Cultural Linguistics Applied

Trends, Directions and Implications

by Arne Peters (Volume editor) Neele Mundt (Volume editor)
Conference proceedings 282 Pages


This book offers a range of empirically-based case studies in the field of cultural linguistics and neighbouring disciplines such as intercultural pragmatics and language pedagogy. The first section explores intercultural communication and cross-linguistic/cross-cultural investigations in settings such as Brazil, Nigeria, Cameroon, Tanzania, Morocco, France and Canada. The second section focuses on applications of cultural linguistics in the field of foreign language teaching. By drawing on English as a Foreign Language and English as a Second Language contexts, the case studies presented further examine the ramification of cultural linguistics in the language classroom, enabling a better understanding of culture-specific conceptual differences between learners’ first and target language(s).

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • Dedication
  • Acknowledgements
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Editors and contributors
  • Cultural linguistics applied: Status quo and new directions
  • Section 1 Advancing cultural linguistics: Case studies and their implications
  • Jeitinho as a cultural conceptualisation in Brazilian Portuguese
  • Cultural perceptions of diseases and the nomenclatures of HIV, AIDS and Ebola in the Igbo language
  • On the metaphoric conceptualisation of bribe in West and East African countries
  • The linguistic and cultural representation of emotions in English and Moroccan Arabic
  • Towards a richer description of advising in English and in French: Associations and individual differences
  • Section 2: Language teaching through the lens of cultural linguistics
  • Conceptual metaphors in foreign language classrooms
  • Reconceptualising L1 conceptual structures for editing collocational errors in English as a Second Language (ESL) writing
  • Exploring L2 readers’ metacultural competence through a video-based cooperative approach
  • A preliminary evaluation of students’ intercultural communicative competence through reflective writing
  • Flexibility, complexity, diversity: Teaching for intercultural communication in the ELF-oriented classroom

← 10 | 11 →

Editors and contributors

About the editors

Arne Peters (PhD 2015) is assistant professor in English linguistics at the University of Potsdam, Germany. His work within the frameworks of variationist and cognitive sociolinguistics as well as cultural linguistics focuses on L1 and L2 varieties of English worldwide, most notably the ones spoken in Ireland and Southern Africa. He contributed to these fields with two book publications: Linguistic Change in Galway City English (2016) and Cultural Linguistic Contributions to World Englishes (2017, co-edited with Hans-Georg Wolf and Frank Polzenhagen).

Neele Mundt is a lecturer in English linguistics at the University of Koblenz-Landau, Germany. She works in the field of applied linguistics with a focus on English in central Africa. She spent one year in Yaoundé, Cameroon, to collect field data for her on-going research project situated at the juncture of sociolinguistics, applied linguistics and language policy in Cameroon. Her research interests include multilingualism, second language learning and teaching in general, and with a focus on Africa in particular.


Larysa Bobrova, Miami University, Oxford Ohio, United States of America

Khalid El asri, Mohammed V University, Rabat, Morocco

Christie Heike, University of Flensburg, Flensburg, Germany

Ying-Hsueh Hu, Tamkang University, New Taipei City, Taiwan

Herbert Igboanusi, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria

Stephanie Lerat, University of Lorraine, Nancy Cedex, France

Lozzi Martial Meutem Kamtchueng, University of Maroua, Maroua, Cameroon

Jennifer Schluer, Chemnitz University of Technology, Chemnitz, Germany

Ulrike Schröder, Federal University of Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, Brazil

Chiuhui Wu, Wenzao Ursuline University of Languages, Kaohsiung City, Taiwan

← 12 | 13 →

Neele Mundt and Arne Peters

Cultural linguistics applied: Status quo and new directions

1.Directions in (applied) cultural linguistics

Cultural linguistics is a relatively young and innovative academic discipline, adopting the language-thought-culture paradigm by focusing on language and culture-specific conceptualisations. The relationship between language, thought and culture has been firmly established as a research field since Palmer’s (1996) Theory Towards Cultural Linguistics, in which he argues that ‘linguistic meaning is subsumed within world view’. However, such reflections on the entanglement of language, culture and thought already date back to the German linguist Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767–1835), who refers to the idea of ‘Weltansicht’ [world view] linked to each language. In this vein, Franz Boas (1858–1942) further outlines ‘the function of language in organising our experience of the sensible world, emphasising particularly its classification function’ (Foley 1997: 194). Against the backdrop of the Boasian tradition, the principle of Linguistic Relativity emerged, describing that ‘users of markedly different grammars are pointed by their grammars towards different types of observations and different evaluations of externally similar acts of observation’ (Whorf 1956: 221). Hence, linguistic relativity assumes that the natural as well as cultural environment is reflected in and through language. Taking these traditional approaches into consideration, it becomes evident that there is a rather long tradition aiming to explore the language-thought-culture paradigm; even though ‘a unified subdiscipline focusing on the relationship between language and culture has never been fully developed’ (Sharifian 2017a: 1).

