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EnglishMeaning and Culture$
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Anna Wierzbicka

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780195174748

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195174748.001.0001

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The Story of right and wrong and Its Cultural Implications

The Story of right and wrong and Its Cultural Implications

(p.61) Chapter 3 The Story of RIGHT and WRONG and Its Cultural Implications

Anna Wierzbicka (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

One of the most interesting phenomena in the history of the English language is the remarkable rise of the word right, in its many interrelated senses and uses. This chapter tries to trace the changes in the meaning and use of this word, as well as the rise of new conversational routines based on it, and raises questions about the cultural underpinnings of these semantic and pragmatic developments. It explores the hypothesis that the “discourse of truth” declined in English over the centuries; that the use of “right” and “wrong” as parallel concepts (and opposites) increased; and it notes that the use of right as an adjective increased enormously in relation to the use of true. Furthermore, the chapter explores the role of the word right as a conversational response and its role in modern Anglo discourse of cooperation and mutual concessions. The chapter traces the transition from the Shakespearean response “Right”, described by the OED as “you are right; you speak well”, to the present-day “Right” of non-committal acknowledgement, and it links the development in semantics and discourse patterns with historical phenomena such as Puritanism, British empiricism, the Enlightenment, and the growth of democracy in America and in other English-speaking countries.

Keywords:   conversational routines, discourse markers, English language, historical pragmatics, historical semantics, procedural ethics, natural semantic metalanguage

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