The fact that certain words are strongly influenced by culture and cultural practices is shown by the intercultural-orientated semantic approach of the so called „Hotwords“ (Heringer 2007). These are words that are nearly untranslatable and even L1-speakers can hardly explain, because they contain many culture-specific components of meaning or connotations. A “hotword” can be based on collective memory (with a deeper meaning of national identification), but it can also refer to everyday social practices that also concern encounters in professional contexts. By using the words in the way how a person has experienced the social meaning in a given culture, the potential for misunderstanding for culturally and semantically explosive (or „hot“) words is predictable (cf. Kühn 2006: p 27 for a list of German hotwords).
A good example for such a culturally shaped „hotword“ is the German „Feierabend“ – often translated by „end of work“, but which also includes the feeling of „after work leisure“. At the same time there is a hidden concept linked to one very specific cultural German standard of interpersonal distance/task orientation that separates personal from professional conversation or relationship. The awareness of different or non-existing concepts for social practices in one´s language is strongly linked to linguistic meaning in cultural contexts.
In German you can find “hotwords” in different fields, e.g. Frühschoppen
(everyday language), Gemütlichkeit
(manners/mentality and national character) or Mauerfall
(historical/political incidents (events) or institutions). Look them up and try to find a similar collection and more examples for your own language/culture. Do these “hotwords” also concern professional contexts, especially in border regions? Please highlight some of these! The following table may help you.
|categories of „hotwords“
|representation in your language/your culture
|mentality and national character
|historical/political incidents (events) or institutions