July 30, 2020
Relationships between language and culture are very close. As a communication tool and a way of expression, the language has always carried particular meanings that went beyond all known linguistic forms. This complex mixture of various elements represents the culture and serves as a reflection of a particular social group. In simple terms, the use of language functions as a mental reference point that allows people to understand each other and match it with their cultural background. All of it creates a deep connection and answers the question of how do language and culture influence each other. Therefore, it is safe to say that the existence of culture is impossible without a language, which is an integral part of it.
The term “culture” cannot be explained with a single definition since it will have to ignore an anthropological approach, which sees culture as a something that incorporates religion, philosophy, the clothes we wear, how we perceive it, our language, music, a set of beliefs, how we behave with the ones we love, and many other things. Yet, in more simple terms the culture can be defined as specific characteristics, skills, and knowledge of a particular social group that deals with the language, beliefs, social habits, music, and creative expression.
After all, is language a part of culture then? The short answer is “yes”. According to The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition, the culture must be approached as the list of shared patterns or relevant behaviors where human interactions, cognitive constructions, and understanding are mastered with the help of socialization. Therefore, it can be seen as a progression of a group identity fueled by the social patterns and language constructs that are unique to the specific group.
Even if exploring the English language in isolation, we will instantly receive Western, British, Canadian, or Australian culture among others. While the language itself will keep to their specific dialects, there will be a different cultural background. As a rule, every culture is flexible and will always change. The same pattern applies to any language which is also one of the reasons why the representatives of the United Nations have created The UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization that aims to identify all the cultural, linguistic, and natural heritage to protect the achievements of humanity.
Speaking in the words of Ludwig Wittgenstein, the limits of a language a person uses always mean the limits of one’s world. As a structured system of human communication, it can be defined as a method of social interaction either in a spoken or a written form with the use of definite structures, alphabet, and a writing convention. As a way of expression, any language is an integral feature of any cultural environment. It also explains how are language and culture related by turning to the use of syntax, lexemes, phonemes, morphemes, and the very context of what is being said or written. According to linguists, it is the culture that helps to define phonology or rules of pronunciation of a language.
Another important aspect of dealing with the subject leads to the presence of dialects in all languages in the world. According to the famous linguist Max Weinreich, a language represents a dialect with an army and a navy by its side. Still, there is a cultural element to the understanding of a dialect related to any language. If we take an average English speaker, we might face those who speak South African English or representatives of Yorkshire that will not only talk with a specific accent but also implement unique linguistic idioms and expressions. Although most linguists will say that the differences are almost meaningless, there is a cultural matter of language and culture interconnection that still helps people tell one dialect apart from the other, be it the speed of pronunciation, an accent, or phonetic particles that make an audible difference.
While it could be sufficient to define both language and the culture once again, the interconnection between these two terms goes much deeper. The language plays a role of a transpose mechanism for the social family at a macro level. The language helps to create a communication reality for the people because it is not only used as a tool to exchange information but as a way to integrate metaphors, comparisons, emotional experiences, symbolism, perceptions, and complex identities. It also governs the relationships between language and culture because the more advanced a language becomes, the greater is the culture. It is not possible to let a particular language become obsolete if the culture is preserved.
Looking at the Old Frisian language, which is the closest relative to Modern English, it is possible to trace some cultural aspects of word order or formation of several words like “dough” or “ought”. While such pronunciation was influenced by the Norman Invasion to a certain degree, it has remained and became a part of an unspoken culture. The same can be said about the Icelandic language, which makes it possible for the native speakers to read the ancient texts, which are an integral part of the country’s culture. It was the importance of culture that has helped the people of Iceland to preserve their language and adjust it to a cultural demand of the nation. The same cultural traces can be found almost in any language of a world where the culture became the underlying force that constantly shaped the language and its use through the centuries.
Studying even a basic relationship between language and culture, it is not hard to understand that the language as a way of communication came first. It may have been a collection of sounds or phonetical patterns that had no written form background to it, yet it has already represented a language that expressed a definite meaning. As a child is being born into this world, it learns a language and tries to mimic the words or sounds. It is proof of how a communication system works in practice. The culture, in its turn, comes next as it incorporates a set of values, human resources, and customs that work in a social group. The culture cannot exist without a language because the information would not be shared between people. Language must come first because it is the starting point that helps to explain facial expressions, gestures, or even sounds that a hypothetical human being can produce.
A slightly different matter is whether the language produces the culture in the first place. It would be correct to say that there is an influence of culture on the development of a language and preservation of it in a certain form. Take a look at the Spanish people and their use of several words to express the beauty or a sense of anger. It reflects the character of a nation. Likewise, the Germans like to connect several words into lengthy construction, which also reflects the mentality of the people. Even tonal Chinese language with its four main tones shows that culture has also shaped the language forms with all specifics and cultural traits.
It is much easier to understand what is the connection between language and culture if we think about growing up speaking a native language at home and learning it at school. As a rule, it influences and places us in a certain culture. Now imagine yourself in a multilingual environment where you can hear two or three languages daily. A good example is Belgium where they use Dutch (Flemish) or French in the same street and create a complex mixture of both languages. It serves as a way to convey the country’s history, culture, identity, and strong family bonds where both languages have been used for centuries. Now let’s take Arabic as an example of cultural identity. It is a language that is integral to Arabic culture and Islam as a religion. In other words, it represents more than a language, serving as a way to become a part of the local traditions and take a certain place in society.
Still, as we live in a world of globalization, people have a tendency to mix in various cultures in their identity as they change places of residence, work abroad, or study as the exchange students. All of it leads to various cultural issues and language learning challenges when a person goes through a clash of two different cultures and has to fight for one’s identity. It influences how we think, communicate, and find similarities between various cultures. It confirms that approaching any new language is a crucial task of staying true to one’s culture by trying to take all the best and most valuable from what an average person encounters.
The cultural and linguistic diversity has crucial importance in a modern society where globalization and a constant migration take place. It is especially evident in a learning environment where the culture and language must preserve the national heritage of a particular language while addressing all the diversity aspects. The term can be explained as a difference from the mainstream culture with a focus on ethnicity, belonging to a social group, and a language. If we explore this equation through the cultures and languages paradigm, it appears that linguistic diversity becomes a complex subset of cultural diversity. It shows that the background of a particular social group is what helps to manage the linguistic diversity and changes the attitudes of people in relation to foreigners, migrants, and the other cultures that are encountered.
Learning a foreign language or using it in your business is a universal key that opens doors to new cultures, skills, and friendships. Learn at least a few phrases and you will already become a part of a new culture – that is a pure example of relationships between language and culture. The same happens in professional translators’ work. For example, TheWordPoint translation service sees culture as an integral part of their professional success that lets them deliver the best results. It shows that language and culture always go hand in hand.
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