Notes: Raymond WIlliams, “Introduction” to Keywords

Williams, Raymond. (1976). Introduction. Keywords: A vocabulary of culture and society. New York: Oxford University Press.


Williams writes reflects on returning to Cambridge after WWII and uses his memories to begin theorizing how the nature of words changes, binding certain words to certain values for certain groups. Williams creates a notion of keywords, then, as a means of recording and understanding the workings of and changes in the relationship between words and meaning.

Keywords: culture, discourse, keywords, linguistics, literacy, literacy changes, literacy studies, rhetoric


Williams, Raymond (1983). Culture and society: 1780-1950. New York: Columbia University Press.


“When we come to say ‘we just don’t speak the same language’ we mean something more general: that we have different immediate values or different kinds of valuation, or that we are aware, often intangibly, of different formations and distributions of energy and interest” (p. 11).

“It [development of Keywords] is, rather, the record of an inquiry into a vocabulary; a shared body of words and meanings in our most general discussions, in English, of the practices and institutions which we group as culture and society… I called these words Keywords in two connected senses: they are significant, binding words in certain activities and their interpretation; they are significant, indicative words in certain forms of thought” (p. 15).


When he speaks of intrinsic meanings between words and those relationships, is this intrinsic meaning in the relationship of those words, making those relationships more political than they are intrinsic to the words–especially in the sense that dominant groups establish the language being used? Would these relationships and changes in them be records, then? The intrinsic meaning of words would thereby be evidence of a temporal moment and shifts therein.

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