How It Interacts with Culture Essay

How It Interacts with Culture Essay

It is widely observed that gradually as culture evolves, the language also changes. In the course of change, many new words are added and obsolete ones are dropped from the language. Beliefs and Value Systems also varies from culture to culture and people use language to express these values verbally. Hence the language is said to reflect its particular culture. Since different cultures have different values, beliefs, attitudes, cognition and emotions attached to objects; hence the language of a particular culture may convey an entirely unique meaning of that thing. So each language has its own classification system developed by the cultural significance. The same object, event or concept might elicit entirely different meaning and emotions in different language because the culture of that language might have some unusual relationship with that object.

Culture is not only about attributes or facts; it is basically a style of living. Language is one way of expressing that style. Hence language tells us a great deal about how a particular culture views the world around. For example, English has one form for “you” but Saulteaux have two forms, “kin” singular and “kinawa” plural. Similarly, English also have one form for “we” but Saulteaux have two forms, “ninawint” the exclusive and “kinawint” the inclusive. This is how the two languages differ in using pronoun. The Saulteaux in this example is much more comprehensive in using pronoun “you” and “we”. This cannot be translated into English language and if one gives a try it will produce a very negative effect. If one tries to use the exclusive form of “we” in English language and says “We are going for a movie, not you”, it results in a rude and harsh tone. Therefore each language has different way of expression and care must be taken when translating from one language to another because frame of reference is not similar. (Salzmann, 2006)

Samuel Johnson once said that as your dress reflects your personality similarly your language determines your thinking pattern or style. Language is very particular about giving meaning to an object as an object talked about in one language might have completely different connotation compared to other language. For example consider a sentence in English language: “I was not able to grasp the thread of his argument because it was above my level and my attention wandered with its drift.” This statement shows a very powerful ability of English language to express ideas as if they are concrete object which can be grasped, wandered or drifted. It is known as spatial or physical metaphors which might not be conceived in other languages. Thus English language gives the reader ability to think and imagine abstract ideas as concrete objects. (Salzmann, 2006)

Many of the words in language are formed by the significance that culture puts to the object which the word describes. Culture usually ignores insignificant things and subsequently does not have word for that thing. Or they have a choice to create a general word to classify all the variety of that object into that particular word. For example in Indian culture, people often do not have much interaction with cars as Americans have. Americans have many names for a car such as compact, sedan, sports, convertible, wagon, limousine, jeep etc. This is because Americans have much more interaction with cars in different forms and styles then Indians have. Indians usually have common use of car for general purpose of traveling. Americans have much significance for car in their life, career and status. Consequently English language has many names for a single object car. (Salzmann, 2006)

The same can be said about the significance of snow for people living in north and south zones than on equator. Since people living on equator do not experience snowfall, they are not familiar with the different types of snow and hence their language does not have words for these types. Hence cultures on north and south must have languages that describe every type of snowfall. Hence people living on equator would have to borrow the words for describing different types of snow from language of people living in zones.

A dictionary can tell you the meaning of the word but it cannot teach you its correct usage. The correct usage for a particular word can only be understood by observing the culture and people of that language. There are many instances when business executives make fool of themselves when they are sent to countries having totally different culture. Although they might have learned the regional language; but are often inexperienced in using words and sentences according to the circumstances, situation and mood of the people. They have learned the language but have not acquired the cultural values, beliefs and traditions.

Though English has been accepted as an international language but it can never replace the regional languages of people. People often prefer to use their regional language when they meet the man of their culture. This is because that language represents the sign of unity among the people of that culture. It shows their commonalities in way of thinking and living. In casual, informal and friendly environment, people prefer to use the language of their culture. It is a way of building trust and credibility. That is why marketers sell in the language of the customers. Diplomatic political leaders commute with each other in international language, English, but this conversation often lacks the sign of trust because the language is distinguishing factor among the people of different culture. (Salzmann, 2006)


Salzmann, Z. (2006). Language, Culture and Society: An Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology. Westview Press.

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