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Migrating Meanings

Sharing Keywords in a Global World

James W. Underhill, Mariarosaria Gianninoto

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Exploring the roots of four keywords for our times: Europe, the citizen, the individual, and the people

  • The English keywords are shown to be European concepts with roots in French and parallel traditions in German
  • Places keywords into their historical context, and shows how the existing Chinese words for people and person are transformed through contact with concepts of European origin
  • Establishes a complex model of political diversity for Europe’s cultures and traditions
  • Adopts a combination of critical and analytical methods and corpus-based research
  • Goes beyond a cold analysis of concepts to scrutinize the keywords that move people and get them excited about individual rights, personal destinies and the role of the people

With economic, political and cultural globalisation, our world is inseparable from the fates of other nations and peoples. But how far can we trust English to provide us with a reliable lingua franca to speak about our world? If our keywords reflect our cultures and form parts of specific cultural and historical narratives, they may well help trace the paths we take together into the future. This book seeks the roots of four keywords for our times: the people, the citizen, the individual, and Europe. By exploring these keywords in English and understanding stories related to ‘equivalent keywords’ in Chinese, German, French and Czech, this book helps us to understand how other languages are adapting to English words, and how their worldviews resist ‘anglo-concepts’ through their own traditions, stories and worldviews.



Chapter One: The People

Chapter Two: Citizen

Chapter Three: Individual

Chapter Four: Europe

A Final Word

Glossary, Selected Reading, Abbreviations, References, Corpora and Databases, Books & Articles

About the Author

James W. Underhill is a Professor at Rouen University, France. He has worked as a professional translator of both French and Czech and has published articles on poetics, metaphor and translation. He is the author of Creating Worldviews: Ideology, Metaphor and Language (Edinburgh University Press, 2011) and Ethnolinguistics and Cultural Concepts: Truth, Love, Hate and War (Cambridge University Press, 2012). The Rouen Ethnolinguistics Project (REP) was founded by James W. Underhill in the framework of the ERIAC RESEARCH GROUP at the University of Rouen, in Northern France. REP aims to further investigations into the philosophy of language and explorations of worldviews. You can find out more about the project here: Rouen Ethnolinguistics Project

Mariarosaria Gianninoto is Associate Professor of Chinese at the Université Grenoble Alpes.


A fascinating treatise on the origins and trajectories of some ideas which define humanity, this richly-sourced book offers a kaleidoscope of worldviews of individuals and their relationships with the group, society and the wider world, prompting us to think about our global community's shared destiny and cultural diversity.

- Zhengdao Ye, Australian National University

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