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Lecture 9 Relationship between Language and Culture Overview of Language & Culture Language is one of the main ways by which we send and receive messages. Throughout the world there are some 5,000 different languages. Only 20% have a written form; 80% are only spoken.

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Lecture 9

Relationship between

Language and Culture

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Overview of Language & Culture

  • Language is one of the main ways by which we send and receive messages.

  • Throughout the world there are some 5,000 different languages.

    • Only 20% have a written form; 80% are only spoken.

  • Our language is a product of our culture, and our culture is a product of our language.

  • The language we speak influences what we see and think, and what we see and think, in part, influences our culture.

  • Therefore, one can not become truly fluent in another language unless he also understands the cultural context in which to use that language.

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Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

  • From two famous linguists named Benjamin Whorf and his teacher Edward Sapir.

  • The central idea behind their theory, is that language is not merely a tool for reporting experience, but more importantly it is a shaper of ideas.

  • In other words, a language does not merely record and transmit perceptions and thoughts, it actually helps to shape them.

  • Language controls the way we think and perceive the world. It is the guide for our mental activity.

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Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis (con’t)

  • We understand and make sense of the world according to our mother language.

  • Because languages are self-contained and limited, it follows then that they would limit our view of and orientation in the world.

  • If this hypothesis is true, it is evident then that language plays a large and important role in culture.

  • With there being so many different languages with various characteristics in the world, we should expect to find significant and formidable barriers in language and thought for effective communication and understanding.

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Language affecting our View

  • To examine how language affects the way people view the world one can look at the words used in certain languages for certain things.

  • For example, various cultures have different ways of dividing the color spectrum, thereby illustrating that they view the world differently.

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Color Spectrum




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Culturally Salient Words

  • Each culture has certain items which are very salient (important) to that culture.

  • Japanese: many words for fish and sea products.

    • Some names of a fish change as they grow.

    • English “seaweed” - Japanese nori, wakame, konbu, mozuku, hijiki

    • Different words for rice depending on if it is raw or cooked and how it is served.

      • Raw uncooked rice - kome

      • Cooked rice served in a bowl - gohan

      • Cooked rice served on a plate - raisu

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Japanese Seaweed






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Japanese Names for Rice




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Culturally Salient Words (con’t)

  • English: many words for types of meat, ways to cut, and ways to cook.

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Beef Parts

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Beef Skeleton

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Beef Cattle Breeds (33)

Angus Chiangus Pinzgauer

Barzona Devon Red Angus

Beefalo Gelbvieh Red Poll

Beefmaster Hereford, Horned Salers

Belgian Blue Hereford, Polled Santa Gertrudis

Belted Galloway Limousin Scotch Highland

Blonde D'Aquitaine Maine Anjou Senepol

Brahman Marchigiana Shorthorn

Brangus Murray Grey Simmental

Charolais Normande South Devon

Chianina Parthenais Tarentaise

Texas Longhorn

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Dairy Cattle Breeds (6)

  • Ayshire

  • Brown Swiss

  • Guernsey

  • Holstein

  • Jersey

  • Milking Shorthorn

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Language-Culture Connection

  • Some words and phrases are so connected to the language and culture that they are used, that they are difficult to translate into another language.

  • English: fair play, privacy or independence

  • Japanese: filled with language that humbles the speaker and raises the level of the person being spoken to.

  • No single verb for “lock” - must say “close with a key.” (kagi de shimeru)

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Language-Culture Connection (con’t)

  • Each language associates certain words with certain ideas or concepts.

  • Activity: Write down the first words that come to mind in the order that you think of them, for the word you will see next.

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Trilingual study - “Marriage”

  • Americans

    equality sharing

    love togetherness

  • French

    passion sexuality

  • Japanese

    children family

    end-of-the-line pessimistic

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Survey of Japanese Univ. StudentsMale Female

baby husband

banzai independence

bridal party life

bride knife

cake married life

ceremony name change

child partner’s parents

dowry propose

dress ring

engagement ring shotgun wedding

groom wedding dress

happy wife










June bride




wedding dress

wedding reception


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