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language culture 语言与文化及其关系

发布时间:2014-04-28 08:04:39  

What is language

There are so many definitions about language and everybody may has their own understandings about it. Among this, the most popular theory is that Language is a purely human and non-instinctive method of communicating ideas, emotions and desire by means of voluntarily produced symbols. Language is a part of culture and a part of human behavior.

It is often believed that the function of language is to express

thought and to communicate information. Language also fulfills many other tasks such as greeting people, conducting religious service, etc. People explained the major functions of language from the following three aspects: First, Language is the primary vehicle of communication; Second, Language reflects both the personality of the individual and the culture of his history. In turn, it helps shape both personality and culture; Third, Language makes possible the growth and transmission of culture, the continuity of societies, and the effective functioning and control of social group.

It is obvious that language plays a paramount role in developing, elaborating and transmitting culture and language, enabling us to store meanings and experience to facilitate communication. The function of language is so important in communication no matter in homeland or abroad.

What Is Culture

In 1871, British anthropologist first gave the definition of culture which is widely quoted:“Culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, beliefs, arts, morals, law, custom and any other capacities and habits acquired by man as a member of society”[1]

Culture, argued by many anthropologists, is a symbolic meaning system. It is semiotic system in which symbols function to communicate meaning from one mind to another. Cultural symbols encode a

connection between a signifying form and a signaled meaning. From the standpoint of contemporary cultural anthropologists, culture is characterized by the following four basic features:

1) Culture is a kind of social inheritance instead of biological heritage;

2) Culture is shared by the whole community, not belonging to any particular individual;

3) Culture is a symbolic meaning system in which language is one of the most important ones;

4) Culture is a unified system, the integral parts of which are closely related to one another.

Various definitions on culture are given by scholars from different points of view. Some treated culture superficially as a set of specific artifacts, man-made environments, patterns of social organization and overt forms of behavior. Others treated culture in a more abstract way as the shared knowledge of members of social communities like world views, value orientations, norms, manners, customs, preferred styles of thinking and arguing, etc. culture is classified by some scholars into cultural knowledge information and cultural communication

information. The former refers to the factual information which does not exert a direct influence on the cross-cultural communication,

including a nation’s history, geography and so on. The latter points to the socio-pragmatic rules in daily communication which entail not only ways of greeting, thanking, apologizing and addressing, but also

attention to taboos, euphemisms, modesty and polite formula in use, etc.

The relationship between language and culture

Every nation has its own cultural focus. Every culture values what to them is important and closely relevant, which are reflected in their languages. For example, the English on sport, notably on the crazy cricket words, the French on wines and cheeses, the Arabs on camels, Eskimos on snows and Chinese on food and cooking, etc.

We can obviously conclude that the meaning attributed to

language is cultural-specific. A great deal of cross-cultural

misunderstanding occurs when the “meanings” of words in two languages are assumed to be the same, but actually reflect different cultural patterns. Some are humorous while others are much more serious .

We can summarize the relationship between culture and language as the following: language is a key component of culture. Without

language, culture would not be possible. Children learning their native language are learning their own culture; learning a second language also involves learning a second culture to varying degrees. On the other hand, language is influenced and shaped by culture. It reflects culture.

The culture difference between Chinese and the west

Since different countries have their different cultures, each culture has its own peculiarities and throws special influence on the language system. For example, referring to the same common domestic animal, English chooses the word “dog”, while Chinese has its own

character“狗”; Chinese has the phrase“走狗”while English has the expression “running dog”, but the meanings attributed to the two expressions are completely different according to Chinese culture and Western culture respectively. To Westerners, “running dog” has a positive meaning since the word “dog”, in most cases, is associated with an image of an animal pet-the favorite friend, thus they have the phrases “lucky dog”(幸运儿), “top dog”(胜利者), “old dog”(老手), and it is usually used to describe everyday life and behavior, as in “Love me, love my dog”(爱屋及乌),“Every dog has its day”(凡人皆有得意日). But in Chinese“走狗”refers to a lackey, an

obsequious person. Since Chinese associates derogatory meaning to the character“狗” depending on the cultural difference, Chinese has such expressions as “狗东西”,“狗腿子”,“狗仗人势”

From my point of view, there are also several social aspects that mainly reflect the difference between china and the west countries. First is the structure .In china , the social structure is formal and

hierarchical ,there is no crossing into other areas. While in the west, it is much more loose and informal. Second is the self. The Chinese looks more at the group collective than at individualism. They are more

willing to give up and sacrifice for the greater good. While people from the west are always pay attention to the individualism and emphasis more on the freedom, independence, and liberty. The third aspect is

morals. Chinese society places high values on the morals of their people. Marriage is not encouraged until the late twenties. In fact, dating is discouraged early in a young adult’s life and proprieties are expected to be held up. The westerns culture is much more relaxed and some could even argue that there needs to be more moral emphasize.

Every nation has its own cultural focus. Every culture values what to them is important and closely relevant, which are reflected in their languages

[1] Tomasello, Michael(2008). Origin Of Human Communication.MIT Press

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