Ethnolinguistics (sometimes called cultural linguistics)[1] is a field of linguistics that studies the relationship between language and culture and how different ethnic groups perceive the world. It is the combination between ethnology and linguistics. The former refers to the way of life of an entire community: all the characteristics that distinguish one community from the other. Such characteristics make the cultural aspects of a community or a society.

Ethnolinguists study the way perception and conceptualization influences language and show how that is linked to different cultures and societies. An example is how spatial orientation is expressed in various cultures.[2][3] In many societies, words for the cardinal directions east and west are derived from terms for sunrise/sunset. The nomenclature for cardinal directions of Inuit speakers of Greenland, however, is based on geographical landmarks such as the river system and one's position on the coast. Similarly, the Yurok lack the idea of cardinal directions; they orient themselves with respect to their principal geographic feature, the Klamath River.

Cultural Linguistics is a related branch of linguistics that explores the relationship between language and cultural conceptualisations.[4] Cultural Linguistics draws on and expands the theoretical and analytical advancements in cognitive science (including complexity science and distributed cognition) and anthropology. Cultural linguistics examines how various features of human languages encode cultural conceptualisations, including cultural schemas, cultural categories, and cultural metaphors.[4] In Cultural Linguistics, language is viewed as deeply entrenched in the group-level, cultural cognition of communities of speakers. Thus far, the approach of Cultural Linguistics has been adopted in several areas of applied linguistic research, including intercultural communication, second language learning, Teaching English as an International Language, and World Englishes.[5]

See also


  1. Ferraro, Gary (2006). Cultural Anthropology: An Applied Perspective. Cengage Learning. ISBN 0-495-10008-0.
  2. Heine, Bernd (1997) Cognitive Foundations of Grammar. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press.
  3. Tuan, Yi-Fu (1974) Topophilia: A study of environmental perception, attitudes, and values. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall.
  4. Sharifian, Farzad (2011). Cultural Conceptualisations and Language: Theoretical Framework and Applications. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
  5. Sharifian, Farzad & Palmer, Gary B. (eds.) (2007) Applied cultural linguistics: Implications for second language learning and intercultural communication. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.


  • Wierzbicka, Anna (1992) Semantics, Culture, and Cognition: Universal human concepts in culture-specific configuration. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Bartmiński, Jerzy. Aspects of Cognitive Ethnolinguistics. Sheffield and Oakville, CT: Equinox, 2009/2012.
  • (en) Madeleine Mathiot (dir.), Ethnolinguistics : Boas, Sapir and Whorf revisited, Mouton, La Haye, 1979, 323 p. (ISBN 978-90-279-7597-3)
  • (fr) Luc Bouquiaux, Linguistique et ethnolinguistique : anthologie d'articles parus entre 1961 et 2003, Peeters, Louvain, Dudley, MA, 2004, 466 p.
  • (fr) Christine Jourdan et Claire Lefebvre (dir.), « L'ethnolinguistique », in Anthropologie et sociétés, vol. 23, no 3, 1999, p. 5-173
  • (fr) Bernard Pottier, L'ethnolinguistique (numéro spécial de la revue Langages), Didier, 1970, 130 p.
  • Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
  • Trabant, Jürgen, Humboldt ou le sens du langage, Liège: Madarga, 1992.
  • Trabant, Jürgen, Traditions de Humboldt, (German edition 1990), French edition, Paris: Maison des sciences de l’homme, 1999.
  • Trabant, Jürgen, Mithridates im Paradies: Kleine Geschichte des Sprachdenkens, München: Beck, 2003.
  • Trabant, Jürgen, ‘L’antinomie linguistique: quelques enjeux politiques’, Politiques & Usages de la Langue en Europe, ed. Michael Werner, Condé-sur-Noireau: Collection du Ciera, Dialogiques, Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme, 2007.
  • Trabant, Jürgen, Was ist Sprache?, München: Beck, 2008.
  • Underhill, James W., ‘ “Making” love and “having” sex: an analysis of metaphoric paradigms in English, French and Czech’, Slovo a smysl: Word and Sense, Karlova univerzita, Akademie, 2007.
  • Underhill, James W., Humboldt, Worldview and Language, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009.
  • Underhill, James W. Creating Worldviews, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011.
  • Underhill, James W. Ethnolinguistics and Cultural Concepts: love, truth, hate & war, Cambridge University Press, 2012.
  • Vocabulaire européen des philosophes, Dictionnaires des intraduisibles, ed. Barbara Cassin, Paris: Robert, 2004.
  • Whorf, Benjamin Lee, Language, Thought and Reality: Selected Writings (1956), ed. John B. Caroll, Cambridge, Massachusetts: M.I.T. Press, 1984.
  • Wierzbicka, Anna, Semantics, Culture and Cognition: Universal Human Concepts in Culture-Specific Configurations, New York, Oxford University Press, 1992.
  • Wierzbicka, Anna, Understanding Cultures through their Key Words, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.
  • Wierzbicka, Anna, Emotions across Languages and Cultures, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
  • Wierzbicka, Anna, Semantics: Primes and Universals (1996), Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • Wierzbicka, Anna, Experience, Evidence & Sense: The Hidden Cultural Legacy of English, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.
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