘need’. Czech is overall less enamored of impersonal expressions than Russian, being a language where human agency is regularly factored into obligation, desire, and necessity. To sum up, Russian is a language where things happen to people, whereas Czech, like English, is a language where many of the same experiences are instead things that people do. It is possible that there is a cultural correlate here as well. Russian fatalism is a famous phenomenon, which has been commented on by scholars and writers from Nietzsche (in his Ecce Homo in 1888) to Guelassimov, who declared in 2006 that Russians are “addicted to fatalism” (http://europe.courrierinternational.com/eurotopics/article.asp?langue=uk...). There is no corresponding “Czech fatalism”; such an attitude is not a recognized part of Czech culture.
4.1.4 Czech si – for one’s own pleasure
Czech preserved the Proto-Slavic short form Dative clitic reflexive pronoun si ‘for oneself’, which was lost in many neighboring languages (Russian and Polish, for example). Czechs have made a large linguistic investment in the expression of self-indulgence with this particle, and this investment may reflect on their culture. For more detail on this phenomenon, see Janda 2004a and Janda–Clancy 2006. There are a few Czech verbs that use si to express reciprocality, as in zavolat si ‘call each other’, but aside from this use of si to express mutual activity, all other uses of si express benefit and self-indulgence.
Czech si can be combined with near-synonyms of ‘give’ to denote that someone has procured something for himself or herself, as in the following verbs: dobýt si ‘obtain (for oneself)’, dovolit si ‘allow oneself’, koupit si ‘buy (for oneself)’, obstarat si ‘obtain (for oneself)’, opatřit si ‘obtain (for oneself)’, pořídit si ‘acquire’. There are, additionally, a number of verbs that take on the meaning of ‘give’ only in the presence of si: chtít si ‘want for oneself’, přisvojit si ‘adopt/take possession’, přivlastnit si ‘take possession’, vynutit si ‘require/get by force’, zasloužit si ‘deserve’, zažádat si ‘demand’, získat si ‘get’. The verbs dát ‘give’ and vzít ‘take’ undergo a semantic collapse in the presence of si, such that both express ‘give to the self’, as in: Vzal si cigaretu a hned si ji zapálil ‘He took a cigarette (for himself) and lit it immediately’. The use of a verb with si to mean ‘take from the self’ is limited only to situations where this would be beneficial, as in: Ten další zákusek sis mohl odříci, začínáš se podobat svému otci. ‘You could have refused (for yourself) that extra pastry, you’re beginning to look like your father’. Both dát ‘give’ and vzít ‘take’ participate in important idioms in conjunction with si; dát si means ‘have (food, as when ordering in a restaurant)’, and vzít si means ‘marry (take wife/husband)’.
Czech si is actively deployed in the expression of benefit, where it serves as a barometer of self-indulgent behaviors. This can be seen in distinctions between the uses of verbs with and without si, such as: hrát ‘play’ vs. hrát si ‘play for fun’, házet ‘throw’ vs. házet si ‘throw for fun’. The use of si to express self-indulgence is productive, as we see in these examples: Klikněte si pro vetší obrázek ‘Click (for yourself) for a bigger picture’; V jednom seriálu jel hlavní hrdina autem, na klíně měl notebook a surfoval si po Internetu ‘In one serial the main character was riding in a car, he had a laptop on his lap and was surfing the Internet (for himself)’. Czech si, along with the prefixes po- and za-, participates in a morphological derivation pattern that likewise indicates the “pleasure factor” of certain activities, as in zajezdit si ‘go for a ride (for pleasure)’ and pochutnat si ‘take a taste of (for pleasure)’.
Personal comfort and hygiene are associated with Czech si. Verbs that express taking convenient positions require the use of si : sednout si ‘sit down’, lehnout si ‘lie down’, dřepnout si ‘squat’, stoupnout si ‘stand up’ (used only when standing is convenient for a task). Verbs expressing the routine maintenance of body parts (and some possessions, usually shoes and clothes) are accompanied by si, producing common phrases such as umýt si hlavu ‘wash one’s head/hair (literally: wash for oneself head)’, vyčistit si zuby ‘brush one’s teeth’, ostříhat si nehty ‘cut one’s nails’. Various verbs expressing both physical and psychological relief are commonly combined with si, such as: oddechnout si ‘take a breather’, odpočinout si ‘rest’, odskočit si ‘relieve oneself (go to the bathroom)’, pohovět si ‘lounge’, postěžovat si ‘complain’. A more subtle expression of benefit is found with the verbs expressing awareness and capability that combine with si : cenit si ‘appreciate’, myslet si ‘have an opinion’, pamatovat si ‘remember’, všimnout si ‘notice’.
