Disclaimer: This is an example of a student written essay.
Click here for sample essays written by our professional writers.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UKEssays.com.

History And Structure Of English English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 5417 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

Reference this

The intriguing question, whether language and culture have something to do with each other was the propellant behind this research. Defining language as a exclusively human entity for communication using sophisticated variables and culture as the 'know-how' required for smooth subsistence in a society, the Sapir-Whorf Hypotheses has been studied with evidence collected from my Mother tongue [Malayalam] in relation to English. Doctrines of linguistic relativism [language does not impose but influences thought process i.e. language predisposes the mindset towards a specific world reality] and linguistic determinism [language determines the categories of thought i.e. perception is at the mercy of language] have been captured with citations from literary texts of renowned linguists and have been subjected to the penetrating light of analysis with the evidence collected in terms of categories of language like gender, religion, time etc. The research has led to conclusions which support the theses at its weaker level and establish the one to one relation existing between the two subjects in question. The concerns of translation have been addressed briefly along with posing the debate of 'deterministic' approach's viability to the reader's discretion. Accepting the influence of language and culture to great extent, the paper tries to show how perception shapes up under the two with research proof and theories supporting the same in background.

Key Terms

Language Culture Sapir-Whorf Hypotheses Linguistic Relativism

Linguistic Determinism Translation Categories

1. Introduction

Language, unique to mankind, which is the method of relaying thoughts by the use of signs, can be analyzed in wake of its connection to culture which is itself a diverse entity constituting knowledge, traditions, values, art, rituals and much more that are provided by the historical, environmental and psychological dimensions of human exposure which a person acquires as being part of the society. There seems to be a one to one correspondence between sounds, words and sentences in a specific language and the manner in which the user of that language perceives the world around him/her. A well acknowledged hypothesis is to treat language as a free channel for the relay of ideas as it does not obstruct transparent ideas from being transmitted. Structuralists considered language as sound entwined with systematic thought as language less thought was similar to uncharted nebula. There exists no distinction nor an idea before language was conceived. But this has been challenged later by linguists, who have defined language as comprising a kind of logic or type of reference which is the key in shaping the speech community's ideas. The diversity in vocabulary of two languages can be linked to the diverse ideas and opinions presented in the two languages .While considering culture in a larger horizon it are imperative to think what it inculcates. So culture therefore can be treated as what an individual should know as to perform effectively in the social structure of a society and that the result of this involvement in different aspects doesn't in any way have something to do with biological characterization. Illustrating the bond between language and culture can be done easily by reflecting upon the Sapir-Whorf Hypotheses (1921) which have two doctrines, linguistic relativism and linguistic determinism. The weaker version of the notion, the idea of linguistic relativism, proposes that there exist infinite possibilities with regard to the framework of human languages. Language, it says in no way forces realty. The grammatical items of a language do not decide a community's world perception but plays a major part in the mindset of the speaker to a specific perception. Whereas, linguistic determinism intends to say that language determines how we conceive ideas and our intellectual psyche .Sensory inputs and the diasporas of worldly perceptions one gathers depends on the differences and categories engraved within a language and the speaker realizes the universe around as demarcated by the mother tongue. These hypothesis's present clearly how culture emerges as a roadblock in front of a translator while trying to reconstruct a piece of literature well cushioned in the cultural heritage of the area. The levels to which the idea can be recaptured remains questioned as every piece of literature is well immersed in its social and historic variables of the culture concerned and also have to let go of the native base and try to pitch itself in new regions with different social norms. When one plans to translate, the matrix of the text, the matrix of the society out of which the article has emerged and the social matrix in which Meta article will be developed has to be considered. The rituals and norms in a region will differ from those of other parts and language is the manifestation of these different cultures. In specific situations words tend to deliver a good deal of ideas but certain visuals rarely have their counterparts in other languages.

