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Cultural Domains in reading or writing

Defining Cultural Domains
There are several ways to define a cultural domain. A good starting point is: a set
of items all of which a group of people define as belonging to the same type. For
example, “animals” is a cultural domain. The members of the domain of animals are all
the animals that have been named, such as dogs, cats, horses, lions, tigers, etc. But there
is more to the idea than just a set of items of the same type. Implicit in the notion is also
the idea that membership in the cultural domain is determined by more than the
individual respondent -- the domain exists “out there” either in the language, in the
culture or in nature. Hence, the set of colors that a given individual likes to wear is not
what we mean by a cultural domain.
One rule of thumb for distinguishing cultural domains from other lists is that
cultural domains are about people’s perceptions rather than people’s preferences. Hence,
“my favorite foods” is not a cultural domain, but “things that are edible” is. Another way
to put it is that cultural domains are about things “out there” in reality, so that, in
principle, questions about the members of a domain have a right answer. Consider, for
example, the cultural domain of animals. If asked whether a tiger is an animal, the
respondent feels that she is discussing a fact about the world outside, not about herself. In
contrast, if she is asked whether “vanilla” is one of her favorite ice cream flavors, the
respondent feels that she is revealing more about herself than about vanilla ice cream. In
this sense, cultural domains are experienced as outside the individual and shared across
individuals
The fact that cultural domains are shared across individuals does not mean that all
members of a given population are in complete agreement on which items belong to a
given cultural domain. The extent to which a cultural domain is actually shared in any
given population is an empirical question --- that is, a question that is open to testing. 2
Another aspect of cultural domains is that they have internal structure.
[DEFINITION:MARGIN: THE INTERNAL STRUCTURE OF A CULTURAL
DOMAIN REFERS TO THE RELATIONSHIPS THAT EXIST AMONG THE
ITEMS OR THINGS IN IT] That is, they are systems of items related by a web of
relationships. For example, in the domain of animals, some animals are understood to eat
other animals. The relation here is “eats”, and every pair of animals can be evaluated to

Conversely, simple agreement about a set of items does not imply that the set is a cultural
domain. If we ask 1,000 randomly sampled informants in our own culture about their ten
favorite foods and every one of them happens to give the same list, it is still not a cultural
domain because personal preferences are not the kind of thing which in principle could be
a cultural domain. In contrast, responses to the question, "What foods are preferred in
your community?" could be a cultural domain.

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