To accurately discuss or write about the relationship between any two factors, it is important to first have an understanding of each of the factors in question before one can write expressively on such subject matters and this comes into play when language and culture are been discussed.
Language has been defined as the systematic, conventional use of sounds, signs or written symbols in a human society for communication and self-expression. The purpose of language is to communicate with others, to think and to create the foundation for shaping one’s standpoint and outlook to life. Culture on the other hand has multifarious meanings but for the sake of this article, the definition outlined below will serve our purpose. Culture is the total of the inherited and innate ideas, attitudes, beliefs, values and knowledge comprising or forming the shared foundations of social action.
Therefore, the relationship between language and culture is definitely symbiotic as one cannot function without the other. By this we mean that for an individual to inherit or gain knowledge, values and ideas, the individual must first be able to communicate with others knowledgeable about that particular culture through convention sounds/signs which is language. So here are some facts on the relationship between language and culture for anyone writing a project on these subject matters.
- Language and culture are unique human abilities. The ability to create a structured language for communication is what makes humans and our culture distinct from other species. Humans learn their culture through language and foreign cultures are also transmitted through language.
- The role culture plays a major role in language. Humans are born without a language but are born with language-acquisition faculties which enable us learn languages. Research shows that humans learn their local language through cultural transmission rather than from formal learning.
This research goes further to state that to understand specific words and literary terms of a language, an individual must be familiar with the culture of that society.
- There is a strong relationship between language and culture in numbers. There are approximately 6,000 different languages in the world and these are shared among the 9,000 different cultures currently existing on earth.
Linguists have showed concern that 5% of the least used languages in the world are in danger of becoming extinct and in the next 100 years, 90% of all world languages will either be extinct or moribund. Lastly, an entire way of thinking — cultures — gets lost to the human race each time a language goes extinct.
- Language influences culture. Language influences culture in diverse ways and provides people from other cultures with a window into understanding cultures other than theirs. Studies show that the vocabulary of any language tends to place emphasis on words that are considered to be adaptively important to the corresponding culture. Therefore learning the terminologies commonly used by a culture provides a measure of understanding into the way of life of its people.
- Teaching using another language in a different culture is hard. Teachers have encountered difficulties when teaching a second language not local to a culture to its people and here are some facts to explain these difficulties. Studies have shown that how students learn and interact with teachers is determined by their culture. Approximately 80% of language teachers agree that cultural boundaries and roots play a huge role in determining how students understand or interpret the new language expressions they are been taught. Therefore, creators of second language policies must be sensitive to the local culture of all people.
- The language and culture of different societies greatly vary. In all communities, the spoken language is in a synergetic relationship with the culture of that society and Sapir-Whorf hypothesis states that; the characteristics, peculiarities, and literary words encoded in one language system are distinctive, typical, and unique to that system and they are dissimilar as well as incomparable with those of other systems. These dissimilarities in turn lead to difficulties in understanding the expressions and terminologies inherent to a certain culture by foreigners.
- The major languages do not represent the cultures of the world. The major languages spoken in Europe—English, French, Spanish etc.—do not truly represent the cultural values in a majority of the nations in which they are spoken. Studies show that colonialism saw these languages having been adapted by diverse cultures for easy administration by the conquerors but they do not provide insight into understanding of these diverse cultures. Most nations using the major languages as their lingua franca have local languages that represent their culture.
- The role of culture in cross-cultural communication is huge. Since each culture has its own language set and ways of communicating, cross cultural communications can be quite difficult for individuals. Research shows that culture constantly makes its presence felt during cross-cultural communication and this can lead to stereotyping and misunderstandings during communication. Language and culture are not monolithic and the belief in a monolithic human identity leads to social and political standoffs.
- The relationship between language, culture and gender. Studies have shown that the language used by specific genders fluctuate in almost every culture. In approximately 80% of the world’s languages, women may communicate at a deficit which is specified as the ‘woman register’ and this places them as inferior to men. This leads to social friction when genders from diverse cultures communicate.
- Learning of new languages is achieved through cultural integration. Understanding a foreign culture plays a huge role in becoming competent with its language. Studies show that students of another language will learn to use expressions and terminologies in their right context if they acquire knowledge of the society’s culture. Therefore an integrated learning policy that targets both cultural and lingual learning is important to mastering a second language.
So here are 10 facts on the relationship between a language and culture for an English project and this article will be taken a step further, with topics on the subject matter of language and culture combined with a sample project which will serve as a guideline for anyone looking to write extensively on today’s topic. Plus genre oriented guide on how to work with such assignment. These multiple pieces of information will be provided in the next papers of this series. So stay tuned.
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Peterson, E. & Coltrane, B. (2003, December). Culture in second language teaching.
O’Neil, D. (1998-2005). Language and culture: An introduction to human communication.