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«ON THE SEMANTIC FIELDS OF CONFLICT AND CONFLICT RESOLUTION IN SWEDISH - Universal and culture specific (Swedish) aspects Jens Allwood Dept of ...»

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- Universal and culture specific (Swedish) aspects

Jens Allwood

Dept of Linguistics, Göteborg University

1. Purpose

Conflict and conflict handling are central and pervasive features of human interaction.

To gain greater insight into the nature of conflict and conflict handling is arguably therefore important. In this paper, I want to make a contribution to such insight by examining the semantic and conceptual information associated with the vocabulary of conflict and conflict handling in Swedish.

A second purpose of the paper is to discuss some structural features of semantic fields which I believe also can be found in other semantic fields than conflict and conflict handling.

2. Background There are several perspectives which have motivated the work. One of the most important is that of "linguistic relativity". This paper definitely falls in the tradition started by Herder (1772), continued by Humboldt (1836), Boas (1911), Sapir (1921), Whorf (1956), Weissgerber (1953), Kainz (1946), and Leise (1975), to mention only a few of the historically important contributors to the investigation of the influence of language on thought. The version of "linguistic relativity" in this paper can be

formulated as follows:

Human languages are not only a means of communication, they are also collective memories. Through a language, a small child quickly gets access to many of the concepts, attitudes and values through which the community he/she is going to be socialized into structures its social and natural environment. Human languages, together with (other) artefacts, provide necessary external supports for the (shared) concepts, attitudes and values which provide an important part of the basis for coordinated social action and interaction. Our language and artefacts guide us by providing more or less worked out options for action and interaction. They have both a facilitating function, by providing options, and a constraining function, by not providing other options.

If we, for the moment, disregard artefacts, we can say that language, by providing mainly symbolic (and to some extent iconic and indexical) codification of concepts, attitudes and values, provides support for the maintenance of these concepts, attitudes and values as viable alternatives for thinking and action in a given community.

Let us now, in some more detail, consider how this is done.

First a few words about concepts. Since the nature of "concepts" is one of the most debated issues in the philosophy both of the West and the East, let it be sufficient to say that the view taken here is a "conceptualist view", where concepts are seen as cognitive units resulting from processes of perception, understanding, volition and emotion involving trying to proactively and reactively structure the world. To be maintained, by an individual or by a society, these cognitive units require support.

This support can be provided by perceptual indices and icons, and by acoustic/auditive and optic/visual symbols, as well as by other artefacts.

Let us now briefly consider the kinds of linguistic expressions which are relevant for the study of conflict and conflict handing. For the concepts at hand the primary categories seem to be nouns and verbs with some adjectives and adverbs. For attitudes and values related to conflict and conflict handling, categories of expression like idioms, metaphors and proverbs probably would be more revealing.

As an antidote to linguistic relativity, a second important perspective and goal motivating this paper is the search for linguistically supported conceptual or semantic universals. This work has traditionally been carried out by philosophically minded linguists, cf. Wilkins (1668) or linguistically minded philosophers like Aristotle (1938) or Kant (1975). In our century it has become a main stream current in linguistics, especially in the period following 1970. One of the first and most successful works in this tradition was Berlin and Kay (1969), which tried to establish the existence of perceptually given universal foci of color. This work was followed by many others, cf., for example, Miller and Johnson-Laird (1976), Viberg (1983), and Wierzbicka (1992). During the 1980:s the school of cognitive linguistics has had the search for semantic universals as one of its main goals, cf. Talmy (1981), Langacker (1987), and Lakoff (1987).

One of the goals of the paper is therefore indeed to find candidates for semantic and conceptual universals. However, such candidates based merely on the investigation of one language can only be regarded as first proposals. For deeper insights more data from several languages is necessary. For an attempt in this direction see Allwood and Asmah (forthcoming).

A third perspective is an interest in different types of semantic structuring. We will here be examining semantic fields. The concept "semantic fields" was introduced into linguistics by Trier (1931) in order to study the historical change of concepts and meaning. After its introduction it very quickly gained popularity and has become one of the main descriptive concepts of semantics. See, for example, Lyons (1977), Lehrer (1974). The advantage of a semantic field is that it gives you an overview of a conceptual area and allows you to see how different linguistically coded concepts in a language, by contrast, determine each other. Usually the inspection of a semantic field will lead to the discovery that the field has an internal structure with subfields which have one or more features in common. These features can mostly be extracted and be made to form the basis of a feature analysis of the words in the field. Semantic fields are usually organized around "meaning types". The types derive from particular instances of contextually determined meaning by a process of abstraction or generalization which is perhaps primarily carried out by a linguistic analyst but which can also be carried out by ordinary language users themselves. In other words, the analysis is carried out on a relatively


generalized level where concrete contexts only provide a point of departure. The loss of information involved in this approach can to some extent be remedied by studying meaning in a more context sensitive way, for example in the form of "meaning potentials", cf Rommetveit (1974) and Allwood (1989).

This paper presents a first look at the linguistically codified concepts and ways of thinking about conflict and conflict resolution which are focused on in Swedish.

Besides conflict resolution in a narrow sense I will also, in a broader sense, be concerned with ways of terminating (by, for example, vanquishing the other party) and avoiding conflict. For this broad sense of "conflict handling" I will sometimes use the term "non-conflict". "Conflict handling" in a narrow sense can be called "conflict resolution" and be regarded as the normatively ideal way of getting rid of conflict once it has been started.

