Turning the tide: A critique of Natural Semantic Metalanguage from a translation studies perspective

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6 Citations (Scopus)


Starting from the premise that human communication is predicated on translational phenomena, this paper applies theoretical insights and practical findings from Translation Studies to a critique of Natural Semantic Metalanguage (NSM), a theory of semantic analysis developed by Anna Wierzbicka. Key tenets of NSM, i.e. (1) culture-specificity of complex concepts; (2) the existence of a small set of universal semantic primes; and (3) definition by reductive paraphrase, are discussed critically with reference to the notions of untranslatability, equivalence, and intra-lingual translation, respectively. It is argued that a broad spectrum of research and theoretical reflection in Translation Studies may successfully feed into the study of cognition, meaning, language, and communication. The interdisciplinary exchange between Translation Studies and linguistics may be properly balanced, with the former not only being informed by but also informing and interrogating the latter.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)261-276
JournalTranslation Studies
Issue number3
Early online date27 Mar 2013
Publication statusPublished - 01 Sep 2013


  • inter-lingual translation
  • reductive paraphrase
  • Natural Semantic Metalanguage
  • universal semantic primes
  • untranslatability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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