The field of cultural linguistics advances these traditional approaches by taking a cognitive linguistic stance. Cultural linguistics draws its methodological and analytical tools from the discipline of cognitive linguistics which assumes that human cognition and its ability to categorise lie at the heart of language and cognition. Along these lines, Evans and Green (2006: 5) argue that ‘language offers a window into the cognitive function, providing insights into the nature, structure and organisation of thoughts.’ Hence, it provides a strong theoretical foundation to investigate the relationship between language and mind, in particular, because ‘language reflects patterns of thought’ (ibid.). ← 13 | 14 →The notion of conceptualisation is central and described ‘as the dynamic activity of embodied minds interacting with their environment’ (Langacker 1998: 3). As such, conceptualisations are partially based on specific sociocultural experiences but are also commonly shared and universal, hinging on fundamental sensomotoric embodied experiences.

Against this background, cultural linguistics claims that morphosyntactic, semantic and pragmatic structures in languages can be perceived as culture-specific conceptualisations. The notion of cultural conceptualisation is used as an umbrella term for cultural schemas, cultural categories and cultural-conceptual metaphors to provide a solid foundation for the theoretical framework, investigating the relationship between language, thought and culture (Sharifian 2017c: 23). These cultural conceptualisations are heterogeneously distributed among the participants of a distinct cultural group as they are built upon shared experiences, interactions and world knowledge, which are embedded within socioculturally and naturally distinct environments. In this vein, Sharifian (2011: 5) argues that ‘although conceptualisations can be initiated in individuals’ cognition, they may well emerge as cultural cognitions’ because not all cultural conceptualisations are shared equally among all members of the cultural group. Furthermore, the notion of cultural cognition is highly dynamic as its members are continually renegotiating these cultural conceptualisations in the face of continuous contact to members of their own and other cultural groups (Sharifian 2017c: 3). Xu (2017: 705) further outlines the notion of Applied Cultural Linguistics ‘as a holistic approach that examines the cultural conceptualisations in order to understand cultural meaning, raise awareness of cultural variation and enhance intercultural communication’; and thus expands the focus of the field.

In recent years, the notion of cultural linguistics has been extended and adapted into neighbouring disciplines, such as applied linguistics, language learning and teaching as well as intercultural communication. The ten chapters presented in this volume address the intersection of cultural linguistics with and its application to these neighbouring fields and stand on a firmly established empirical basis. For instance, Schröder’s (this volume) analysis of jeitinho in Brazilian Portuguese links intercultural communication and cultural linguistics by analysing German-Brazilian interaction, discussing the cultural model of jeitinho. Cross-linguistic and cross-cultural investigations play an important role in the field; for example, Bagasheva (2017: 217) poses the question of ‘how embodied is culture or how cultural is the body?’, drawing from the notion of embodiment and its deviant cultural expressions in Bulgarian and English. Another aspect, which is thought of as universal, is emotions; however, how languages express emotions differs considerably across various cultural ← 14 | 15 →contexts. This is explored in El asri’s (this volume) comparative analysis of the language of emotions in English and Moroccan Arabic by taking into account two diverse cultural contexts, more precisely individualist and collectivist cultures.

Additionally, cultural differences are often illustrated alongside linguistic features in foreign language classrooms, pointing students towards cross-cultural and cross-linguistic differences. For instance, Malcolm (2007: 54) explores the benefits of a cultural linguistic approach to bidialectal education among Aboriginal Australian students, which might provide a ‘tool for raising the awareness of the speakers of the dominant dialect […] which can effect significant change not only in the non-standard dialect speaking group but in the dominant group as well.’ Further investigations in second language learning and cultural linguistics pertain to all areas of competence; for instance, receptive skills are addressed by Schluer (this volume), who illustrates that cross-cultural conceptual variation can be problematic for German learners of English. She stipulates ‘L2 readers’ metacultural competence as a crucial skill to communicate, explain and negotiate cultural conceptualisations.’ Furthermore, productive skills are in the focus of Bobrova (this volume), who focuses on writing, in particular word-choice errors in second language English learners that can be considered conceptual errors due to a conceptual transfer from their first language.