Though there are examples of harm expressed with si, this use carries implications of accident or ultimate benefit (through necessary punishment). Harm to a body part is necessarily interpreted as an accident (since otherwise si is an indicator of self-indulgence) in expressions such as: narazit si palec ‘stub one’s toe’, podvrtnout si kotník ‘sprain one’s ankle’, rozbít si koleno ‘skin one’s knee’, zlomit si nohu ‘break one’s leg’. On occasion, if a person feels the need to castigate himself or herself for doing something foolish, it is possible to use si with a punishment verb to deliver self-flagellation, such as nafackovat si ‘slap oneself’ and nakopat si ‘kick oneself’. This use of si strongly implies that the punishment is beneficial to the self, as seen in this example: Já mám na sebe vztek, já bych si nakopal, já jsem blbec ‘I’m furious with myself, I could kick myself, I’m an idiot.’
To sum up, the Czech language makes a large and consistent investment in the emphatic expression of the benefit to the self of acts that increase comfort, convenience, pleasure, relief, and the like. Among the Slavic languages, only Slovak, which also has a Dative reflexive clitic pronoun, shows similar investment in expressions of self-indulgence. This emphasis is typologically unusual. It is tempting to speculate that the use of si to express self-indulgence may be correlated with cultural patterns of conceptualization, such as the me-first self-indulgence of Švejk, the individualized comforts offered by the “inventions” of Jára D. Cimrman, Dubček’s policy of “Communism with a Human Face”, and the focus on personal comforts of the Husák administration (which even reasoned aloud that the Czech and Slovaks would tolerate Communism better if their personal needs were met). This attitude contrasts sharply with that of Russia, which under Communism was much more focused on collective than on individual needs (which were sometimes met on “shopping trips” to Prague). It is probably not possible to prove this connection, but the alignment of grammatical and cultural expressions is compelling.
4.2 Time and events
Time is perhaps the only feature of our existence which we all agree exists despite the fact that we have no direct perceptual experience of it. We know time only via observation of present states in comparison with memories of former states. It seems that all human beings use experiences of space to understand time. In a study of fifty-three typologically diverse languages, Haspelmath (1997) has shown that all languages use TIME IS SPACE metaphors, but these metaphors are language-specific in detail. The Slavic languages have a fairly unique aspect system used to describe the way in which events interact with time, and this system is not uniform across the Slavic languages. For more detail on these phenomena, see Janda 2002a, 2002b, 2004b, 2006; cf. also Mehlig 1994, 2003.
Aspect is an obligatory morphological feature in Slavic languages, whereas in English it is non-obligatory and generally morelexical than grammatical. Because aspect is obligatory for all forms of verbs, for Slavs, all activities require aspectual designation. Slavic aspect describes how an event occupies time, and distinguishes between Perfective and Imperfective. Perfective events are conceived of as discrete solid objects; Perfective aspect describes single, definite, delimited, completed, sequenced events. These events occupy time the way a concrete objects occupy space, like individual, countable objects with clear edges. An example would be (Russian) Pisateľ napisal roman ‘A writer wrote a novel’, where the event is unique and completed, with definite starting and ending points. Imperfective events are conceived of as fluid substances; Imperfective aspect describes that are ongoing, unbounded, simultaneous events. These events occupy time the way a substance occupies space, like uncountable, spreadable masses with no clear edges. An example of an Imperfective event is (Russian) Pisateli pišut romany ‘Writers write novels’, which is a general statement without any temporal borders or definite referents. Germanic languages like English lack Perfective vs. Imperfective aspect; when English expresses aspect, it is in terms of Progressive vs. Non-Progressive.
In a Slavic language one cannot talk about singing or smiling in general; one always has to decide whether a given event is packaged as Perfective or Imperfective. This requirement to categorize all activity in terms of event structure is reflected in the use of temporal expressions. Russian, Czech and Polish all use a destinational preposition with the Accusative case to describe when something took/takes/will take place: (Russian) v subbotu/(Czech) v sobotu/(Polish) w sobotę ‘on Saturday’. In a very real sense, all of these languages are suggesting that the event is something pre-packed, pre-existing, that arrives “into” a day in the timeline. This dynamic insertion of pre-categorized events is very different from the English perspective where location in the timeline is more static. The primary distinction in Slavic is aspect; tense is secondary and not expressed in all verb forms. This is the reverse of languages like English where tense ranks higher than aspect, which need not be expressed at all. Again, the Slavs are more concerned with the type of event involved than where it is in the timeline. Slavic and English speakers often describe differences in understanding of time as a major contributor to culture shock when visiting each other’s countries. Perhaps this could be due to the fact that Slavic speakers are focused on precise understanding of the contours of an event as Perfective vs. Imperfective and are less concerned about when the event takes place, whereas English speakers are more interested in when something takes place than in what kind of event it is.
Among languages that do have a Perfective vs. Imperfective distinction, Slavic is unusual in that Perfective serves as the marked member of the distinction; in nearly all other languages with this distinction (such as Romance languages, Chinese, and Arabic), Imperfective is the marked member (Dahl 1985). This means that for Slavs, the prototypical, unmarked type of event is unbounded and simultaneous rather than complete, which is apparently atypical world-wide; most linguistic cultures with an aspect system prefer to recognize the prototypical event as one that is complete.
