In Search of the Cultural Motivation in Language

Girl and Woman in James Joyce’s “Dubliners”

by Izabela Jarosz (Author)
©2020 Monographs 192 Pages


This book aims to expose a panchronic outlook on motivation behind the word within the paradigm of cognitive linguistics. On the example of girl and woman used in "Dubliners", the author emphasises the impact of culture on human conceptualisation which, in turn, can be traced in language. The results of her analysis reveal that the linguistic sign is not an arbitrary pairing of form and meaning, but rather a language unit motivated by culture.
This book will be of interest to those who wish to look more closely at the relationship between language, culture and human mind. Readers interested in Joyce will also find a great dose of cultural and biographical facts related to his life as well as his vision of females as conceptualised in "Dubliners".

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • Acknowledgements
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • 1.1 Saussure on the arbitrary linguistic sign
  • 1.2 Peirce on the three-fold symbol
  • 1.3 Sapir on the index of culture
  • 1.4 Langacker on the linguistic unit
  • Concluding remarks
  • 2.1 Motivation in cognitive linguistics
  • 2.1.1 Motivation as iconicity
  • 2.1.2 Motivation as indexicality
  • 2.1.3 Motivation as symbolism
  • 2.2 Iconic vis-à-vis symbolic in a temporal perspective
  • 2.2.1 The motivated sign as a combination of iconicity, indexicality and symbolism
  • 2.2.2 The motivated sign as an experiential convention
  • Concluding remarks
  • 3.1 Panchrony as universal laws
  • 3.2 Panchrony as the omnipresence of history
  • 3.3 Panchrony as cognitive universalism
  • 3.4 Panchrony as diachrony plus cognition
  • Concluding remarks
  • 4.1 Culture as defined in linguistics and anthropology
  • 4.2 Culture as the motivation behind words
  • 4.3 Culture as the content of language
  • 4.4 Culture as the context of the word
  • Concluding remarks
  • 5.1 The Victorian female: the angel in the house
  • 5.1.1 The cult of Blessed Mary: virginity and motherhood
  • 5.1.2 Science: femininity as a force of nature
  • 5.1.3 Education and job perspectives: the domestic domain
  • 5.1.4 The New Woman: feminism and intellectual independence
  • 5.1.5 Legal issues: the subjugated female
  • 5.2 James Joyce
  • 5.2.1 Ireland as a place of childhood and adolescence
  • 5.2.2 Continental Europe as a place of adulthood
  • 5.2.3 The significance of the two cultures
  • 5.3 Females in the eyes of Joyce
  • 5.3.1 Females as girls: distant angel vis-à-vis friendly companion
  • 5.3.2 Females as animals: sexual object vis-à-vis desirous being
  • 5.3.3 Females as prostitutes: fallen angel vis-à-vis sacred goddess
  • 5.3.4 Females as wives: domestic angel vis-à-vis passionless prostitute
  • 5.3.5 Females as mothers: religious servant vis-à-vis loving parent
  • 5.3.6 Females as New Women: despised feminist vis-à-vis intelligent woman
  • 5.3.7 Females as abnormal women: intelligent mind vis-à-vis androgynous body
  • Concluding remarks
  • 6.1 Girl in the dictionary
  • 6.2 Girl in Dubliners
  • 6.3 Lexical vs. contextual analysis of girl
  • 6.4 Woman in the dictionary
  • 6.5 Woman in Dubliners
  • 6.6 Lexical vs. contextual analysis of woman
  • Eliza Flynn
  • Mangan’s sister
  • Eveline Hill
  • The maid
  • Mrs Mooney
  • Polly Mooney
  • Little Chandler’s wife
  • Maria
  • Emily Sinico
  • Mrs Kearney
  • Mrs Cunningham
  • Gretta Conroy
  • Lily
  • Miss Ivors
  • Julia Morkan
  • List of Figures


James Joyce is said to be one of the greatest novelists of the 20th century, whose fight against Irish culture and Victorian hypocrisy, as Bowker (2011: 5) says, “casts him in a heroic light.” The literary sources consulted here highlight not only the outstanding mind and intellect of the writer, but also his realistic depiction of society and the Irish system of values in his works that seem to show Irish culture in a negative light. In this book, it is intended to examine the extent of cultural influence on Joyce’s conceptualisations reflected in selected vocabulary used in Dubliners. We are guided by Silverman (2005: 268), in a way, for whom “the individual’s fate – whether to become admired and successful or to be defined as abnormal – depended upon the fit of his or her personality with the values underscored or disparaged by the culture.” In our analysis, then, we aim to detect how these values, influenced by culture, find their way in motivating the writer’s vocabulary.

