Language and Culture

Many animal and even plant species communicate with each other. Humans are not unique in this capability. However, human language is unique in being a symbolic communication system that is learned instead of biologically inherited. Culture is the set of shared patterns of behaviors and interactions, cognitive constructs, and affective understanding that are learned through a process of socialization. These shared patterns identify the members of a culture group while also distinguishing those of another group. Therefore, the binding tie between language and culture is secure and cannot be ignored.

Language and culture are closely related and interactive. According to Sapir, culture is a set of beliefs and practices which govern the life of a society for which a particular language is the vehicle of expression (qtd in Damen 1964:61). As Kluckhohn claims, Human culture without language is unthinkable (qtd in Damen1944:26). In addition, Sapir claims that we may think of language as the symbolic guide to culture (qtd in Damen1964:70). Consequently, language is rooted in culture and culture is reflected and passed on by language from one generation to the next.

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Language is the principal means whereby we conduct our social lives, and therefore, it is bound up with culture in multiple and complex ways. Language and culture can be connected in terms of human systems of classification, cultural foci and world view. First of all, language reflects cultural emphases. In fact, there is a close relationship between folk categories in a given language and elements of the culture in which they are used. Hickerson claims: Points of cultural emphasis are usually directly reflected in language through the size, specialization, and differentiation of vocabulary.

That is there are more separate terms, more synonyms, and more fine distinctions made in reference to features of environment or culture with which the speakers are the most concerned. There are fewer terms and they tend to be more generalized when they refer to features which are given less cultural emphasis. “Cultural emphasis” may indicate environmental or economic factors which are critical to subsistence; it can also comprehend esthetic, religious, or other kinds of values (1980:108). As Hickerson writes in the quotation above, lexicon growth in a language depends either on the focus or on the most important elements of a given culture.

People utter words and sentences which refer to common experience. They express facts, ideas or events that are communicable because they refer to a stock of knowledge about the world that other people share. Words not only reflect their author’s attitudes and beliefs but also their point of view, which is share by others too. The language we use relates to our identity as an individual and as a member of a cultural group. How we view the relationship between our language and our culture will increasingly determine the way we talk and write.

As Samovar, Porter and Jain say, cultural similarity in perception makes the sharing of meaning possible (1981:36). In this sense, language is highly intertwined with culture, since language expresses culture reality. Second of all, language serves to facilitate classification and order. According to Damen, language enables those who use it to relate to their environments, to identify and classify natural and cultural objects, and to organize and coordinate their activities (121). These categories and classifications are used to refer to human experiences and are related semantically within given cultures.

Therefore, language organizes the external world and each culture has its own way of grouping these categories. The screws that language and culture impose on nature correspond to various forms of socialization and acculturation. Etiquettes, expressions of politeness, social dos and don? ts shape people? s behavior. The use of written language is also shaped and socialized through culture. Not only what is proper to write to whom in what circumstances, but also which genres are appropriate, because they are sanctioned by cultural conventions.

These ways with language, form part of the invisible ritual of imposed by culture on language users. This is culture? s way of bringing order and predictability into people? s use of language. Finally, languages are related to the world views of their speakers. According to Damen, language is also a powerful tool available to human beings in coping with reality. Different languages help form and express different means of dealing with the real world (124). The intertwining of language and culture starts at one? s birth.

In fact, when a child is born, it is very similar to any other child. It is not until one is exposed to our context and surrounding that we become individuals of a particular cultural group. From the day a child is born, it? s whole life, opinions and especially language are modeled by what it comes in contact with. According to Brooks, physically and mentally everyone is the same, while the interactions between persons or groups vary widely from place to place. Patterns which emerge from these group behaviors and interactions will be approved or disapproved. 1968: 95). As Brooks claims, acceptable behaviors will vary from location to location, thus constructing the basis of distinct cultures. It is from these differences that one’s view of the world is formed. In conclusion, language and culture are intertwined and interactive, since cultural language organizes and classifies the external world, reflects cultural emphases and demonstrates a world view. In addition, culture is transmitted in great part through language, and cultural patterns in turn are reflected in language.

Language and culture are so linked that Allwright and Bailey state that learning a new language involves the learning of a new culture (191). This means that when a person is learning a foreign language, he/she is not only bringing two languages into contact but also two cultures. Rosaldo argues that cultural models derive from the world in which people live and the reality that they construct. She emphasizes that culture shapes and binds one? s social and cognitive concepts (84). What Rosaldo means is that the cultural world serves as a background against which people? subjectivities are formed and expressed, generally through language. Language is the verbal expression of culture. A culture’s language contains everything its speakers can think about and every way they have of thinking about things. Language is related to culture in that language not only frames our thoughts but also reflects events that a particular culture experiences.

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