Language and culture | Languages In Danger
One of the ties between language and culture is that ideas, customs and traditions . and their relationship to neighbouring and other dialects of the same language. For example, the Helsinki urban dialect, called Helsingin slangi or Stadin. Anthropologists speak of the relations between language and culture. It is. and oral; persons professionally specializing in such work were called interpreters. What is the relationship between language and culture? the whole communication system that binds and allows operation of a set of people called the public.
Or think of various texts, such as a poem by the classic poet Adam Mickiewicz, a newspaper report, a discussion in an Internet forum — the language in each of them has different characteristics. The same holds for a culture. Evidently, not all people in Poland share all these ideas and customs, and a particular custom shared by a larger group of people usually shows some variation.
At a closer look the set that defines a culture or a language thus consists of several overlapping subsets. Linguistic varieties — the different ways of using a language — can broadly be divided into three classes: A given variety often does not fit neatly into one of these classes — for example, it may be used within a certain region only by a certain social group, or by a socially defined group only in certain situations and for certain functions.
In this section we will mainly be concerned with geographical and social varieties, while typical functional varieties will be discussed in the following section when we will turn to genres. Geographical varieties and local identity Dialects remind us of the staggering diversity and beauty of humanity. In the case of languages spoken in several states, the language of each state can be considered a geographical variety, for example the French spoken in France, Switzerland, Belgium, or Canada.
At the other extreme are local rural dialects spoken in one particular village or parish called Ortsmundart in German. In between are dialects of territories such as a county or a cultural region within one state, or sometimes extending across state borders.
For example, Alemannic German dialects are spoken in territories across the borders between Germany and France and between Germany and Switzerland. Dialects of a middle range — more than one parish, less than a state —, especially when they are associated to a cultural region, are probably the most important to speakers of a given language. Go to the Interactive Mapfind out about dialects of Karaim and try to solve the exercise! For most speakers of a local dialect, this is the language in which they grew up, the language of home, family and friends.
Speaking and hearing this variety gives them a feeling of belonging. It is part of their personal identity, whether they like it most people do or not. They are indifferent or even hostile towards the geographic diversity of their language, and sometimes they make fun of dialects and their speakers. Outside of their speech community, dialects are rarely prestigious varieties of a language, but some are more stigmatized than others.
Sometimes there are historical reasons for differences in prestige of dialects. For example, dialects spoken in regions where the peasants were known to be poor may have lower prestige than dialects from wealthier regions.
How is it in your country? Is the prestige of a dialect connected to the economic success of its speakers, or can you find other historical reasons for differences in prestige? Dialect versus standard In Europe, dialects are usually opposed to a standard language that is common to all speakers regardless of the region they come from.
Apart from the geographical spread, several other features tend to distinguish dialect and standard, for example: These are only typical characteristics, not necessary features. For any given dialect, the situation may be different.
Think of a local dialect you know well. Which of the given characteristics are true for this dialect, which are not? Are there other differences in the use of this dialect and the standard language? Which differences do you find important, which are less important? The standard variety is associated with education and schools, with writing and books, with the public sphere of life, and with formal situations that require a conscious and planned use of language.
A dialect is associated with the private sphere, informal situations and spontaneous language use. Such a view was held by many people all over Europe at various times during the 19th and 20th century.
Because of this tendency, many dialects of European languages became endangered. This is a typical scenario that quickly leads to severe endangerment of languages and dialects.
Fortunately for the dialects, attitudes have now widely changed and local varieties have become popular again. People are no longer ashamed of their accent, and words and popular sayings are used as markers of a cultural region to which people are proud to belong.
They often turn up in advertisements for local products, or in information for tourists. A recent hit in several European countries are GPS satnavs with dialect speakers. In Germany the first one in the Cologne dialect, launched in Decemberwas met with great enthusiasm. During the first year the voices were downloaded over 25 times http: Here is an example for the use of dialect in an advertisement.
The local brew and the local dialect Photo: Nicole Nau Dialects, as any language, change over time. Many dialects have become more similar to the standard language, and sometimes all that is left is a couple of different words and a regional accent. A popular misconception in Europe is that a dialect has no grammar. Of course it has, for there is no language without grammar! Only the grammatical system of a dialect is not the same as that of the standard language and in addition it is often not made explicit, not described in grammar books or taught in schools.
However, it could be, and in recent time many attempts to write down the grammar of a dialect and to prepare teaching material have appeared in print and especially on the Internet. Here is an example: This means the need for standardization arises.
