LINGUIST List 16.2745|
Fri Sep 23 2005
Diss: Semantics: Patent: 'Are These Truths ...'
Editor for this issue: Takako Matsui
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Are These Truths Self-Evident? Language, Culture and Human Rights in the U.S. and China
Message 1: Are These Truths Self-Evident? Language, Culture and Human Rights in the U.S. and China
From: Jason Patent <patentpost.harvard.edu>
Subject: Are These Truths Self-Evident? Language, Culture and Human Rights in the U.S. and China
Institution: University of California, Berkeley
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2003
Author: Jason Patent
Dissertation Title: Are These Truths Self-Evident? Language, Culture and Human Rights in the U.S. and China
Subject Language(s): Chinese, Mandarin (cmn)
Eve E. Sweetser
American advocates of international human rights often assume that the
notion of human rights is somehow 'universal,' or understood in the same
way across all linguistic and cultural communities. Critics of this view
often resort to universalism's logical opposite, radical relativism, which
holds that no concepts are stable across cultures. Strong universalist and
relativist claims tend to be a priori.
What is missing is empirical investigation. Cognitive linguistics offers
useful tools for such an investigation. In this study, human rights is
treated as a complex cultural category which can only be understood through
underlying cultural models of what a human is: cultural expectations of
how humans do and should behave, especially with respect to societal
institutions such as the family and the state. The category human rights
is compared to its closest Chinese counterpart, rénquán, in a similar way:
by unpacking the underlying Chinese cultural models.
What emerge are two complex systems of cultural models that serve as the
basis for the differences and similarities between human rights and
rénquán. Awareness of these differences points the way not only toward a
deeper understanding of how these two cultural categories are related, but
also to some deeply important aspects of American and Chinese culture.
This can facilitate better cross-cultural communication about any number of
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