2 Literature Review

2.1 An introduction to Sociolinguistics-Ronald Wardaugh

Goodenough's (1957,p 167) defines culture as: 'A society culture consists of whatever it is one has to know or believe in order to operate in a manner acceptable to its members, and to do so in any role that they accept for any one of themselves.' One long standing claim concerning the relationship between language and culture is that the structure of a language determines the way in which speakers of that language view the world. A somewhat weaker version is that the structure does not determine the world view but is still extremely influential in predisposing speakers of a language toward adopting a particular world view. The opposite claim is that the culture of a people finds reflection in the language they employ: because they value certain things and do them in a certain way, they come to use their language in ways that reflect what they value and what they do. In this view, cultural requirements do not determine the structure of a language but they certainly influence how a language is used and perhaps determine why specific bits and pieces are the way they are. If speakers of one language have certain words to describe things and speakers of another language lack similar words, then speakers the first language will find it easier to talk about these things. A stronger claim is that if one language makes distinctions that another does not make, then those who use the first language will more readily perceive the differences in their environment which such linguistic distinctions draw attention to .The strongest claim of all is that the grammatical categories available in a particular language not only help the users of that language to perceive the world in a certain way but also at the same time limit such perception. They act as blinkers, you perceive only what your language allows you or predispose you to perceive. Romaine (1999) states the position as follows:' No particular language or way of speaking has a privileged view of the world as it really is The world is not simply the way it is but what we make it through language .The domain of experience that are important to cultures get grammaticed into languages…. [And] no two languages are sufficiently similar to be considered as representing the same social reality'. Finally the claim that it would be impossible to describe certain things in a particular language because that language lacks the necessary resources is only partially valid at best.

Get Help With Your Essay

If you need assistance with writing your essay, our professional essay writing service is here to help!

Essay Writing Service

When one analysis's the ideas presented by Wardaugh it's evident that the Sapir-Whorf Hypotheses remains still unproved. It seems that it is possible to speak about anything in a language given that the person is ready to use some amount of ambiguous or roundabout figures of speech. Still some concepts might be better expressed in some languages than the others. All languages gives its speakers a system for making any type of inference that they have to make of the world in addition to their own language which can talk about any other language. If this is the case, then language must be a highly sophisticated entity, one which lets its speakers to break through any perceptions that exist and to make is happen quite easily.

2.2 Language and the Mediation of Experience: Linguistic Representation and Cognitive Orientation-Michael Stubbs

A famous formulation of this puzzle was made by Marx (1852), who radically unified the individual and the social: "Human beings make their own history, but they do not make it of their own free will … The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the minds of the living." Saussurean structuralism leads almost inevitably to the view that the language system itself creates meaning. The most explicit source is work by Sapir (1884-1939) and Whorf (1897-1941). The "Sapir-Whorf" hypothesis is often taken as the classic source of the view that the grammatical categories of language construct implicit theories of the world. Famous passages in Whorf (1956) include: We cut nature up, organize it into concepts, and ascribe significances as we do, largely because we are parties to an agreement to organize it in this way - an agreement that holds throughout our speech community and is codified in the patterns of our language (p. 213). This is a claim about linguistic relativity. But a view that languages embody conventions which "codify" thought slides easily into determinism: The agreement is, of course, an implicit and unstated one, but its terms are absolutely obligatory; we cannot talk at all except by subscribing to the organization and classification of data which the agreement decrees [pp. 213-14, emphasis in original] …the forms of a person's thoughts are controlled by inexorable laws of pattern of which he is unconscious. (p. 252)"We don't speak a language, the language speaks us" (Foucault, 1980; G. Williams,1992: 248-58).There are certainly areas of experience which are both abstract and differently grammaticaliced in different languages, for example, in systems of tense, aspect, mood and modality, and evidentiality. It is common for such meanings to be marked in the grammar as obligatory categories, but languages differ considerably in what can and must be encoded. There are many areas of human life of which we can have no direct experience at all, and where all our knowledge comes to us via language. It is therefore plausible that language influences thought, for most of us, at least some of the time. Nelson (1991) points out that a great deal of our knowledge of the world is acquired through language, and that many cultural concepts which children acquire early do not exist independently of the ways in which we talk about them.

The book says that much of the challenge posed by Whorf and others remains unsolved: it is especially tough to break free of these roundabouts of arguments where language is both root and proof. It speaks of many variants of the outlook that language and ideas are related. It believes it is reasonable that if the world is continually talked about in specific ways, then such behavior can influence thinking. Proposes that there does not exist is no credible proof that language determines thought in any absolute way. On the contrary, it says that all languages provide resources which are being continuously developed to express new thoughts. However, it has evidence that linguistic choices can make people reach baseless conclusions. And thinks it is highly probable that, if these resources are constantly exploited in regular codings, then behavior of language can lead to stereotyped thinking.