The dialect has lost most of the characteristics of dialects mentioned above, except for its association to a certain place or region. In such a situation it may be more adequate to speak of a regional language instead of a dialect see also Chapter 9 Endangered Languages, Ethnicity, Identity and Politics.
Typical for these languages is that they are strongly associated with regional identity and with other parts of the culture of the region. For example, Latgalian is traditionally used in the Catholic church, and Catholicism is an important part of the culture of Latgalia, while other regions in Latvia are predominantly protestant. A regional language is most often used alongside other languages, first of all the respective state language — the speakers are bilingual.
Regional languages have much in common with minority languages, but there are also important differences. Speakers of a regional language are not a minority, but part of the majority. It is however not straightforward if we should speak of something as a dialect, a regional language, or a minority language.
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People usually have different opinions about the status of a particular idiom and use different criteria in their argumentation. Quite often it is a topic of heated public discussion. This shows again how important the issue is.
Which local varieties in your country have been the subject of public discussion? New dialects and social variation Traditional dialectology, which emerged as a field of linguistic studies in the 19th century, was most interested in rural dialects of a small area and their relationship to neighbouring and other dialects of the same language. For many non-linguists, too, the stereotype of a dialect speaker is an elder peasant.
However, societies in Europe have changed a lot since the late 19th century and the NORM has become a curiosity. Modern dialectological research takes a broader view at dialects and their speakers. For example, linguists now investigate the use of local varieties by different groups within the community, that is, the correlation of dialect speech with social variables such as age, gender, or class. The situation is much more differentiated, and it may be quite different in different parts of Europe.
What is your stereotype of a speaker of a local dialect?
Try to think of five possibly different persons you know who speak a dialect — do they conform to the stereotype? Are there differences in the way they speak the dialect? As more and more people nowadays live in cities, urban dialects have gained importance for speakers as well as for linguists.
An urban dialect often mixes characteristics of a geographical variety the rural dialects of the surrounding region and social varieties the speech of certain groups of society. For example, the Helsinki urban dialect, called Helsingin slangi or Stadin slangi in Finnishwas originally created and used by young members of the working class.
Later it spread among other parts of the society, and today slangi is popular in many different spheres. There is even a slangi version of the information platform of Helsinki City Transport. The urban dialect of Paris argot parisien in French had two roots: Example of an urban dialect: Stadin slangi At the beginning of the 19th century, Helsinki was a small Swedish speaking town, but when it became the capital of Finland and massive industrialization started, many young Finnish speaking people moved to Helsinki to work there.
In the s, the population was mixed and the city was multilingual: Swedish, Finnish, Russian and German were in use. Helsinki slang was created by workers whose mother tongue was Finnish. The grammar of this variety was the same as in colloquial Finnish, but the vocabulary was formed mostly from Swedish words, with some Russian and a little German. In the 20th century, when it was used by more and different people, Helsinki slang changed.
In its modern form it is more similar to colloquial Finnish. While the Swedish element is still strong, new vocabulary now often comes from English. There are several terms used to refer to varieties used by certain groups of speakers within a speech community. Sociolect or social dialect is a broad technical term for such varieties in linguistics. Both linguists and laymen use the term slang to refer to varieties of colloquial speech.
We have just seen that the urban dialect of Helsinki is called slang. Another example is teenager slang — varieties used by teenagers for chatting among friends, often associated with school. Sometimes teenagers of one school even have their own kind of slang which differs from that used in other schools. An important function of slang is to demonstrate and maintain in-group relationship: A good example is hip hop culture which originates in cultural practices of Afro-American and Latino youth in New York suburbs and is associated with their slang.
As hip hop culture became popular in other parts of the world, elements of this slang spread along with the customs, especially rap music. Varieties associated with a professional field for example, medicine or an activity such as hunting or weaving are called jargons or language for special purposes. A jargon is usually not thought of as non-standard language while a slang typically isand it may be used both in speaking and writing.
These explanations are only rough guidelines — there is no conformity in the use of such terms. Maybe this is inevitable, because the varieties themselves have many facets and can be classed in different ways. Another term that is used in different meanings is argot. We may make a distinction between argot, slang, and jargon by considering the purpose of their use: A jargon in turn mainly offers more differentiated means for communication within a certain field or about a topic.
Vocabulary for special purposes Slang, argots and jargons differ from the standard variety mainly with respect to vocabulary. How do they build their vocabulary, where do new words come from? There are several techniques that can be found in languages all over the world.
