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Language and Culture: What’s the Connection?

Living mobile life, we usually speak several languages and easily switch from one to another. Have you ever noticed that your behavior changes when you speak different languages? You may start speaking louder, or gesturing, or even your voice sounds in different way. Does it mean that our personality changes every time we speak another language, what’s the connection between our native language and culture and how factor of globalization may affect our way to perceive the world?

How are language and culture related?

I really love the quote of Nelson Mandela: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his native language, that goes to his heart.” Once we meet the new culture, we meet the language first – even if we don’t speak it – we’re surrounded by words as everything has a name. Meeting people, visiting different places, trying local food and listening to the music we’re contacting new language.

It all begins with paralanguage – the non-lexical component of speech specific to the culture, including body language and tone of voice. We learn it from our early years – certain gestures, intonations, speed of speaking etc. Paralanguage has a great impact on the language we speak and if you’re bilingual, paralanguage “changes” your voice and gestures when you speak different languages.

According to psycholinguistics, the way we see the world is largely influenced by the language we use. For example, if you speak and think in French, then you will have a different perception of your environment and the world than someone who speaks and thinks in Russian. People who are bilingual may have thoughts in both languages, which is resulted in their opportunity to have different views on the world and even understanding it from different sides. From the other side, the culture that you grew up also influences your perception of surroundings.

Language is primarily learned through oral communication rather than written. According to Rossi Landi “Children learn their language from their societies, and during the process of learning a language also learn their culture and develop their cognitive abilities.”

Language communicates through culture and culture also communicates through language: Michael Silverstein proposed that the communicative force of culture works not only in representing aspects of reality, but also in connecting one context with another. That is, communication is not only the use of symbols that “stand for” beliefs, feelings, identities, or events, it is also a way of bringing beliefs, feelings, and identities into the present context.

Thus, language teaching means both language and cultural teaching. According to Buttjest, “Culture learning is actually a key factor in being able to use and master a foreign linguistic system.” So, learning a language is therefore learning the behavior of a given society and its cultural customs as language is a product of the thought and behavior of a society.

Let’s briefly refer to the history. When Romans conquered Ancient Greece, they were affected by Greek culture and language. As they needed to be accepted in the new land, the first and necessary step was to adopt customs and language of the locals. Another example is the modern English language which has approximately 30 percent of words originating from French. However, originally English was much more similar to German, but in the Medieval Ages English nobility started speaking French (for example, King Richard Coeur de Lion couldn’t speak English at all), and English language adopted a huge part of French vocabulary. Here the explanation is different – nobles tended to underline their privileged status. By the way, the same situation existed in Russian Empire in the XIX century – our nobles could hardly speak and write Russian, preferring to use French.

So, summing this all up, we may conclude that language and culture are integral parts of our life, and learning and speaking different languages we accept new cultures, and this inevitably affects our behavior and personality.

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