However, applied cultural linguistics is not limited to language teaching and learning processes but also includes lexicographic work, such as the Dictionary of Hong Kong English (Cummings and Wolf 2011) and the Dictionary of Indian English (Carls, Lucko, Peter, and Polzenhagen 2017). In particular, with regards to English, ‘new’ or postcolonial varieties of English also become of interest because constant language contact gives rise to new, nativised forms, revealing cultural conceptualisations that are deeply rooted within local cultural practices (for a number of good cases in point see Wolf, Polzenhagen and Peters 2017). These postcolonial spaces are culturally and linguistically highly complex contexts that are also eminently influenced by local sociocultural practices, for example, corruption and bribery in Africa (cf. Meutem Kamtchueng, this volume). Earlier works on the cultural conceptualisation of corruption explore African Englishes from a corpus-based approach (cf. Polzenhagen and Wolf 2007). Meutem Kamtchueng (this volume) broadens the scope through a contrastive analysis of three different cultural contexts, namely Cameroon, Nigeria and Tanzania.

This volume focuses predominantly on applied aspects of cultural linguistics, such as intercultural communication, language learning and language ← 15 | 16 →teaching processes as well as mechanisms of localisation. Works such as Applied Cultural Linguistics (Sharifian and Palmer 2007) or Applied Cognitive Linguistics (Pütz, Niemeier, and Dirven 2001) have significantly contributed to our general understanding of cognitive and cultural linguistics in and outside the classroom, as well as across cultural contexts. Leaning on these works, this volume attempts to fuel the discussion by including insights from marginalised spaces, such as Nigeria (cf. Igboanusi, this volume) or Brazil (cf. Schröder, this volume), new methodological assessments, such as video-based approaches (cf. Schluer, this volume) or long-term retention tests (cf. Hu, this volume), as well as advancements in intercultural communication by furthering our knowledge in regards to cultural conceptualisation as the basis for misconceptions (cf. Wu, this volume). The volume addresses a number of important trends and directions in cultural linguistics as well as novel applications of the cultural linguistic paradigm in the pedagogy of languages, expanding the scope by contributing insights that are built upon a solid empirical basis. The following sections outline the structure of this volume and illustrate the individual contributions.

2.Advancing cultural linguistics: Case studies and their implications

The first section of this volume is dedicated to applications of cultural linguistics in settings as diverse as Brazil, Nigeria, Cameroon, Tanzania, Morocco, France and Canada. To some extent, these geographical places and sociocultural spaces have been peripheral in cognitive (socio)linguistic and cultural linguistic endeavours so far since they lie outside of the traditional centres of gravity of cognitive linguistic and cultural linguistic research, i.e. North America (cf. Lakoff 1987; Lakoff and Johnson 1980; Palmer 1996) and Australia (cf. Wierzbicka 1997; Malcolm and Rochecouste 2000; Malcolm 2001; Malcolm and Sharifian 2002; Sharifian 2006, 2011, 2015, 2017a). Brazilian Portuguese, for example, has received some degree of attention from the perspectives of metaphor theory, conceptualisation research, interactional linguistics and intercultural pragmatics (cf. da Silva 2010; Schröder 2009, 2017; Schröder and Mendes de Oliveira 2011; Mendes de Oliveira 2017, 2019); however, it has not been subject to any large-scale application of the cultural linguistic and/or cognitive (socio)linguistic frameworks. In contrast, varieties of English in Western and Southern Africa have received broader cognitive sociolinguistic treatment in the works of, for example, Wolf (2003, 2006), Polzenhagen (2007), Wolf and Polzenhagen (2007, 2009), Peters and Polzenhagen (fc.) and Peters (2021, fc.). Nonetheless, cognitive (socio)linguistic and cultural linguistic explorations ← 16 | 17 →into languages other than English in the Western African setting as well as in Eastern and Northern Africa are largely still in their infancy. Hence, cultural linguistic approaches to Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba (Igboanusi, this volume), Nigerian Pidgin English, Cameroon Pidgin English and Kiswahili (Meutem Kamtchueng, this volume) as well as Moroccan Arabic (El asri, this volume) have to be embraced in order to augment our understanding of the interplay between language(s), culture(s) and conceptualisation(s) in these linguistic and sociocultural settings. The same applies to the study of French and English in the contexts of France and Canada, which, despite the vastness of the places and spaces they inhabit, have not received any cognitive sociolinguistic and/or cultural linguistic treatment to this point.

