Cultural Models

CULTURAL MODEL or CULTURAL SCRIPT – is a means of organizing and representing culturally relevant knowledge. Cultural models (CM) are mental structures  and patterns of behavior that distinguish one culture from another. CM are based on joint experience and are shared by the majority of the members of a certain ethnic or social culture; they are connected with the system of values of these cultures. They are usually learned as ready-made structures, and the members of a society may not be aware of them.

Cultural models are realized through cultural artifacts, traditions, patterns of daily behaviour; they are expressed in the language and underlie the semantics of language units.

There are several types of CM:  explicit and implicit models (rituals, games vs. tacit features of an ethnic world view): specific and general CM (the CM of polite behavior vs. the CM of asking for something); linguistic and non-linguistic CM (counting-out rhymes vs. gestures); CM for orientation (kinship terms), for organizing and expressing experience (theatre, scientific classification), for resolving practical problems (recipes, models of begging, giving orders, etc.).

The theories of cultural models rely on V. fon Gumboldt’s ideas about the interdependence of mind, culture and language.  CM are analyzed in the works of such linguists as Holland, Quinn (1987); Wierzbicka (1992); Bulygina, Shmeliov (1997); Larina (2003); Palmer (1996); Shore (1998); Levinson (2003), etc.

In Russian Linguistics CM are studied in the context of the worldview differences reflected in various  languages. The notion of CM is often replaced by the term “linguo-cultural concept”.

In cognitive linguistics special attention is paid to the structure of CM (e.g. propositional or metaphoric), the correlation between the universal and specific features of CM, the role of embodied experience in CM. For instance, in her study of the American CM of “Marriage”, N. Quinn  analyzed the key words in the interviews of married couples, and described the CM as a set of several propositions (Marriage is Enduring; Marriage is Mutually Beneficial; Marriage is Unknown at the Outset; Marriage is Difficult; etc.). Her theory differs from the views of G. Lakoff, R. Gibbs, and others, who argue that the CM has a metaphorical structure: Marriage is Journey; Marriage is Product, etc. 

Further reading

Holland D., Quinn N. (ed). Cultural Models in Language and Thought. — Cambridge: CUP, 1987.

Levinson S. Space in Language and Cognition: Exploration in Cognitive Diversity. — Cambridge: CUP, 2003.

Shore B. Culture in Mind: Cognition, Culture, and the Problem of Meaning. — Oxford: OUP, 1998.

Wierzbicka A. Semantics, Culture and Cognition: Universal Human Concepts in Culture-Specific Configurations. — NY: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Булыгина Т. В., Шмелев А. Д.Языковая концептуализация мира (на материале русской грамматики). — М.: Языки русской культуры, 1997.

Ларина Т.В. Категория вежливости в английской и русской коммуникативных культурах: Монография. — М.: Изд-во РУДН, 2003.

Olga Iriskhanova

Translated by Sitdikova Dalilla