Language And Culture

Language And Culture

Culture has been defined as 'the total set of beliefs, attitudes, customs, behaviour, and social habits of the members of a particular society'. Our tradition informs us what's appropriate, what's regular, what's acceptable when dealing with other members of our society. Our culture lets us know what to expect from others, what they will say in certain situations, and the style in which they will say it. It lets us know how they will act, and how they will react. It's the wisdom of the ages handed down to the present. We're affected by it, and it is affected by us. Tradition is in a constant state of flux, altering incrementally, changing the way we speak and the way we think, the way we act and the way we react.

That culture is indelibly linked to language is undeniable, for language is a vehicle by which it is transmitted, probably its chief vehicle. One observable way in which language acts as a vehicle for, or a transmitter of, culture is in using idiomatic language. Idiomaticity is arguably the most typical form of language, in terms of percentages of the whole. Idiomatic language, most frequently found within the form of phrases consisting of more than one word, typically does not conform to say the grammatical structure of non-idiomatic language. For example, in the phrase, 'at large', as used within the expression, 'the general public at giant', or in the sentence, 'The escaped convicts had been at large for two weeks before being recaptured.', the preposition 'at' appears before what appears to be an adjective, 'large'. This appears to be in direct contradiction to the 'normal' place such a part of speech occupies in a grammatically appropriate sentence, viz. before a noun, comparable to in the following examples, 'at house', 'at work', 'on the office' et al. The phrase, 'at massive' showing on the web page in isolation from any context that might make its meaning more clear, has an opaque quality where semantic meaning is concerned, and perhaps still retains a few of its opacity of meaning even within the context of a sentence.
To members of the community utilizing such idiomatic language, there may be tacit agreement on what these phrases imply, despite their opaque quality. Idioms are cultural entities.

To learners of a overseas language, any overseas language, tradition imbues language with this opacity. The word, table is easily understood and learned, however what in regards to the phrase, 'to table a motion'? That phrase carries a cultural worth that's not readily appreciated or apparent to a learner. The which means doesn't reside in the individual words that make up the phrase. The verb, 'to table' must initially appear nonsensical to a learner. Likewise, 'a motion' should appear like an anachronism, having learned that motion is a synonym for the word 'movement'.

Every tradition has its own assortment of phrases which can be peculiar to it, and whose meanings aren't readily apparent. Were this not so, George Bernard Shaw's adage that America and Britain are two nations separated by the identical language would don't have any ironical appeal. Ostensibly, we speak the identical language, the British and the Individuals, however both varieties use many various words, and have many various phrases which can be often mutually unintelligible, and sometimes uttered very differently. Typically only the context in which a phrase or word is used serves to disentangle. Typically even the context isn't quite enough. Sometimes we think we have now understood when we have now not.

This factors out another characteristic of culture certain language; that it exists within a larger entity, that localized varieties exist. What is comprehensible to a person from one region could also be unintelligible to one from another. If this is true within the community of a particular set of users of 1 language, how much more must it hold true to learners of that language. Many a learner of English, feeling herself proficient, has gone to England only to seek out the language at worst totally unintelligible, and at best emblematic, however still not absolutely comprehensible.

The 'cultural weighting' of any language, within the form of idiomatic phrases, is understood by members of that cultural community, or maybe more correctly, and more narrowly defined, by the members of that particular speech community, and conversely, shouldn't be readily understood by those that come from another tradition or even another speech community, albeit ostensibly within the same culture.

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