Language & Culture


Language & Culture

What is “culture”?

It is closely related to taboos, values & traditions/customs.

Culture establishes boundaries for how people relate to one another, i.e. who I am in relationship with the person or people I am speaking to.

The words and language we choose must be “culturally sensitive” and must also communicate within the framework of their particular society and culture. 

Your examples from your experience.

Illustrations how culture and language intersect:

  1. Words of respect in addressing others:
    A class conscious society/culture versus a free, democratic society/culture.
    Choosing the right address words when speaking to older people, people of standing, etc. — Korea.
  2. Words to be used when speaking to particular groups of people:
    An open society (democratic, rights for all) versus a society where relationships are regulated carefully by unwritten rules, e.g. words that a woman may use or may not use when addressing a man; or how an adult expresses himself/herself when speaking to children
  3. Words carefully chosen when speaking about particular subjects:
    An open, free society (where people live very close with one another) versus a private society (where people live closed off from others); e.g. choice of words when talking in public about the sexual relationship (i.e. euphemisms); cf. when speaking about the same subjects in private.
  4. Words appropriate for formal situations:
    A society that emphasises formalities versus a society that is very work-conscious, “getting on with the job”, e.g. words that seem to say very little if you are just looking at their meaning that are a part of formal speeches; high language when speaking formally to large groups.
  5. Words and the use of body language:
    A democratic society that stresses equality for all, including youth versus a society that has a tighter social structure, e.g. words and expressions that you choose when you speak in public (apologetic, humbling oneself approach even with movements of the head and body versus self-confident manner).

What is required of us?

  1. Learn from the nationals.  Listen to and observe carefully how they are speaking and follow them, even if it at first goes right against your feelings.
  2. Adapt as much as possible to their cultural norms and customs, not holding on to yours as your language can and will affect the way that you and your message is received.  In other words, if you have perfect language structure but aren’t sensitive to these cultural issues such as relationships, then this will like “noise” and will hinder their hearing your message.

Graham Roberts

MTS, April 8, 1996

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