What is Natural Semantic Metalanguage?
The Natural Semantic Metalanguage approach, originated by Anna Wierzbicka, can lay claim to being the most well-developed, comprehensive and practical approach to cross-linguistic and cross-cultural semantics on the contemporary scene. The NSM approach was originated by Anna Wierzbicka. It has been applied to over 30 languages from many parts of the world.
The NSM approach is based on evidence that there is a small core of basic, universal meanings, known as semantic primes, which can be expressed by words or other linguistic expressions in all languages. This common core of meaning can be used as a tool for linguistic and cultural analysis: to explain the meanings of complex and culture-specific words and grammatical constructions (using semantic explications), and to articulate culture-specific values and attitudes (using cultural scripts). The theory also provides a semantic foundation for universal grammar and for linguistic typology.
Using NSM allows us to formulate analyses which are clear, precise, cross-translatable, non-Anglocentric, and intelligible to people without specialist linguistic training.
The method has applications in intercultural communication, lexicography (dictionary making), language teaching, the study of child language acquisition, legal semantics, and other areas.
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- Please note: All the explanatory material has been written as an introductory exposition. We have not tried to make watertight arguments, to deal with objections and apparent counterexamples, or to be comprehensive in any sense. If you want to follow up in more detail, there is plenty of material in the Bibliographies.