Within Slavic there are variations in the implementation of Perfective and Imperfective aspect. It appears that Russian is not only geographically, but also aspectually far from the Slavic center of gravity, for Russian’s use of aspect is unusual. Russian tends to use the Imperfective more than other Slavic languages, making distinctions that are not made in other parts of the Slavic territory. For example, whereas all Slavic languages tend to make use of the Imperfective in historical present narratives, Russian (along with Ukrainian and Polish) has taken this tendency to the extreme, excluding Perfective verbs from this context (cf. Dickey 2000: 125–54 and Stunová 1993). The East Slavic languages (Russian, plus Ukrainian and Belarusian) and Bulgarian have a use of the Imperfective called the “general- factual” which is absent in other branches of the Slavic family (Dickey 2000: 95–110). The general-factual uses the Imperfective as a backgrounding device to deemphasize a unitary completed event that would otherwise be represented by a Perfective verb. Russian is entirely unique in its use of Imperfectives as a politeness device in certain proscribed situations (such as coming to a person’s home on a visit). Thus Russian alone will require the use of Imperfective sadites’ ‘sit down’ when inviting a guest to be seated; compare the use of Perfectives for the same purpose in other Slavic languages, such as (Polish) niech pan siądzie, (Czech) sedněte si, (Bulgarian) sednete (si), (Bosnian–Croatian–Serbian) sedite. Only the East Slavic languages plus Bulgarian can use the Imperfective to signal that a completed event has been annulled (Dickey 110–119). This use of the Imperfective is associated with verbs describing reversible actions, such as taking and replacing items, opening and shutting doors or windows, travel and change in position. In Tolstoy’s Russian translation of The Three Bears, the father bear, seeing his rumpled, but empty bed, roars: Kto ložilsja v moju posteľ i smjal ee? ‘Who lay down in my bed and messed it up?’ He uses the Imperfective verb because whoever lay down there is no longer there, since Goldilocks ran away before he got there.
In all of these examples, we see that Russian (with or without some neighboring languages) has a strong tendency to prefer the Imperfective, thus choosing a diffuse, fluid representation for what other Slavic languages would characterize as discrete, unitary events. This is consistent with another linguistic boundary described by Corbett (2000:80), who finds that Russian, which uses singular-only mass nouns for items such as kartofeľ ‘potatoes’, kljukva ‘cranberries’, and izjum ‘raisins’, tends to use diffuse, mass designations for relatively larger items than other Slavic languages (cf. the Czech count-noun plural equivalents brambory ‘potatoes’, brusinky ‘cranberries’, and (h)rozinky ‘raisins’). The size boundary for individuation of objects is simply higher in Russian. The fact that the level of granularity in Russian, for both nouns and verbs, is coarser in Russian than in other Slavic languages might correlate to the difference between Czech focus on the individual as opposed to Russian focus on collectives alluded to in 4.1.4 above.
The case studies presented in section 4 provide evidence of tantalizing parallels between language and culture revealed by analysis of language data in the framework of Cognitive Linguistics. It is a fact that languages systematically direct attention to certain facets of our existence, while systematically ignoring other facets, and that the way each language shapes attention is language-specific. It is also a fact that language is one of the primary identifiers of ethnic groups, and the means by which much of their culture is expressed. It would be reasonable to expect languages and cultures to co-evolve to be mutually compatible. We do not expect that everything in a given language’s grammar is consistent with the speech community’ culture, or even relevant to culture at all. Certainly there are details of other domains of culture, for example culinary culture, that are not relevant to any other aspect of culture; whether or not a community puts garlic in their soups doesn’t have to bear on how members of the group interact or conceive of their identity. It is not hard to find details of linguistic difference that are probably culturally irrelevant. For example, Polish uses the preposition do and the Genitive case to mark human beings as destinations, as in Idę do mamy ‘I am going to my mother’. Other Slavic languages require the preposition k and the Dative case for this situation, as in (Russian) Ja idu k mame/(Czech) Jdu k mámě ‘I am going to my mother’. This difference in treatment of human beings as destinations does not seem to correlate with anything specific to Polish culture. There are also counterexamples to the correlations suggested above. For example, though Russian almost always shows a stronger preference for Imperfective verbs than other Slavic languages, there is one use of aspect where Czech and Slovak admit Imperfectives although Russian (and all the remaining Slavic languages) prefers Perfectives, namely in narrations of sequenced events (cf. Dickey 2000: 203–218 and Stunová 1993: 124–129). This example contradicts the overall trend described in 4.2. Yet the presence of linguistic facts that are irrelevant or even inconsistent with culture does not necessarily negate the possibility that language and culture might be congruent in other ways. We should not reject that possibility without having thoroughly investigated it. Furthermore, our opportunities to pursue this possibility are just opening up as more analyses are being made in Cognitive Linguistics. The correlations presented here are preliminary and tentative. They are presented in the hope that they will inspire a new line of research using Cognitive Linguistics to examine the cultural linguistic phenomena that help to define the identities of thousands of speech communities on Earth.
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