3. Conflict 3.1 Conflict - an overview of semantic dimensions.

In order to facilitate an understanding of the analysis of the Swedish vocabulary of conflict, I first give an overview of the semantic dimensions I have found helpful in order to structure the field. The dimensions are exemplified by Swedish words which can be found with their translations in the more complete field given below. The main semantic dimensions which seem to be relevant in differentiating Swedish conflict related words are as can be seen in figure 1.

–  –  –

Figure 1. Semantic Dimensions of Conflict Related Vocabulary In order to facilitate comparison between Swedish and other languages, I will summarize, below, the semantic dimensions which seem to be relevant in differentiating Swedish conflict related words.

1. General - particular: Some terms denote conflict in a fairly abstract general way like the word conflict itself. Other terms denote a particular type or instance of conflict like the word duel. All words which are not listed directly under 1.

"Holistic, general" are regarded as more particular than the words listed there.

2. Part-whole: This feature concerns whether what is denoted is the conflict as a whole, or various distinguishable parts or phases of the conflict. Consider, for example, the difference between "a war" and "a battle". Frequently, the holistic and the general are combined. For example, the word conflict is both general and holistic. Analogously, the same holds for the "part of" relation and the "instantiation" relation. For example, "harassment" could both be seen as a part of a conflict and as an instantiation of a particular type of conflict. In the diagram, general and holistic are kept together; this has the consequence that all terms under the heading "holistic general" or in some cases just "holistic" are superordinate to what in the diagram looks like coordinate categories. Thus envig ( below) is superordinate to duel since the latter but not the former seems to require weapons. In general, the index 1 will indicate that words classified this way have a higher type (cf. section 3.1.2).

3. Evaluation: Quite a few terms facilitate indicating various attitudes to a conflict or its parts (eg negative, positive, jocular, belittling attitudes). Compare, eg käfta (wrangle) and gruff (row), where the first one in Swedish is pejorative and the second one is jocular.

4. Manner: Terms are also differentiated as to what manner of conflict they presuppose. The following five manners or modes of conflict seem to be highlighted by the Swedish vocabulary items examined, (i) violent, eg strid (fight), kamp (struggle); we know the conflict is violent but not whether it is physical, verbal or attitudinal (ii) physical, eg slagsmål (physical fight), krig (war); even though "violent" does not always imply "physical","physical" always seems to imply "violent" (iii) verbal, eg polemik (polemics), debatt (debate) (iv) attitudinal, eg missämja (dissension) oenighet (disagreement) (v) control, restrain, directedness of agents: Two terms amok (amuck) and bärsärkargång (go berzerk) presuppose violent action which is uncontrolled (amuck) or directed but unrestrained (go berzerk). This dimension seems only to apply as a specification of physical manner.

5. Preconditions: A few terms presuppose specific preconditions to be applied.

Terms like schism (schism) and söndring (disunity) presuppose a state of ideological unity. Other terms like disputation (doctoral disputation) presuppose a special institutional setting.

6. Number of agents: Some terms presuppose 2 agents eg tvekamp (duel)

7. Instruments: Some terms presuppose specific instruments; eg weapons, swords, hands eg fäkta (fence), boxa (box).

8. Temporal duration: Some terms presuppose a specific temporal duration, eg fejd (feud)

9. Spatial location: One term - holmgång presupposes besides violent physical armed conflict between two persons that it is carried out on an island. At least, this applies to its most prominent non-metaphorical use.

10. Orientation towards results: One term presupposes orientation towards painful result näsbränna (rebuke) (lit. nose burn). This term is quite general and does not presuppose conflict. It is used to signify a painful result of unhappy action (roughly being taught a lesson).

11. Institutional setting: Several terms presuppose a particular institutional setting as a background for the conflict, eg sakföra (take to court) or disputation (academic disputation). In fact, for most of these terms, it would also be true to say they denote a form of conflict which is itself institutionalized with very specific conventions. To a certain extent an institutional setting is presupposed by all terms but for the terms under 10 this feature is more prominent.

The semantic dimensions that are highlighted in the various conflictual terms can be

read as an embryonic semantic feature analysis as exemplified below:

Duel Disputation Disagreement 2 agents Academic Attitudinal Armed Institutional context Conflict Violent Verbal Physical Conflict Conflict The features do not, in general, as they stand provide definitions of the terms. Rather, they give salient features which sometimes amount to necessary conditions for the application of the various terms. In order to create strict "essential" definitions (traditionally constituted by necessary and sufficient conditions), one needs to make sure that the features really jointly make up necessary and sufficient conditions for the application of the term one is interested in.

3.2 A semantic field for conflict related terms in Swedish Using the semantic dimensions described above, I will now present a more complete account of the Swedish vocabulary of conflict. The words are, as above, classified according to prominent semantic features in their meaning. The classification is not necessarily always mutually exclusive, since words often have meanings that are complex enough to warrant classification in several categories. This complexity is reinforced by the fact that "metaphorical usages" are not easy to distinguish from" nonmetaphorical usages". Does the word kamp (struggle) imply violence or does it not? Is it metaphorical when it does not seem to necessarily imply violence like in an example of the type Darwin´s struggle for scientific recognition.. Since a distinction between metaphorical and nonmetaphorical usage is, in fact, both theoretically problematic and not of central concern in this paper, I have thought it sufficient to be guided by linguistic intuition regarding what is metaphorical and have classified words according to what has seemed to me their most prominent (usually nonmetaphorical) features. In some cases, this has meant that lexemes have been classified in several ways. The lexemes are sometimes given as nouns, eg strid (fight, noun) and sometimes as verbs, eg strida (fight, verb) depending on what has seemed the most convenient form in context.

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