The merit of the case studies in the first section of this book is that, in their endeavour towards making the periphery less peripheral, they combine cultural linguistic approaches with a rich array of methodologies from other frameworks such as intercultural pragmatics, interactional linguistics, speech act theory and emotion studies. These applied approaches to cultural linguistics/cognitive (socio)linguistics have been rare ventures in the past; and there are only few case studies with a focus on applications other than language teaching or classroom interaction (cf. Section 2 of this volume). Hence, we regard the contributions in the first section of this volume as continuing the impetus created by the case studies published in Sharifian and Palmer (2007) as well as Sharifian (2017b).

The contribution by Ulrike Schröder investigates the cultural model of jeitinho, i.e.the art of being notably flexible and being able to improvise” (Schröder, this volume), in Brazilian Portuguese from a cultural linguistic and interactional linguistic perspective. Based on video tapes of two native Brazilians and two long-term residents of Brazil from Germany, her focus lies on how the cultural significance of jeitinho is co-constructed in conversations. Taking an intercultural pragmatic approach, she analyses multimodal metaphors from a talk-in-interaction perspective. Her analysis uncovers conceptualisations of jeitinho on the multimodal verbal-gestural level, i.e. jeitinho as shadow, the monomodal gestural level, i.e. jeitinho as quick handling, as well as on the prosodic level, i.e. jeitinho as deviance/exception and pliability. The outcomes show that the interface of cultural linguistics and interactional linguistics has a high potential to produce novel perspectives on how speakers co-construct the significance of cultural concepts in multimodal ways and that a combination of both frameworks could be a promising enterprise for empirical research on the dynamic and emergent aspect of cultural conceptualisations in the future.

← 17 | 18 →

In the second contribution, Herbert Igboanusi reflects on how cultural practices and beliefs influence the perception and negotiation of diseases, such as HIV, AIDS and Ebola, in the Nigerian context. Drawing on data from 600 surveys conducted among socially-stratified speakers of Igbo in the three south-eastern states of Nigeria, he analyses common cultural (mis)conceptions and (mis)interpretations of diseases, leading to folk perceptions of HIV, AIDS and Ebola such as, for example, ‘incurable’, ‘touch and die’ or ‘fast killer’. These depictions often root in culture-specific belief systems on the one hand and in poor translations from English on the other, rather than in scientific objectivity. Hence, the chapter reports on an expert workshop aimed at creating and propagating standardised medical nomenclature for HIV, AIDS and Ebola in Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba in order to prevent the stigmatisation and discrimination of people living with these diseases. The materials used in the campaign underline how the interface between cultural linguistics and translation studies can make valuable contributions to resolving larger sociocultural challenges.

Contrasting West African and East African sociocultural settings, the chapter by Lozzi Martial Meutem Kamtchueng investigates lexical sources of bribe-metaphors in Cameroon, Nigeria and Tanzania. Drawing on data from interviews, questionnaires and participant observation, the chapter takes a contrastive approach within the framework of Conceptual Metaphor Theory. The analysis yields five semantic categories that donate source domain lexical material to bribe-metaphors, namely edible products, kinetic acts, facilitators, diminutive entities and meliorative entities. Interestingly, the study finds disparities underlying the proportion of source domain items for each conceptual category in each sociocultural environment, an observation explained by differences in ‘experiential focus’ on the one hand and by diverging power relationships of languages in each country on the other.

Turning towards Northern Africa, the contribution by Khalid El asri analyses the language of emotions in English and Moroccan Arabic (MA) and investigates to which extent culture influences the linguistic representation of emotions in these two languages. Studying the verbalised emotional response of native speakers of MA and English to a short film, the analysis reveals that native speakers of both languages describe the emotional scenes using quite similar emotion words and phrases that are somehow equivalents in both languages. Nevertheless, preferential patterns of emotion coding in the narratives seem to diverge. Whereas English speakers favour emotion adjectives and nouns functioning as markers of individuality and independence, speakers of MA prefer emotion verbs functioning as markers of collectivism and interdependence. Moreover, the analysis finds that the two groups of speakers take ← 18 | 19 →different stances towards the agentivity of emotions and the control emotions have over people by applying different grammatical strategies when speaking about emotions. With this, the study underlines the significant change of perspective that cultural linguistic interpretations can bring about in the contrastive analysis of emotion coding in diverse linguistic systems.

