Language Or Culture Essay, Research Paper
Whether realized or not, it is obvious that wherever the concept of language occurs, the concept of culture occurs. That is mainly because language is deeply embedded in culture. Although some people think that this statement is wrong due to the fact that a language is the key to the cultural heritage of another people or that knovledge of another language enables people to increase their personal culture through contact with great minds and works of literature, the culture of a society includes all aspects of shared life in a community. For example, children who grow up in a social group learn ways of doing things, ways of expressing themselves, ways of looking at things, etc. Therefore a language is also learned and used in such a context, drawing from the culture.
For a better understanding of the deep relationship between language and culture, it would be worth trying to look through the denotations of culture first. For many people, when they are asked to make a definition of culture, culture is a way of life. It is the context in which they exist, think, feel and speak by using the language. It is the glue that sticks people together. Therefore, culture guides the behaviour of people in a society because it includes the ideas, customs, skills and tools such as language for a community. As a result, we can count the aspects of culture as follows:
+ Culture facilitates human interactions.
+ Culture satisfies basic human needs such as speaking.
+ Culture has an effective power of gathering people under an umbrella.
+ Culture tends to form a consistent structure in a society.
+ Culture is, like language, learned and shared by all the members of a society.
+ Culture is transmitted to new generations with the help of language.
As can easily be seen, the term culture has a lot of things in common with the term language . Culture is also an integral part of the interaction between language and thought. For example, Cultural patterns, customs, and ways of life are all expressed with the help of language. More specifically, cultures have different ways of expressing the colors of things, or whereas many african societies have no word for snow, people from Russia have many different expressions for the same word.
With these remarks on the relationship of language and culture the classic question of does language reflect a cultural world view or does language actually shape the world view? Comes to our minds. Since many linguists, sociologists and other scholars have all been trying to find and have not yet found — a clear-cut answer for this question, it would be a respectless attitude trying to find a certain answer for tis disputable question. However, we can surely state that language is the medium through which people express their experiences and their ideas of the world in which they live, and that s why language carries a cultural aspect with itself. Native speakers who grow up in a particular culture or who share experiences in the culture are all aware of differences in meaning which gestures, words or expressions show. The various ways of expressing you in many languages depends on the culture of the speakers of that language, for instance.
As it is mentioned above a native language is learned along with the ways and attitudes of of the social group, and these ways and attitudes find expression through the language. In this way, the language si an integral part of the functioning social system. Since members of a cultural group have had similar experiences, the meaning of a word is shared by them all, but it may differ in some places from the meaning this word has for other groups. It is because of this interrelationship of language and culture that one-to-one equivalences can hardly be established between words and expressionsin two languages.
What is more, although words seem to correspond in meaning in their denotation, they can be different in their connotation or in the emotional associations. Even such a universal concept as mother may have strong emotional feelings whereas it has no important effect in the societies in which children are regarded as belonging to the tribe or clan rather than their individual parents. Cultural patterning may also lead to expectations of different emotional reactions from various sections of a social group. For example, in some societies men and women are expected to react differently to seeing a spider. The word for communism should be easily identifiable in many languages but the full meaning, denotational or connotational, can be poor when you try to translate it from one language to another. That is because, the misunderstanding can be prevented when the word is considered in context-that is the understanding of both of the languages culture.
Because a large part of the meaning of words can be understood correctly with the help of an evaluation technique such as good-bad; right-wrong or acceptable-unacceptable , we must be aware of these cultural differences to get the real meaning of the expressions in a language. In addition, Since the value judgements are learned in the culture in which a person grow up, a person must be aware of the values and attitudes of the group he or she is interacting with.
As for the useful sides of learning the culture of the language, we can count the following uses of learning culture of the language:
With the help of cultural awareness people can;
(1) Understand that social variables such as age, sex, social class and place of residence affect the way people speak the way people speak and behave.
(2) Know that culturally conditioned images are associated with even the most common target words and phrases which concern the target culture.
(3) Understand how people conventionally act in the most common and crisis situations in the target culture.
