Published on 24 February 2005
Translations available in: français (original) . Español .

Intercultural Glossary

Associated Central Topics: Cross-culturalism, dialog and multilingualism .
Associated General Topics: Cross-cultural . Culture . Languages .

The concept of responsibility

Everyone knows : traps are hidden in communication between people from different cultures. Nevertheless, it may be more prudent to take up the challenge of intercultural learning than to ignore it: intercultural dialogue is indispensable for acting together. This document proposes a first method to explore the semantic field of a word, in order to make cultural differences between its significations explicit, with the example of the word "responsibility".

Each language expresses a perception of the visible and invisible world, the human being, society and the relations between all that exists. Each language expounds a culture. Then, it is hard to understand the contemporary meaning of words. Moreover words acquire their full meaning only through their relations with other words. Those who speak to each other must share a same collective code which determines the meaning. The communication through language may create problems within a human group speaking the same tongue, and even more between people immersed in different cultures trying to communicate in a "common" language. On another hand, we are living in a period of increasing international communication. Citizens now want to act together. But the objectives of these common actions are often expressed with a dominant international languages, and too often it is taken for granted that everyone ascribes the same meaning to "common" words. In order to make cultural differences between meanings explicit, the method proposed aims at establishing the semantic fields of certain key words in an important number of different languages. Comparing these semantic fields will reveal specific features of the various cultural contexts. For example, the initiative of the Alliance for a Responsible, Plural and United World to frame a Charter of Human Responsibilities and make it be endorsed by most citizens, is based on the notion of "responsibility". Therefore, it is of prime importance to make sure that this notion is not in itself subject to cultural misunderstandings. One may take it that the idea of responsibility constitutes a universal value, if only because each newborn child appeals to a sense of responsibility of the parents. And yet, this presupposition does not automatically lead to a universal consensus on how this idea should be put into practice. In order to explore the semantic field of the word "responsibility" in different languages, we need to define the formal relations and the major semantic associations connected with that word. To this end, this paper submits different questions to the participants in the intercultural dialogue on the Charter of Human Responsibilities. Once the results of this empirical enquiry into the semantic fields of the word "responsibility" are established in the various languages concerned, they will be compared, refined, interpreted and discussed.

(document in French only)

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Glossaire Interculturel (rtf, 189.9 ko)



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