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Cognitive Linguistics

Editor-in-Chief: Divjak, Dagmar

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Volume 22, Issue 3


The Self in Arabic and the Relativism-Universalism Controversy

Mikołaj Domaradzki
Published Online: 2011-06-28 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cogl.2011.021


The purpose of the present paper is to discuss the metaphor system for conceptualizing the Self in Arabic. A comparison of structural means for conceptualizing inner life in Arabic and English leads to the conclusion that although on the structural (‘grammatical’) level the differences between the two languages are indeed considerable, they become far less radical on the conceptual (‘semantic’) level. More specifically, it is argued here that in Arabic, as in English, inner experiences are for the most part conceptualized metaphorically and that Arabs seem to conceptualize their inner lives in a way similar, or at least comparable, to the speakers of English. While the article shows that on the conceptual level there are several important correspondences between Arabic and English, it hypothesizes that they reflect some fundamental and presumably universal human experiences and cognitive abilities. Finally, the linguistic material analyzed here provides a point of departure for touching upon the relativism-universalism debate. The paper argues that the controversy depends, at least to some extent, on whether one chooses to focus on potentially universal conceptualizations (and their underlying cognitive mechanisms) or more culture-specific structural relations (the contingent and historical conventions). Thus, while it seems to be a matter of one's personal decision whether to place the potentially universal in the foreground and the more idiosyncratic in the background, or the other way round, the article emphasizes the usefulness of explaining certain striking conceptual similarities in terms of their bodily basis.

Keywords:: Metaphors for the Self; conceptualizations of inner experiences; Arabic; cross-linguistic variation; relativism; universalism

About the article

Received: 2010-05-11

Revised: 2010-11-16

Published Online: 2011-06-28

Published in Print: 2011-08-01

Citation Information: Cognitive Linguistics, Volume 22, Issue 3, Pages 535–567, ISSN (Online) 1613-3641, ISSN (Print) 0936-5907, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cogl.2011.021.

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