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May 25, 2003

Örebro University Library has a very nice and flexible computer usage policy, which allows me to blog at least occasionally; the computers themselves leave something to be desired, being rather slow and with uncooperative keyboards, but I’m not going to look gift access in the mouth.

The course is good but exhausting, the other participants a frighteningly clever bunch of people and the lectures and seminars very interesting. I’m particularly fascinated by the NSM — natural semantic metalanguage — concept, which seems to be an extremely sensible way to analyse language; the problem is getting the explications exact and objective enough. Take the example of freedom in the Anglo-American sense, where one of the NSM cultural scripts used to explicate the concept is

People think:

no-one can say to someone else:

“I think like this about something

you have to think the same”

this is good

Now, this is supposed to be one of the cornerstones of the American concept of freedom, which in turn is a key concept in the Anglo-American culture and way of thinking. And it seems very reasonable, and every Westerner can recognise it — yet it is the absolute opposite of what the reality is in America, from the reports from various different sources. I am talking again of the recent war, of course, but I think that is only one example (war being after all an extreme situation) : the “If you do not support this you are against us”, “If you do not wear a pin with a flag you are anti-American”, “This is how we think in America”. The whole concept of “anti-American ways of thinking” is such an oxymoron; surely freedom, being after all the corner stone of America, means (as the NSM script says) that people are allowed their thoughts and opinions!

I could go on about this for a long time, but I shan’t. I’ve always seen myself as a pretty broad-minded kind of person, but I think this course is making me more so, and that can only be a good thing. The group is diverse and six nationalities are represented, so the opportunity for reflections about one’s own presuppositions, culturally induced or not, are almost endless. And NSM is a good way to try and do away with them, insofar as they are false. I’m going to try and tackle the three Swedish verbs for “to think” and see if they can be explicated; we almost did it with tycka during yesterday’s lunch; tänka is simple but tro poses a real challenge.

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