First, the words may come from another language. As mentioned above, the Helsinki urban dialect took its vocabulary mainly from Swedish. Teenager slang nowadays uses many words from English. In medical or academic jargon we find words of Latin and Greek origin. The secret language of British Gypsies is or was Anglo-Romania language based on English but with many Romani words.
An explanation by Prof. Yaron Matras from Manchester University: Language can have developed only in a social setting, however this may have been structured, and human society in any form even remotely resembling what is known today or is recorded in history could be maintained only among people utilizing and understanding a language in common use. Transmission of language and culture Language is transmitted culturally; that is, it is learned.
To a lesser extent it is taughtwhen parents, for example, deliberately encourage their children to talk and to respond to talk, correct their mistakes, and enlarge their vocabulary. All of what goes under the title of language teaching at school presupposes and relies on the prior knowledge of a first language in its basic vocabulary and essential structure, acquired before school age.
If language is transmitted as part of culture, it is no less true that culture as a whole is transmitted very largely through language, insofar as it is explicitly taught. The fact that humankind has a history in the sense that animals do not is entirely the result of language. So far as researchers can tell, animals learn through spontaneous imitation or through imitation taught by other animals.
But it does mean that changes in organization and work will be the gradual result of mutation cumulatively reinforced by survival value; those groups whose behaviour altered in any way that increased their security from predators or from famine would survive in greater numbers than others. This would be an extremely slow process, comparable to the evolution of the different species themselves. There is no reason to believe that animal behaviour has materially altered during the period available for the study of human history—say, the last 5, years or so—except, of course, when human intervention by domestication or other forms of interference has itself brought about such alterations.
Nor do members of the same species differ markedly in behaviour over widely scattered areas, again apart from differences resulting from human interference.
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Bird songs are reported to differ somewhat from place to place within species, but there is little other evidence for areal divergence. In contrast to this unity of animal behaviour, human cultures are as divergent as are human languages over the world, and they can and do change all the time, sometimes with great rapidity, as among the industrialized countries of the 21st century.
The processes of linguistic change and its consequences will be treated below. Here, cultural change in general and its relation to language will be considered. By far the greatest part of learned behaviour, which is what culture involves, is transmitted by vocal instruction, not by imitation. Some imitation is clearly involved, especially in infancy, in the learning process, but proportionately this is hardly significant.
Spoken language alone would thus vastly extend the amount of usable information in any human community and speed up the acquisition of new skills and the adaptation of techniques to changed circumstances or new environments. With the invention and diffusion of writing, this process widened immediately, and the relative permanence of writing made the diffusion of information still easier.
Printing and the increase in literacy only further intensified this process. Modern techniques for broadcast or almost instantaneous transmission of communication all over the globe, together with the tools for rapidly translating between the languages of the world, have made it possible for usable knowledge of all sorts to be made accessible to people almost anywhere in the world.
This accounts for the great rapidity of scientific, technological, political, and social change in the contemporary world. All of this, whether ultimately for the good or ill of humankind, must be attributed to the dominant role of language in the transmission of culture. Language and social differentiation and assimilation The part played by variations within a language in differentiating social and occupational groups in a society has already been referred to above.
In language transmission this tends to be self-perpetuating unless deliberately interfered with. Children are in general brought up within the social group to which their parents and immediate family circle belong, and they learn the dialect and communication styles of that group along with the rest of the subculture and behavioral traits and attitudes that are characteristic of it.
This is a largely unconscious and involuntary process of acculturationbut the importance of the linguistic manifestations of social status and of social hierarchies is not lost on aspirants for personal advancement in stratified societies.
Language changing is harder for the individual and is generally a rarer occurrence, but it is likely to be widespread in any mass immigration movement. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the eagerness with which immigrants and the children of immigrants from continental Europe living in the United States learned and insisted on speaking English is an illustration of their realization that English was the linguistic badge of full membership in their new homeland at the time when the country was proud to consider itself the melting pot in which people of diverse linguistic and cultural origins would become citizens of a unified community.
A reverse movement, typically by third-generation immigrants, manifests a concern to be in contact again with the ancestral language.
The same sort of self-perpetuation, in the absence of deliberate rejection, operates in the special languages of sports and games and of trades and professions these are in the main concerned with special vocabularies. Game learners, apprentices, and professional students learn the locutions together with the rest of the game or the job.
The specific words and phrases occur in the teaching process and are observed in use, and novices are only too eager to display an easy competence with such phraseology as a mark of their full membership of the group. Languages and variations within languages play both a unifying and a diversifying role in human society as a whole.
