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The Role of Cultural Context in Capturing the Meanings of Words in English

Dr. Youssif Zaghwani Omar,

The University of Benghazi Language Center, University of Benghazi, Benghazi, Libya

The English dictionary gives several meanings for one word, but only the context gives the intended meaning to this word based on its usage in various cultural contexts. Though most ELLs have a large store of vocabulary and grammar rules, misinterpretations and misunderstandings often happen between native English speakers and ELLs because the meanings of words differ from one cultural context to another. Hence, the researcher conducted this study to investigate the role of cultural context in capturing word meaning in English. In this study, the researcher uses a qualitative research method, basing it on a literature review as a secondary resource regarding word meaning and cultural context, and interviews ten international students as a primary resource. The participants of this study were ten international students whose native language was not English and who were studying at the University of Missouri Columbia in the USA. These participants were three from Europe (Albania, Germany, and Spain), three from Asia (China, South Korea, and Taiwan), three from the Middle East (Jordan, Turkey, and Tajikistan), and one from Africa (Somalia). The data analysis shows that different languages present different meanings to similar words. Furthermore, the meanings of words vary depending on the cultural context. The meanings of words change according to how people use and see them in their own cultural context. The analysis shows that the participants focused on the role of culture in the understanding meanings of words. Accordingly, the researcher presents some recommendations regarding capturing the meanings of words based on their connotative meanings in various cultural contexts.

Keywords: Connotative Meaning, Denotative Meaning, Cultural Context, Semantic Features of Words, Content

The above abstract is a part of the article which was accepted at The Eighth International Conference on Languages, Linguistics, Translation and Literature (WWW.LLLD.IR), 14-15 February 2023, Ahwaz.