Natural semantic metalanguage

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The Natural semantic metalanguage (NSM) is a linguistic theory and a practical, meaning-based approach to linguistic analysis. The theory is based on the conception of Polish professor Andrzej Bogusławski. The leading proponents of the theory are Anna Wierzbicka at Warsaw University and later at the Australian National University who originated the theory in the early 1970s (Wierzbicka 1972), and Cliff Goddard at Australia's University of New England (Goddard & Wierzbicka 1994, 2002).

Linguists of the NSM school rely on semantic primitives (or semantic primes) for analysis (that is, simple, indefinable, and universally lexicalized concepts) and reductive paraphrase (that is, breaking complex concepts down into simpler concepts).

Research in the NSM approach deals extensively with language and cognition, and language and culture. Key areas of research include lexical semantics, grammatical semantics, phraseology and pragmatics, as well as cross-cultural communication.

Languages studied in the NSM-framework include English, Russian, Polish, French, Spanish, Malay, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Ewe and East Cree.[1]


Semantic primitives

The English exponents of semantic primitives [2]


  • Goddard, Cliff. 1998. Semantic Analysis: A practical introduction. Oxford. Oxford University Press.
  • Goddard, Cliff (ed.) 2006. Ethnopragmatics - Understanding discourse in cultural context. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Goddard, Cliff (ed.) 2008. Cross-Linguistic Semantics. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
  • Goddard, Cliff and Wierzbicka, Anna (eds.). 1994. Semantic and Lexical Universals - Theory and Empirical Findings. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
  • Goddard, Cliff and Wierzbicka, Anna (eds.). 2002. Meaning and Universal Grammar: Theory and Empirical Findings (2 volumes). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
  • Harkins, Jean & Anna Wierzbicka. 2001. Emotions in Crosslinguistic Perspective. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Peeters, Bert (ed.) 2006. Semantic Primes and Universal Grammar: Empirical evidence from the Romance languages. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Wierzbicka, Anna. 1972. Semantic Primitives. Frankfurt: Athenäum.
  • Wierzbicka, Anna. 1992. Semantics, Culture, and Cognition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Wierzbicka, Anna. 1996. Semantics: Primes and Universals. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Wierzbicka, Anna. 1997. Understanding Cultures Through Their Key Words. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Wierzbicka, Anna. 1999. Emotions Across Languages and Cultures. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Wierzbicka, Anna. 2003 (1991). Cross-cultural Pragmatics: The semantics of human interaction. 2nd edition. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Wierzbicka, Anna. 2006. English: Meaning and culture. New York: Oxford University Press.

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