(4) Develop the skills he or she needs to locate and organize material about the target culture from the library, media, and personal observation.
(5) 2Have an intellectual curiosity about the target culture and feel emphaty toward its people.
Other Aspects Language and Culture
Anthropologists have found that learning about how people categorize things in their environment provides important insights into the interests, concerns, and values of their culture. Field workers involved in this type of research refer to it as ethnoscience . Ethnoscientists have made a useful distinction in regards to ways of describing categories of reality. Visitors to another society can bring their own culture’s categories and interpret everything in those terms. However, there will be little understanding of the minds of the people in the society being visited. In contrast, they can suspend their own culture’s perspective and learn the categories of reality in the new society. By doing this, they gain a much more profound understanding of the other culture.
Another important relationship between language and culture can be seen in body language or kinesics . This is the language of gestures, expressions, and postures. In Turkey, for instance, we commonly use our arms and hands to say good-by, point, count, express excitement, beckon, warn away, threaten, etc. In fact, we learn many subtle variations of each of these gestures and use them situationally. We use our head tosay yes or no, to smile, frown, and wink acknowledgement or flirtation. Our head and shoulder in combination may shrug to indicate that we do not know something.
While the meaning of some gestures, such as a smile, may be the same throughout the world, the meaning of others may be different. For example, spitting on another person is a sign of a very bad insult in Turkey but it can be an affectionate blessing if done in a certain way among the Masai of Kenya.
Tone and Character of Voice :
The meaning of speech can also be altered significantly by tone and character of voice. In English, the simple sentence “I’m here.” can have very different connotations depending on whether it is spoken with a voice that is high, low, quick, slow, rising, falling, whispering, whining, yelling, or sighing. Similarly, the sentence “Are you here?” has a different meaning if it spoken in a rising tone in contrast to a falling one.
When we speak to another individual or group, the distance our bodies are physically apart is also a product of the relationship of language and culture. Proxemics is the study of such interaction distances and other culturally defined uses of space. Most of us are unaware of the importance of space in communication until we are confronted with someone who uses it differently. For instance, we all have a sense of what is a comfortable interaction distance to a person we are speaking. If he or she gets closer than the distance at which we are comfortable, we usually automatically back up to reestablish our comfort zone. Similarly, if we feel that we are too far away from the person we are talking to, we are likely to close the distance between us. If two speakers have different comfortable interaction distances, a ballet of shifting positions usually occurs until one of the individuals is backed into a corner and feels threatened by what may be perceived as hostile or sexual overtures. As a result, the verbal message may not be listened to or understood as it was intended.
Comfort in interaction distance mostly has to do with the distance between faces that are looking directly at each other. Most people do not have the same feeling about physical closeness if they do not have eye contact. In a crowd or an elevator, people usually choose not to look at anyone in order to avoid feeling uncomfortably close.
In addition to specifying comfortable interaction distances, culture tells us when and how it is acceptable to touch other individuals. In England, culture generally discourages touching by adults except in moments of intimacy or formal greeting (hand shaking or hugging). This informal rule is most rigidly applied to men. If they hold hands or kiss in public, they run the risk of being labeled homosexual and subsequently marginalized socially. Similar culturally defined patterns of physical contact avoidance are found in most of the cultures of Asia and Northern Europe. In Southern Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America, much more physical contact is expected and desired.
Cultural Use of Space:
Culture also tells us how to organize space in such a way as to control the nature of interaction. In Turkish corporate offices, for instance, the boss is usually physically isolated in a very separate private room. This tends to minimize his or her personal contact with ordinary workers. In contrast, Japanese offices commonly are set up with the boss’s desk at the end of a row of pushed together desks used by subordinate employees. This maximizes his interaction with them.
A court room similarly alters behavior. In Turkey, the judge usually wears a black robe and sits behind an elevated desk. The other desks and chairs in court are positioned so that all attention is focused on the judge. This intentional setting makes visitors to the court feel respectful and subservient to the judge, thereby making it easier for him or her to control the proceedings.
