Teaching focuses: • --- The definition of “culture” • --- The relationship between language and culture • --- Sapir-Whorf hypothesis • --- Some cultural differences in language use
1. What is culture? • In a broad sense, culture means the total way of life of a people, including the patterns of belief, customs, objects, institutions, techniques, and language that characterizes the life of the human community.
In a narrow sense, culture may refer to local or specific practice, beliefs or customs, which can be mostly found in folk culture, enterprise culture or food culture, etc.
There are generally two types of culture: material and spiritual. • The former refers to something concrete, substantial and observable, for example, the forbidden city, the great pyramid, etc. • The latter can either be tangible as works of philosophy, literature, or intangible as ideologies, beliefs, values etc.
2. The relationship between language and culture • Language is the primary means by which a culture transmits its beliefs, values, and norms. It gives people a means of interacting with other members of the culture and a means of thinking. • The relation of language to culture is that of part to whole.
Every people has its distinct language and culture. Different cultures make their different ideas, values and beliefs reflected in different languages. eg. dragon;
That is, the same word may stir up different associations in people under different cultural background, e.g. the word “dog”. • Language expresses cultural reality, reflects the people’s attitudes, beliefs, world outlooks, etc. • The culture both emancipates and constrains people socially, historically and metaphorically. • Culture also affects its people’s imagination or common dreams which are mediated through the language and reflected in their life.
On the one hand, language as an integral part of human being, permeates in his thinking and way of viewing the world, language both expresses and embodies cultural reality; • On the other, language, as a product of culture, helps perpetuate the culture, and the changes in language uses reflect the cultural changes in return.
2.1. The study of language and culture on the Britain and American sides • On Britain side, the first person who came into our view is Malinowsky, who was a pioneer in the field of anthropological study.
Malinowsky has put forward an important concept that brought together the linguistic study and language use in real situation. The concept is context.
Before him, the linguistic studies are mainly comparative and structural, that is, such studies are only concerned with the internal organization of languages without connection to their use in real life and culture. • Eg. His case study of the primitive men.
Malinowsky’s context idea was further developed by Firth, the founder of London school in terms of linguistics.
Firth’s famous saying: “Each word when used in a new context is a new word.”
Another person who plays a more important influence on linguistic study in China than his two predecessors is Halliday. His systemic-functional grammar is widely applied in Chinese study.
On the American side, attention will be drawn to two famous persons, Sapir and Whorf. Nobody can talk something about culture and language without speaking Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.
2.2 Sapir-Whorf hypothesis • The structure of the language people habitually use influences the ways they think and behave. • eg. Different languages offer people different ways of expressing the world around, they think and speak differently, this is also known as linguistic relativity.
Their hypothesis has two layers of meaning: one is linguistic determinism, the other linguistic relativity. • The former can be seen as a strong version of the hypothesis, the latter a weak version.
Strong version & weak version • Strong version believes that the language patterns determine people’s thinking and behavior; • Weak version holds that the former influence the latter. ---The study of the linguistic relativity or SWH has shed two important insights;
2.3 Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis and its counter-example • A comparison between English and Hopi made by Whorf • Berlin and Kay’s study of color words
There is nowadays a recognition that language, as code, reflects cultural preoccupations and constrains the way people think. • More than in Whorf’s days, however, we recognize how important context is in complementing the meanings encoded in the language.
Sapir and Whorf believe that language filters people’s perception and the way they categorize experiences. • This interdependence of language and thought is now known as Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.
3. Some cultural differences in language use Cultural differences in language are manifest in many aspects of human life. We shall examine them in following aspects: • Greetings • Thanks and compliments • Terms of address • Color words • Privacy and taboos
4. The significance of cultural teaching and learning • Learning a foreign language is inseparable from learning its culture. • We need to learn enough about the language’s culture so that we can communicate in the target language properly to achieve not only the linguistic competence but also the pragmatic or communicative competence as well.
Cultural overlap • Cultural overlap refers to the identical part of culture between two societies owing to some similarities in the natural environment and psychology of human beings. For example, the superior tends to refer to himself or herself by means of kinship terms, such as “Have daddy/mummy/teacher told you that?”
Cultural diffusion • Through communication, some elements of culture A enter culture B and become part of culture B, this phenomenon is known as cultural diffusion. • One typical example of cultural diffusion is the appearance of loan words. • The practice of observing holidays of foreign origins and accepting concepts from other cultures. • The attitude towards cultural diffusion (esp. cultural imperialism owing to linguistic imperialism)
Intercultural communication • Intercultural or cross-cultural communication is communication between people from different cultures (their cultural perceptions and symbols systems are distinct enough to alter the communication event.) • In cross-cultural communication, we need to pay special attention to the significant differences regarding social relations and concept of universe from different perspectives such as language, food, dress, attitude towards time, work habits, social behavior and religious belief that can cause frustrations in communications and contacts.