Language is a part of culture, but culture is a complex totality containing many different features, and the boundaries between cultural features are not clear-cut, nor do they all coincide. Physical barriers such as oceans, high mountains, and wide rivers constitute impediments to human intercourse and to culture contacts, though modern technology in the fields of travel and communications makes such geographical factors of less and less account.
More potent for much of the 20th century were political restrictions on the movement of people and of ideas, such as divided western Europe from formerly communist eastern Europe; the frontiers between these two political blocs represented much more of a cultural dividing line than any other European frontiers.
The distribution of the various components of cultures differs, and the distribution of languages may differ from that of nonlinguistic cultural features. This results from the varying ease and rapidity with which changes may be acquired or enforced and from the historical circumstances responsible for these changes.
From the end of World War II untilfor example, the division between East and West Germany represented a major political and cultural split in an area of relative linguistic unity. It is significant that differences of vocabulary and usage were noticeable on each side of that division, overlying earlier differences attributed to regional dialects.
The control of language for cultural ends Second-language learning Language, no less than other aspects of human behaviouris subject to purposive interference. When people with different languages need to communicate, various expedients are open to them, the most obvious being second-language learning and teaching.
This takes time, effort, and organization, and, when more than two languages are involved, the time and effort are that much greater. Other expedients may also be applied. Ad hoc pidgins for the restricted purposes of trade and administration are mentioned above. Tacit or deliberate agreements have been reached whereby one language is chosen for international purposes when users of several different languages are involved.
In the Roman Empire, broadly, the western half used Latin as a lingua francaand the eastern half used Greek. In western Europe during the Middle Ages, Latin continued as the international language of educated people, and Latin was the second language taught in schools. Later the cultural, diplomatic, and military reputation of France made French the language of European diplomacy.
This use of French as the language of international relations persisted until the 20th century. At important conferences among representatives of different nations, it is usually agreed which languages shall be officially recognized for registering the decisions reached, and the provisions of treaties are interpreted in the light of texts in a limited number of languages, those of the major participants.
After World War II the dominant use of English in science and technology and in international commerce led to the recognition of that language as the major international language in the world of practical affairs, with more and more countries making English the first foreign language to be taught and thus producing a vast expansion of English-language-teaching programs all over the world.
Those whose native language is English do not sufficiently realize the amount of effort, by teacher and learner alike, that is put into the acquisition of a working knowledge of English by educated first speakers of other languages.
As an alternative to the recognition of particular natural languages as international in status, attempts have been made to invent and propagate new and genuinely international languages, devised for the purpose. Of these, Esperantoinvented by the Polish-Russian doctor L. Zamenhof in the 19th century, is the best known. Such languages are generally built up from parts of the vocabulary and grammatical apparatus of the better-known existing languages of the world. The relationship between the written letter and its pronunciation is more systematic than with many existing orthographies English spelling is notoriously unreliable as an indication of pronunciationand care is taken to avoid the grammatical irregularities to which all natural languages are subject and also to avoid sounds found difficult by many speakers e.
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These artificial languages have not made much progress, though an international society of Esperanto speakers does exist. Nationalistic influences on language Deliberate interference with the natural course of linguistic changes and the distribution of languages is not confined to the facilitating of international intercourse and cooperation. Language as a cohesive force for nation-states and for linguistic groups within nation-states has for long been manipulated for political ends.
Multilingual states can exist and prosper; Switzerland is a good example. But linguistic rivalry and strife can be disruptive. Language riots have occurred in Belgium between French and Flemish speakers and in parts of India between rival vernacular communities.
A language can become or be made a focus of loyalty for a minority community that thinks itself suppressed, persecuted, or subjected to discrimination. The French language in Canada in the midth century is an example. A language may be a target for attack or suppression if the authorities associate it with what they consider a disaffected or rebellious group or a culturally inferior one. There have been periods when American Indian children were forbidden to speak a language other than English at school and when pupils were not allowed to speak Welsh in British state schools in Wales.
Both these prohibitions have been abandoned. After the Spanish Civil War of the s, Basque speakers were discouraged from using their language in public as a consequence of the strong support given by the Basques to the republican forces. Interestingly, on the other side of the Franco-Spanish frontier, French Basques were positively encouraged to keep their language in use, if only as an object of touristic interest and consequent economic benefit to the area.
