Mashing Ray Jackendoff’s Ontological Categories with James Spradley’s Cultural Dimensions & Wh- Question Words

While I don’t necessarily agree with Jackendoff’s use of the semantic primitives, and while I recognize that this comes from a book that is from the early 80’s, I still want to present these ontological categories because they represent one way that the world is sliced, and they have interesting correlations to wh- question words.

Frankly, they are a little too close to Aristotalian categories for me to have much use for them in the stuff I am doing, but still, this represents an interesting perspective that ties in with ethnographic inquiry [specifically James Spradley's work in Participant Observation].

Jackendoff proposes categories like THING, PLACE, DIRECTION, ACTION, EVENT, MANNER, AMOUNT and proposes a correlate question word which would access this category.

Spradley talks about 9 cultural dimensions: SPACE, OBJECT, ACT, ACTIVITY, EVENT, TIME, ACTOR, GOAL, FEELING, and looking at these nine dimensions in a matrix provides an ethnographer with 81 questions to keep their observations focused. But Jackendoff is more interested in seeing how these types of categories are manifest in linguistic structure, and less interested in modeling culture.

What I want to know is whether or not there is a cognitive connection to these types of categories. Are they merely semantic primitives to an artificially created linguistic system or are they psychologically real? I have a feeling that they are semantic primitives, and that means they don’t really matter that much to me.

So I want to make them matter to me.  They don’t fit with my views of linguistic structure, perhaps they will be useful with a study of culture.  I wonder if a correlation can be drawn between Jackendoff’s categories and Spradley’s dimensions?

Here is my sample try at interweaving these three lists: [key: SPRADLEY - JACKENDOFF - WH-QUESTION WORD]

SPACE – PLACE – WHERE

OBJECT – THING – WHAT

ACT – ACTION – WHAT

ACTIVITY – ? – WHAT

EVENT – EVENT – WHAT

TIME – ? – WHEN

ACTOR – ? – WHO

GOAL – ? – ?

FEELING – ? – ?

? – DIRECTION – WHERE

? – MANNER – HOW

? – AMOUNT – HOW MUCH

? – ? – WHY

Well, it seems like none of the lists have complete correspondence.

Some of Spradley’s dimensions come up lacking linguistics expression and ontological category status.

Some of Jackendoff’s ontological categories lack a dimension.

Some of the question words lack dimensions and categories.

hmmm….. what does this mean?

For now I am going to put these away in my mental filing cabinet and maybe pull them out later.

Bibliography

Evans, V. & Green, M. (2006) Cognitive Linguistics: an introduction, LEA

Jackendoff, R. (1983) Semantics and Cognition, MIT

Spradley, J. P. (1980) Participant Observation, Holt Rinehart and Winston

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