Beyond the Whorfs of Dover: A Study of Balinese Interpretive Practices

Mark Hobart


Scholars generally assume that current Euro-American theory is both necessary and sufficient to understand other societies. Analyzing the presuppositions of linguistic and anthropological models indicates however that they are fatally flawed. Examining Balinese practices of speaking and understanding others shows they work with a consistently pragmatic approach with coherent modes of interrogating situated utterances. Close study of examples highlights how far existing theories from truth-conditional semantics to speech act theory not only fail to appreciate what is said and done, but insulate themselves from realizing this. So the many studies of Balinese ‘symbolism’ are only possible by failing to listen to what people say. According to Balinese, speech is inseparable from other acts, so meaning can only be judged from its consequences. If other people have diverse ways of speaking, acting and understanding, should we not finally lay aside our comfortable hegemony and inquire critically what is going on?


ethnography; semantics; pragmatics; Eurocentrism; hegemony; Bali

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ISSN: 2364-3730