Translation So far, some of the relatively large-scale effects of culture contacts on languages and on dialects within languages have been surveyed. A continuous concomitant of contact between two mutually incomprehensible languages and one that does not lead either to suppression or extension of either is translation. As soon as two users of different languages need to converse, translation is necessary, either through a third party or directly.
Before the invention and diffusion of writing, translation was instantaneous and oral; persons professionally specializing in such work were called interpreters. In predominantly or wholly literate communities, translation is thought of as the conversion of a written text in one language into a written text in another, though the modern emergence of the simultaneous translator or professional interpreter at international conferences keeps the oral side of translation very much alive.
The main problems have been recognized since antiquity and were expressed by St. Semantically, these problems relate to the adjustment of the literal and the literary and to the conflicts that so often occur between an exact translation of each word, as far as this is possible, and the production of a whole sentence or even a whole text that conveys as much of the meaning of the original as can be managed.
These problems and conflicts arise because of factors already noticed in the use and functioning of language: Even between the languages of communities whose cultures are fairly closely allied, there is by no means a one-to-one relation of exact lexical equivalence between the items of their vocabularies. In their lexical meanings, words acquire various overtones and associations that are not shared by the nearest corresponding words in other languages; this may vitiate a literal translation.
In modern times translators of the Bible into the languages of peoples culturally remote from Europe are well aware of the difficulties of finding a lexical equivalent for lamb when the intended readers, even if they have seen sheep and lambs, have no tradition of blood sacrifice for expiation or long-hallowed associations of lambs with lovableness, innocence, and apparent helplessness.
The English word uncle has, for various reasons, a cozy and slightly comic set of associations. This is because poetry is, in the first instance, carefully contrived to express exactly what the poet wants to say. Second, to achieve this end, poets call forth all the resources of the language in which they are composing, matching the choice of words, the order of words, and grammatical constructions, as well as phonological features peculiar to the language in metreperhaps supplemented by rhymeassonanceand alliteration.
The available resources differ from language to language; English and German rely on stress-marked metres, but Latin and Greek used quantitative metres, contrasting long and short syllables, while French places approximately equal stress and length on each syllable.
Translators must try to match the stylistic exploitation of the particular resources in the original language with comparable resources from their own.
Because lexical, grammatical, and metrical considerations are all interrelated and interwoven in poetry, a satisfactory literary translation is usually very far from a literal word-for-word rendering. The more poets rely on language form, the more embedded their verses are in that particular language and the harder the texts are to translate adequately.
This is especially true with lyrical poetry in several languages, with its wordplay, complex rhymes, and frequent assonances.
Remarkable advances in automatic computer translation were made during the s—the result of progress in computational techniques and a fresh burst of research energy focused on the problem—while the spread of the Internet in subsequent decades transformed approaches to, and the ease of, all forms of translation. Translation on the whole is, arguably, more art than science.
The Italian epigram remains justified: Sometimes people want to restrict it. Confidential messages require for their efficacy that they be known to and understood by only the single person or the few persons to whom they are addressed.
Such are diplomatic exchanges, operational messages in wartime, and some transmissions of commercial information. Protection of written messages from interception has been practiced for many centuries. Twentieth-century developments in telegraphy and telephonyand the emergence and growth of the Internet, made protection against unauthorized reception more urgent, whether of texts transmitted as speech or those sent as series of letters of the alphabet.
Codes and ciphers cryptography are of much longer standing in the concealment of written messages, though their techniques are being constantly developed. Such gains are, of course, countered by developments in the techniques of decipherment and decoding as distinct from getting hold of the key to the system in use.
An important by-product of such techniques has been the reading and interpretation of inscriptions written in otherwise unknown languages or unknown writing systems for which no translation exists. Linear B inscribed tablet, c. It has been pointed out above that the process of first-language acquisition as a medium of communication is largely achieved from random exposure.
There is legitimate controversy, however, over the nature and extent of the positive contribution that the human brain brings, both cognitively and linguistically, to the activity of grammar construction—the activity by which children develop an indefinitely creative competence from the finite data that make up their actual experience of the language. The importance of social interaction between children and their interlocutors is another significant factor.
Creativity is what must be stressed as the product of first-language acquisition. By far the greater number of all the sentences people create during their lifetime are new; that is, they have not occurred before in their personal experience. But individuals find no difficulty at all in understanding at once almost everything they hear or otherwise receive or for the most part in producing sentences to suit the requirements of every situation. This very ease of creativity in human linguistic competence makes it hard to realize its extent.
It is simply part of what is expected in growing up.