The contribution by Stephanie Lerat is located at the interface of cultural linguistics, cognitive sociolinguistics, intercultural pragmatics, speech act theory and the semantics of argumentative possibilities. Based on forty-six online declarative knowledge surveys, the chapter explores cultural schemas at work in the interpretation of advising and conseiller in English and French. It studies the diverging associations, expectations and representations that individuals from Canada and France encounter when facing the speech act of advising. Discussing a number of cultural schemas that are shared by speakers of English and French in the two sociocultural settings, the analysis finds the element of warning, which is associated with advising but not with conseiller, to be one notable difference. More generally, the chapter finds that speakers come to an interaction with slightly different associations depending on a host of factors, such as, for example, interpersonal relationships, degree of professionalism, mood and subject of advising. With this, it stresses the role of individual perceptions within larger conceptual patterns as negotiated by the cultural group.

3.Language teaching through the lens of cultural linguistics

The second half of this volume explores the relationship between cultural linguistics, language teaching and learning processes in English as a Foreign (EFL) or Second Language (ESL) settings. Earlier works, such as Pütz, Niemeier and Dirven (2001), have already focused on the applicability of cognitive linguistics to the field of language pedagogy. They (2001: xiv) argue that ‘thanks to cognitive linguistic insights, the area of idiomaticity in language has become far less opaque than was hitherto assumed in both linguistics and language pedagogy.’ In this vein, cognitive linguistics contributes to the language learner’s understanding of the foreign/second language, which is grounded in the motivated link between form and function. Taylor (2012: 62) suggests that ‘many areas of language which have traditionally been treated as arbitrary or unteachable […] are re-visioned as far more systematic’ by drawing from central concepts of cognitive linguistics, such as Conceptual Metaphor Theory, categorisation, construal and embodiment. For instance, Boers’ (2000) shows in his experimental setting of EFL learners in Belgium that metaphorical awareness is ← 19 | 20 →beneficial for language learners and their ability to memorise new lexical items. This highlights that conceptual metaphors contribute to students’ understanding of hidden systematicities in the target language. There is a range of very insightful publications investigating language pedagogy from a cognitive linguistic perspective, such as Holme (2009), de Knop, Boers and de Rycker (2010), and Taylor (2012).

In second language learning processes, the learner already has a fully developed set of conceptual and linguistic structures which influence the target language and the acquisition of its structures. These culture-specific conceptual differences between the first language (L1) and the target language can be examined against the backdrop of cultural conceptualisations, allowing for an in-depth investigation into cross-linguistic and cross-cultural influences at work. As has been discussed in the introductory lines of this chapter, cultural cognition is the focal element in cultural linguistics, which helps teachers and learners in a second/foreign language classroom to grasp these cultural-conceptual differences, ‘opening up new potentialities for cross-cultural understanding, first among researchers, then among teachers and finally among students’ (Malcolm 2007: 55). Hence, it reassures researchers, teachers and students to explore and contrast these conceptual differences embedded within the first and target language, which is based on the premise that awareness of cultural conceptualisation(s) contributes to the students’ intercultural communicative competence (ICC). Intercultural communication is a central element in the foreign/second language classroom, training students in their ICC and cultural sensitivity. For instance, Heike (this volume) explores stereotypical cultural representations in English language teaching materials on a university level, and Wu (this volume) assesses students’ ICC through EFL learners’ reflective writings. This opens the field of language pedagogy for a more nuanced view of the entanglement of culture, intercultural communication, cognitive linguistics as well as language learning and teaching processes. It acknowledges that learning does not take place in a vacuum but is embedded within sociocultural experiences of the situated learning environment, as ‘learners do not learn what the teacher teaches but […] each of them constructs their own realms of knowledge, choosing certain bits of information offered by the teacher and fitting these building blocks in their own constructions of knowledge’ (Pütz, Niemeier, and Dirven 2001: xv).


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (March)
categorisation conceptual metaphors conceptual structure cultural conceptualisation cultural model cultural practices intercultural communication language teaching
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 282 pp., 8 fig. col., 16 fig. b/w, 34 tables.

Biographical notes

Arne Peters (Volume editor) Neele Mundt (Volume editor)

Arne Peters is an assistant professor in English linguistics at the University of Potsdam, Germany. His work within the frameworks of variationist and cognitive sociolinguistics as well as cultural linguistics focuses on L1 and L2 varieties of English worldwide, most notably the ones spoken in Ireland and Southern Africa. Neele Mundt is a lecturer in English linguistics at the University of Koblenz-Landau, Germany. She works in the field of applied linguistics with a focus on English in central Africa. Her research is situated at the intersection of sociolinguistics, applied linguistics and language policy in Cameroon.


Title: Cultural Linguistics Applied