2.3 How does our language shape how we think-Lera Boroditsky

For a long time, the idea that language might shape thought was considered at best non testable and more often simply wrong. From experiments, we have learned is that people who speak different languages do indeed think differently and that even flukes of grammar can profoundly affect how we see the world. Language is a uniquely human gift, central to our experience of being human. Language is so fundamental to our experience, so deeply a part of being human, that it's hard to imagine life without it. Most questions of whether and how language shapes thought start with the simple observation that languages differ from one another. Clearly, languages require different things of their speakers. Certainly, speakers of different languages must attend to and encode strikingly different aspects of the world just so they can use their language properly. Scholars on the other side of the debate don't find the differences in how people talk convincing. All our linguistic utterances are sparse, encoding only a small part of the information we have available. It's possible that everyone thinks the same way, notices the same things, but just talks differently. Believers in cross-linguistic differences counter that everyone does not pay attention to the same things: if everyone did, one might think it would be easy to learn to speak other languages. Learning to speak new languages requires something more than just learning vocabulary: it requires paying attention to the right things in the world so that you have the correct information to include in what you say. The result is a profound difference in navigational ability and spatial knowledge between speakers of languages that rely primarily on absolute reference frames (like Kuuk Thaayorre) and languages that rely on relative reference frames (like English). What enables them in fact, forces them to do this is their language. Patterns in a language can indeed play a causal role in constructing how we think. In practical terms, it means that when you're learning a new language, you're not simply learning a new way of talking, you are also inadvertently learning a new way of thinking. Apparently even small flukes of grammar, like the seemingly arbitrary assignment of gender to a noun, can have an effect on people's ideas of concrete objects in the world. Such quirks are pervasive in language; gender, for example, applies to all nouns, which means that it is affecting how people think about anything that can be designated by a noun.

The article has talked about how languages form the system in which we think about space, time, colors, and objects. It also points to effects of language on how people read events, rationale about causality, maintain track of amount, comprehend matter, observe and experience sentiment, reason about other people's minds, opt to take risks, and even the way they choose professions and spouses. Taking up the all arguments, the author shows that linguistic processes are pervasive in most elementary domains of thinking, involuntarily determining us from the nuts and bolts of cognition and observation to our loftiest conceptual ideas and chief life decisions. Language is vital to our understanding of being human, and the languages we speak deeply shape the method we imagine, the method we observe the world, the method we live our live.

3. Language and culture: Evidence from Mother Tongue

3.1 Proverbs

"Onam vanalaum,

Unni piranalum,

Koranu kumpilil thane kanji"

which translates as that even at the time of cultural festivities [here 'Onam', a cultural festival of the Malayalam speech community] and even when a child is born [here 'Unni', which is an endearment term used for boy, child or son] still a lower class/caste member will have to have his meager food [here 'kanji', which is rice without separating out the water after steaming] in a humble bowl [here 'kumpil', which is a bowl made by forming a cone out of a leaf].While a native speaker will be able to feel the pathetic condition of the lower class and how they stand oppressed in life, a English speaker will not perceive this the same way as he is unaware of the caste system, the cultural fervor associated with 'Onam' and birth of a child and how 'kumpil' is a marker of the poverty.

"Onamthinnu edak puttu kachavadam"

which is a phrase used when someone talks or does something irrelevant when he/she must be doing something else. The phrase translates as selling 'puttu' [a local cuisine made by steaming ground rice layered with coconut] while the celebrations of 'Onam' is in full swing. This phrase also illustrates how the people despise the materialistic attitude and want all to be part of cultural celebrations. An English speaker might be able to identify the concept he will not be able to associate as strongly as a native speaker with the idea as the ideas of harmony and friendship spread by 'Onam' and how 'puttu' is part of life in the area is known properly only to them

3.2 Folk songs

"Allayal thara venam, aduthorampalam venam,

Alinu chernoru kulavum venam;

Kulipanayi kulam venam, kulathil chenthamara vena,

Kulichu chenakam pukan chandhanam venam.

