A Critique of Wierzbicka's Theory of Cultural Scripts: The Case of Ifaluk Fago


Journal Article

© 2015 by the American Anthropological Association. The linguist Anna Wierzbicka casts linguistic meaning in terms of cultural scripts, which she constructs from a short list of 60 or so conceptual primes, each with a grammar, deemed basic to human language, in the sense that these occur in all languages. I focus on the Ifaluk Islander lexeme fago, for which she has published such a script, and which I have also analyzed in another context. I argue that her script for fago does not adequately capture its meaning. Instead, I show, a culturally adequate definition of this emotion term cannot be founded on metalinguistics but must incorporate relevant nonlinguistic experience pertaining to the domain in question-in the case of fago, early attachment and the cultural defenses that emerge in response to it. My analysis of fago is compatible with a theory of cultural meaning as susceptible to considerable cross-cultural variability while constrained by shared features of human neurobiology in combination with common features of the world in which humans all live.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Quinn, N

Published Date

  • January 1, 2015

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 43 / 2

Start / End Page

  • 165 - 186

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1548-1352

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0091-2131

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1111/etho.12079

Citation Source

  • Scopus