Language and Culture Proposition: an Eclectic Perspective

Topics: Culture, Linguistic relativity, Linguistics Pages: 8 (1934 words) Published: June 17, 2013
Language and Culture Proposition: An Eclectic Perspective

There are many ways in which the phenomena of language and culture are intimately related. Both phenomena are unique to humans and have therefore been the subject of a great deal of anthropological, sociological, and even memetic study. Language, of course, is determined by culture, though the extent to which this is true is now under debate. The converse is also true to some degree: culture is determined by language - or rather, by the replicators that created both. Language and culture are not fundamentally inseparable. At the most basic level, language is a method of expressing ideas. That is, language is communication; while usually verbal, language can also be visual (via signs and symbols), or semiotics (via hand or body gestures. Culture, on the other hand, is a specific set of ideas, practices, customs and beliefs which make up a functioning society as distinct. A culture must have at least one language, which it uses as a distinct medium of communication to convey its defining ideas, customs, beliefs, et al., from one member of the culture to another member. Cultures can develop multiple languages, or "borrow" languages from other cultures to use; not all such languages are co-equal in the culture. One of the major defining characteristics of a culture is which language(s) are the primary means of communication in that culture; sociologists and anthropologists draw lines between similar cultures heavily based on the prevalent language usage. Languages, on the other hand, can be developed (or evolved) apart from its originating culture. Certain languages have scope for cross-cultural adaptations and communication, and may not actually be part of any culture. Additionally, many languages are used by different cultures (that is, the same language can be used in several cultures). It is also a fact that languages are heavily influenced by culture - as cultures come up with new ideas, they develop. Even though considerable cultural variation exists, as others would claim that all cultures share five components: symbols, language, values, norms, and material objects. The connection between culture and language has been noted as far back as the classical period and probably long before. The ancient Greeks, for example, distinguished between civilized peoples and bárbaros "those who babble", i.e. those who speak unintelligible languages (Baepler, Paul. 2003). The fact that different groups speak different, unintelligible languages is often considered more tangible evidence for cultural differences than other less obvious cultural traits. The German romanticists of the 19th century such as Johann Gottfried Herder and Wilhelm von Humboldt, often saw language not just as one cultural trait among many but rather as the direct expression of a people's national character, and as such as culture in a kind of condensed form. Herder for example suggests, "Denn jedes Volk ist Volk; es hat seine National Bildung wie seine Sprache" (Since every people is a People, it has its own national culture expressed through its own language) (Benedict R.O'G., 1983). Franz Boas, founder of American anthropology, like his German forerunners, maintained that the shared language of a community is the most essential carrier of their common culture. Boas was the first anthropologist who considered it unimaginable to study the culture of a foreign people without also becoming acquainted with their language. For Boas, the fact that the intellectual culture of a people was largely constructed, shared and maintained through the use of language, meant that understanding the language of a cultural group was the key to understanding its culture. At the same time, though, Boas and his students were aware that culture and language are not directly dependent on one another. That is, groups with widely different cultures may share a common language, and speakers of completely unrelated languages...
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