A Tangled Web: Language and Culture

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Happy Thanksgiving! Thanksgiving is a time in the US when we give thanks to those around us so I want to thank you all for reading my blog. Thinking about Thanksgiving also got me thinking about culture and language and how they are closely intertwined.  Language can be viewed as a verbal expression of culture (http://www.lexiophiles.com/). Benjamin Lee Whorf and his theory of linguistic relativity states that language shapes the way we think, and determines what we think about. He believed that depending on the language we speak we see the world differently. The way in which we think is influenced by the language that we use. Our beliefs, values and customs are shaped both by language and culture. We see the world in the manner that our language describes it. No wonder when two people from two different cultures speak there can be misunderstandings. Learning a foreign language should include learning a foreign culture. Imagine studying Spanish, you come across the word “sobremesa”. You think I know what this word mean: sobre – over, mesa – table. You would be right and wrong. The literal translation is over the table, but the actually meaning is after dinner talk with family or friends or even co-workers at a business meeting. As you can see culture influences language. Now think of English words such as fireman and policeman. Do these words conjure up men or women doing those jobs? What about English words like “old maid” – a woman too old to get married and “spinster” an old woman who is not likely to get married? Do they create a positive image or a negative image? The closest words to these in regards to men are a “confirmed bachelor”. As you can notice these words don’t create a negative impression. “Culture learning is actually a key factor in being able to use and master a foreign linguistic system.” http://languagemagazine.com/ Language and culture have a complex, and intertwined relationship. One cannot be learned without learning the other.

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I speak Italian to ambassadors, French to women, German to soldiers, English to my horse and Spanish to God.
A man is as many times a man, as many languages he knows.

 

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2 thoughts on “A Tangled Web: Language and Culture

  1. Archon's Den November 25, 2016 / 8:04 am

    A ‘spinster’ was originally, a woman who spun yarn for sale or trade, because she did/could not get a man to support her. My daughter is one, in both senses. 😀

    Like

    • Denise Doty November 25, 2016 / 5:12 pm

      That’s interesting. I did not know that, but it makes perfect sense!

      Like

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