Culture also guides our perception of space by defining units of it. In the industrial world, space is divided into standardized segments with sides and position. Acres and city lots with uniform dimensions are examples. Our property boundaries are referenced to such segments of space. As the density of population increases, the importance of defined spatial boundaries grows. Land owners in densely occupied neighborhoods have been known to get angry enough to kill each other over disputed fence lines between their properties. In Less dense rural areas of the East of Turkey , where people own ranches of hundreds and even thousands of acres, the movement of a fence five feet one way or another is rarely of consequence.
Cultural Use of Time :
Culture tells us how to manipulate time in order to communicate messages. When you appear for an appointment varies with the custom, social situation, and your relative status. In Turkey, if you have a business meeting scheduled, the time you should arrive largely depends on the power relationship between you and the person who you are meeting. People who are lower in status are expected to arrive on time, if not early. Higher status individuals can expect that others will wait for them if they are late. An invitation to a party is an entirely different matter. It is often expected that most guests will arrive “fashionably late”. It generally takes a child at least 12 years old to master these subtle cultural aspects of time. By 5-6 years old, they usually only know the days of the week, the difference between day and night, morning and afternoon, meal and nap time. By 7-8 years old, most can consistently use the clock to tell time. However, it is not until about 12 years or older that they begin to know the situational aspects of time, such as when to arrive at a party.
Communicating with Clothes
Throughout the world, clothing has multiple functions. It is used to provide protection from the elements. It also is worn for modesty, usually to prevent others from seeing specific parts of one’s body. However, the parts of the body that must be covered vary widely throughout the world. For instance, the man from New Guinea would feel undressed if he did not have the narrow gourd sheath over his penis tied in an erect position. Throughout most of the rest of the world, this would be a daring and embarrassing or humiliating style of dress. Some clothing is worn to provide supernatural protection. Wearing a Christian cross or a St. Christopher medal often are thought to have just this effect. Wearing a lucky shirt to take an exam is also calling for supernatural assistance.
People in all cultures use clothing and other forms of bodily adornment to communicate status, intentions, and other messages. In North America, we dress differently for business and various recreational activities. Likewise there are styles of clothes that are worn to sexually attract others.
There can be great subtlety, especially in women’s clothing. It can communicate
that a woman wants to be considered sexually neutral. On the other hand, it may be meant to be seductive, innocent but alluring, etc. Of course, clothing styles also are intended to communicate messages to members of the same gender. Long before we are near enough to talk to someone, their appearance announces their gender, age, economic class, and often even intentions. We begin to to recognize the important cultural clues at an early age.
The vocabulary of dress that we learn includes not only items of clothing but also hair styles, jewelry, makeup, and other body decoration such as tattoos. In most cultures, however, the same style of dress communicates different messages depending on the age, gender, and physical appearance of the individual wearing it.
Putting on certain types of clothing can change your behavior and the behavior of others towards you. This can be the case with a military uniform, doctor’s white lab coat, or a clown’s costume. Uniforms are usually consciously symbolic so that they can rapidly and conclusively communicate status.
There are many forms of body decoration other than clothes that are used around the world to send messages. These include body and hair paint, tattoos, decorative scaring and branding, perfumes, and even body deformation. When children are very young, their bodies are still physically moldable to a degree. Some cultures have taken advantage of this fact to bind their head or feet. The result can be elongated heads and tiny stunted feet. When dentists put braces on teeth, they are essentially doing the same thing–deforming or reforming a part of the body to make it more attractive. Soft tissue can be altered as well. Holes in ears for decorative rings can be progressively enlarged, over years, with larger and larger rods so that ultimately huge spools, plugs, or heavy rings can be inserted. This has been a sign of beauty among people and the same thing was done to the lip in a few cultures of Africa and the Amazon Basin of South America.
In conclusuion, language and culture can be seen as the two faces of a coin. That is because communicating effectively requires not only language skills such as speaking or listening but also an understanding of the culture in which a language is spoken. understanding of the unconscious assumptions, attitudes and values that help give meaning to our words.
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