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College of Arts & Sciences
Linguistics Program

A cultural script analysis of an English -Thai bilingual speaker's nominative usage of mommy in English yes /no question formation

Robert John Moonan


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Each culture has its own specific linguistic norms, values, and practices. To avoid any ethnocentric bias in the attempt to capture these linguistic norms, values, practices, Cultural Script Theory proposes the use of Natural Semantic Metalanguage in describing the linguistic practices of a specific culture (Wierzbicka 1994a, 1994b; Goddard and Wierzbicka 1997). Natural Semantic Metalanguage consists of semantic primitives, words whose meaning cannot be reduced any further (Wierzbicka 1972). These semantic primitives, of which there are currently over sixty, provide the tools to illustrate the grammatical structures (Wierzbicka 1972, 1980, 1994, 1996) and to capture the pragmatic meaning (Wierzbicka 1994a, 1994b; Goddard and Wierzbicka 1997, 2004; and Goddard 2006) within the world's languages.

This dissertation uses the theoretical and methodological frameworks of Cultural Script Theory to analyze the speech practices of a Thai-American woman, whom I refer to as Lucy, who is English-Thai bilingual and bicultural. Specifically, I examine Lucy's choice of referring expressions in her construction of yes/no questions in two sets of data. The first set of data is a conversation between Lucy and her mother, a native speaker of Thai. The second set of data is a conversation between Lucy and her mother-in-law, a native speaker of English. The analysis consists of three steps. First, I provide semantic explications of the Thai terms of address mâe 'mother' and mâe 'an older woman'. Additionally, I provide semantic explications of the English terms of address mother, ma'am, mrs. last name, miss first name, and first name and the English speech act verbs ask and inquire. Second, I construct Thai cultural scripts for mâe 'mother' and mâe 'an older woman' and Anglo-American cultural scripts for the use of the aforementioned English terms of address and. Lastly, I use those explications and cultural scripts to help provide a discourse analysis of the two sets of data.

In this dissertation I hypothesize that the distinctive linguistic behavior of Lucy is explained by her use of two different cultural scripts, one based on Anglo-American cultural speaking practices and the other based on Thai cultural speaking practices.