In the view intended to present, words, or rather lexemes, serve as symbols of experience and are determined by certain motivating situations. The aim here is to underscore what reason Joyce possibly found for creating a given meaning represented by a certain lexeme, and to account for each sense denoted by a particular lexeme by providing and scrutinising that reason. Therefore, on the basis of a contextual interpretation, a number of observations about the lexical meaning are put forward that allegedly permit certain formulations as regards the motivation behind the lexical choices denoting females Joyce made when composing Dubliners. Strictly speaking, it is intended to outline the semantics of girl and woman as products of Joyce’s distinct conceptualisations formulated on the basis of his own experience.

Our hypothesis, therefore, assumes that Joyce’s life experience, being the direct cause of his subjectification and evaluation of reality, is contained in the semantics of the words referring to females. Such an analysis will make room for a claim that the linguistic sign is not an arbitrary pairing of form and meaning, but rather a language unit motivated by culture that is conceptualised inside the human mind.

The material for the analysis in question in the form of the stories of Dubliners by James Joyce has been chosen for several reasons. The very collection, apart from its structural and chronological organisation, is claimed to be a detailed account of Joyce’s vision of society, allegedly providing a credible insight into the writer’s conceptualisations as regards females. As the writer explains: “[m];y ←13 | 14→intention was to write a chapter of the moral history of my country and I chose Dublin for the scene because that city seemed to me the centre of paralysis” (LII: 134). We believe, then, that these stories will provide us with a satisfactory picture of Irish culture as seen from Joyce’s perspective.

To this end, this book has been divided into several parts in order to account for the problem of defining the word, motivation in the linguistic tradition, the panchronic mode of language analysis, language-culture-mind relations, Irish women at the turn of the 19th and the 20th century, Joyce’s biography, his vision of females, and the lexical and contextual analysis of girl and woman as presented in a body of dictionaries as well as in Joyce’s Dubliners respectively.

Chapter 1 provides us with an investigation into the problem of motivation as perceived in the world of linguistics and philosophy of language. By discussing different approaches to the question of motivation in language, it is intended to build a comprehensive view of semantic motivation in cognitive linguistics theory and present how the notion of the word has been developed in the linguistic thought. In our discussion about motivation in Chapter 2, we mainly rely on the theory of the linguistic sign as initiated by Peirce, focusing on iconicity, indexicality, and symbolism. Here, it is intended to examine the problem of motivation and the three-fold nature of the linguistic sign from a cognitive linguistics perspective. By underscoring the experiential aspect behind motivation, it is attempted to frame a complete and satisfactory idea of the word as a motivated sign. Chapter 3 offers a brief overview of the word as analysed from a panchronic perspective. By presenting different definitions of panchrony in the linguistic tradition, we arrive at the modern panchronic mode of analysis, wherein language consists of motivated symbols whose meaning is based on our subjective experience of a changing reality. Motivation, then, is understood as some extra-linguistic force of various types which makes the form-substance pairing brought together by speakers’ subjective interpretation of culture through time. In Chapter 4, we set our sights on narrowing down panchrony to the cultural motivation behind the linguistic sign. In our goal of establishing a comprehensive definition of culture and its relationship to language, we present instances of how culture can be subjectively expressed in the semantics of chosen lexical items. This leads us to the problem of language-culture interface and the issue of contextual aspects in determining the role of culture in motivating the word. Chapter 5 presents us with an account of cultural expectations in relation to female roles in Victorian Ireland. It is intended to depict the problem of gender segregation and discrimination directed against women. In James Joyce’s biography, we focus on the influence of Victorian culture and the more liberal lifestyle in Continental Europe that possibly contributed to his evaluation of ←14 | 15→Irish society and the status of females in this community. The aim of Chapter 6 is to examine the motivation behind the selected vocabulary contained in James Joyce’s Dubliners. In this section, we examine girl and woman as they appear in a body of selected etymological sources and dictionaries against the background context of the lexemes in the collection Dubliners. By relating to Joyce’s experience in life, we attempt to find the motivation behind his conceptualisations as reflected in the chosen lexemes. In order to provide the necessary background for our analysis, a fairly detailed account of the selected female characters from Dubliners is contained in the Appendix.


