Linguistic Knowledge and Cultural Knowledge: Some Doubts and Speculations


  • Roger M. Keesing

    1. Australian National University
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      R. M. KEESING is another of those second-generation anthropologists, by way of Stanford (B.A.) and Harvard (Ph.D.). He conducted field research on Malaita (Solomon Islands) in 1962 64, 1966. 1969 70, and 1977 on social structure, cognition, and religion. After nine years at the University of California. Santa Cruz, he became (1974) Professor of Anthropology, Institute of Advanced Studies, Australian National University. He is the author of Cultural Anthropology (1976) Kin Groups and Social Structure (1975), ‘ Eloto's Story (1978), Kwaio Dictionary (1975), and numerous papers.


The boundary between a speaker's knowledge of a language and his/her knowledge of the world poses deep and still unresolved analytical problems. Semantic systems and pragmatic rules build on and presuppose basic cultural assumptions about cosmology, time, causality—about the world described and manipulated by language. For a Western language, those assumptions are shared by speaker and linguist and need not be analyzed. But a non- Western language, such as Kwaio (Solomon Islands), may incorporate a very different model of the universe. Assumptions about ancestors and causality, magic and mana, infuse and motivate semantic systems and pragmatic rules. The challenges of articulating linguistic and ethnographic analyses are explored. [language, pragmatics, semantics, world view, sociolinguistics]