“IMPRISONED IN ENGLISH”. Caines shows how Wierzbicka makes the case that “meaning is relative: there are many presumed ‘givens of human life’ which, when more closely examined, are in fact linguistically and thereby culturally distinct”. He begins with her example of the word “sex”, in the sense of “having sex”. She claims that “most languages of the world” lack an equivalent for this word. Caines cites another example: French does not have a direct equivalent for “pain” (as in the pleasure/pain axis). The closest approximation to “pain”, she says, is “douleur”, which is the opposite for “bonheur”—-“happiness”—rather than “pain”. These are vey important words and concepts.

If you believe, as Anna Wierzbicka does, that words and concepts vary between languages, then the dominance of English in philosophical discussions is a bad thing. (The subtitle of her IMPRISONED IN ENGLISH is “The hazards of English as a default language”). Caines concludes his review by quoting Wierzbicka: “there are no good reasons for historically shaped Anglo English to be treated as the voice of Truth and Human Understanding.”

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