www.meyer-schwarzenberger.de/diss

Welcome! This permanent homepage provides online resources accompanying my doctoral dissertation, Grammatik und Sozialkapital: Sprachliche Relativität in Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft (St. Gallen, 2015).

Willkommen! Unter dieser bleibenden Adresse finden Sie Online-Materialien zu meiner Dissertation »Grammatik und Sozialkapital: Sprachliche Relativität in Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft« (St. Gallen, 2015).

ABSTRACT

Any indicator can be used to show that capitalism, democracy and the rule of law work particularly well in Western countries, which are typically characterized by the prevalence of cultural individualism. In almost all of these countries, languages of north-western European origin are being spoken, which contrast strongly with other languages with respect to structural features. In particular, these languages require an overt nominal or pronominal subject in every sentence. Is there a causal link between language structures and the performance of social institutions?

The results of this study indicate that such a relationship really exists. Based on ten grammar variables, an index is created to measure the prominence of the subject in a given language, i.e., the extent to which a topical agent category is marked and dominant in the formal structure of a sentence. Cross-cultural statistical analysis shows that the more the subject stands out in a language, the more the societies speaking this language are inclined towards individualism.

Over the last five hundred years, countries endowed with north-western European languages have been ahead of all other countries both in terms of individualism and socioeconomic development. Their head start in the modernisation process was accompanied by a cultural peculiarity I call subjectivism, i.e., the internalized rule of reason, which is mirrored and fostered in language by the obligatory subject. After its emergence in the fifteenth century and grammaticalization around the year 1700, the obligatory subject has come to link the predication of every well-formed sentence with the surrounding discourse, vesting an abstract authority in language which is superior to any author's personal or official authority.

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Updated data (cf. Table A.1, pp. 247–249) can be downloadad from:

I'll be happy to help you with the reproduction of figures at your request. Permission to use the cover image was obtained from SAEML Parisienne de Photographie, 75003 Paris, France.