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Language And Culture

Language And Culture

Tradition has been defined as 'the total set of beliefs, attitudes, customs, behaviour, and social habits of the members of a particular society'. Our culture informs us what is 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 way in which they will say it. It lets us know how they will act, and the way they will react. It is the knowledge of the ages handed down to the present. We are affected by it, and it is affected by us. Tradition is in a continuing state of flux, altering incrementally, altering the way we speak and the way we think, the way we act and the way we react.

That tradition 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 common form of language, in terms of percentages of the whole. Idiomatic language, most often discovered within the form of phrases consisting of more than one word, usually 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 public at large', or in the sentence, 'The escaped convicts had been at large for two weeks before being recaptured.', the preposition 'at' seems earlier than what appears to be an adjective, 'large'. This seems to be in direct contradiction to the 'regular' place such a part of speech occupies in a grammatically correct sentence, viz. before a noun, comparable to within the following examples, 'at dwelling', 'at work', 'on the office' et al. The phrase, 'at giant' showing on the web page in isolation from any context that would make its meaning more transparent, has an opaque quality where semantic meaning is worried, and maybe 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 mean, despite their opaque quality. Idioms are cultural entities.

To learners of a overseas language, any overseas language, culture imbues language with this opacity. The word, table is well understood and realized, but what concerning the phrase, 'to table a motion'? That phrase carries a cultural value that isn't readily appreciated or obvious to a learner. The that means doesn't reside in the individual words that make up the phrase. The verb, 'to table' should initially appear nonsensical to a learner. Likewise, 'a motion' should appear like an anachronism, having realized that motion is a synonym for the word 'movement'.

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

This points out one other function of culture certain language; that it exists within a larger entity, that localized varieties exist. What is understandable to a person from one region could also be unintelligible to at least one from another. If this is true within the community of a particular set of customers of one language, how much more should it hold true to learners of that language. Many a learner of English, feeling herself proficient, has gone to England only to search out the language at worst totally unintelligible, and at greatest emblematic, but still not absolutely comprehensible.

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

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