The idea of defining the meaning of a word has invariably drawn considerable attention throughout the centuries. In a number of different research traditions concerning the issue, the main area of interest has focused on the relationship between the word, the mind and the world. The main aim of this chapter is to present the views on the motivation behind the linguistic sign as understood by certain researchers of our choice that, to our mind, contributed to the development of the linguistic thought concerning the idea of the word. In general, it can be said that the development of the concept of the word was not a linear transition from one theory to another, but, in fact, a continuum of various approaches that frequently overlapped and merged into one another with respect to some aspects, resembling at times a dialect continuum with no clear borders.

1.1 Saussure on the arbitrary linguistic sign

Until the 19th century, whether arbitrary or natural interpretations of reality, words were defined as “sets of names by means of which it is possible to identify different persons, places, animals, species, qualities, properties, etc. and to say something about them” (Harris and Taylor, 1997: 24). As Harris (1996: 10) points out, the issue is closely related to the surrogationalist view of language that accepts “as axiomatic the principle [of] words hav[ing] meaning for us because [they] stand for – are surrogates for – something else.” Hence, surrogationalists are concerned with the problem of the way the word refers to what it stands for. This, in turn, poses a question of whether the relationship is based on a natural or an arbitrary connection, and whether the word stands for an idea in the mind or a real object of a non-linguistic nature.

It was Saussure who questioned this traditional view by incorporating the internal arbitrariness1 of the linguistic sign in the Course of General Linguistics (henceforth CGL). Joseph (2004: 62) mentions that Saussure accused his contemporaries of an inadequate interpretation of the notion of the word. He was the first to perceive words as consisting of sounds rather than letters, the ←17 | 18→latter being just the secondary significations of sounds. The sequence of sounds comprising a word, in turn, as Saussure claims, should be interpreted as physical realisations of some pattern in the human mind allowing an individual to identify this sequence as a particular word. Although the sounds comprising a particular word uttered by individual speakers vary, the same mental pattern is realised in their minds.

As Harris and Taylor (1997: 218) remark, the main aim of Saussure’s CGL is to show that language is not the same as nomenclature. The aforementioned surrogationalist approach fails to explain how language actually works. Looking for the relationship between individual words and objects or events in the non-linguistic world is not sufficient to account for the systematicity of language. Considering the nature of language, it is not the outside world that provides human beings with objects and events to name, but rather human beings who decide about the final outcome of words which could be used to exchange ideas with one another. To justify these facts, Joseph (2004: 63) provides us with an example of the word cattle, claiming that in different periods it was used to designate various things. Although there was a period when cattle meant ‘livestock including oxen, sheep, horses, etc.,’ later, the word was used to denote ‘oxen only.’ It was not determined by nature which animals were counted as cattle and which were not. With time, the usage changed due to different social needs, but the animals remained the same. This counts as evidence against the nomenclaturist view which holds that meanings exist in the world prior to language which provides names for them.

By incorporating the importance of sound as well as meaning and stressing their inseparability, Saussure’s theory was revolutionary and soon his movement was overtaken by other fields of science. For Saussure, “[a]; linguistic sign is not a link between a thing and a name but between a concept and a sound pattern. […] The sound pattern may thus be distinguished from the other element [the concept being of a more abstract kind] associated with it in a linguistic sign” (1983: 66). The two elements in question, that is the sound pattern and the concept, as outlined by Joseph (1997: 531), are referred to as the signal and the signification.2

←18 | 19→

As Saussure (1983: 67, 70) claims, there are two basic principles that the linguistic sign operates on: arbitrariness and linearity. The sign cannot be changed by speakers, yet the relationship between the signal and the signification might be altered with time and, therefore, modify the sign.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2020 (February)
Cognitive linguistics Linguistic sign Panchrony Irish culture Conceptualisation Females
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 192 pp., 4 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Izabela Jarosz (Author)

Izabela Jarosz is an assistant professor at Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin, Poland. Her major areas of interest include cognitive and cultural linguistics as well as second language acquisition.


Title: In Search of the Cultural Motivation in Language
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194 pages