Puvayal manam venam, pumanayal gunam venam,

Pumaninikalayal adakam venam;

Nadayal nripan vena, arikil mantrimar venam,

Nadinu gunamulla prajakal venam."

This is a folk song widely popular throughout the Malayalam speech community. It translates as: 'If you have a banyan tree, you must have an enclosing structure for it, you must have a temple near the tree and a pond close to the tree. For bathing you must have a pond, in the pond there must be lotus plants and afterwards must have sandal at home to use soon after the bath. Flowers should have fragrance, a deer must be virtuous and the damsels must be disciplined. A state must have a king, also ministers to assist and citizens useful to the state.' In an English setting one will just see this song as random cluster of ideas but in the linguistic area corresponding to Malayalam, people will surely have the vision of a country side with banyan tree's and people sitting on the enclosing chatting, temple near the tree and the rituals, the temple pond with lotus plants and taking bath in it before going into the temple for religious ceremonies, radical concept of well nurtured women being disciplined, beautiful like a flower and virtuous, of 'Mahabeli' and his rule in the region when the king and his subordinates along with good natured people lived a happy existence and so on.

3.3 Rituals

Auspicious time

When the idea of conducting a ceremony or event like marriage, starting something new etc comes to the mind of an English speaker he thinks of the time or place with regard to when and where it is comfortable, affordable and so on. But when a Malayalam Speaker speaks of events his perceptions often lingers about the auspiciousness of the day, place and time. When a speaker says that the time for marriage is so and so it means that the time has been chosen in accordance with beliefs of the person concerned and has been authenticated by a priest or religious head.

Lighting the lamp at night

In the region home to Malayalam, many households practice the ritual of lighting the lamp at night and placing it in front of the main door. For an English speaker this would rather be to have light in the darkness. But to a native the idea of 'lighting of the lamp at night' means to cast away all evil forces of the dark and also brings in the image of the elderly in the house reading scriptures. So the perception for a native will be rich in culture fervor unlike a foreigner.

3.4 Beliefs

Lunar eclipse

When an English speaker speaks of lunar eclipse, the idea of sun blocking off moon comes to one's mind and nothing more. But when a Malayalam speaker does the same the belief that the 'asura Rahu' is eating up moon resulting in the eclipse is also in background. So the mythological stories will be playing in one's mind while talking about lunar eclipse in Malayalam whereas nothing of that sort exists for the English Speaker.

Sacred grove

When a native speaker says sacred grove i.e. 'kavu', the religious elements comes to mind along with the wilderness housing idols and esp. the idea that it houses snakes considered holy and worshipped. But the English speech community will never associate snakes with a sacred grove because their culture doesn't give snakes such status in religious context. Therefore they will perceive a sacred grove as a holy place of worship covered in wilderness and nothing more.

Find Out How UKEssays.com Can Help You!

Our academic experts are ready and waiting to assist with any writing project you may have. From simple essay plans, through to full dissertations, you can guarantee we have a service perfectly matched to your needs.

View our services

3.5 Religion

Address terms

When we consider an English speaker, his address term for father doesn't change with religion. But in Malayalam, the natives following different faiths have different terms for addressing their father. While a Hindu calls his father 'achan', a Christian calls him 'appan' and a Muslim calls him 'uppa'. So while an English Speaker does in no way convey his religion in speech, a Malayalam speaker's way of addressing his father reveals his faith and thereby shapes another person's perception of him/her.

Greetings or Blessings

As English speech community consists of people of who believe in faiths prophesying monotheism they usually say 'may God bless you' or 'in God's name'. But as Malayalam natives are chiefly of faith which acknowledge existence of Goddesses and polytheism, they have phrases like 'bhagavathi nine kathu kollum' which translates as the Goddess will protect you which cannot be realized in its utmost sense by the English speaker.

3.6 Cultural Festivals


The festival of Onam is something is deeply encoded in the cultural fervor of the Malayalam speech community. While the English speaker might grasp the idea, history and rituals associated with the festival, the festivities will never be relished by him/her like a native who has vivid images of the tasty 'Onasadhya' [the rich lunch on the festive day], of a festival transcending religious boundaries, of the fun while setting up the 'pookalam' [a type of flower arrangement] and much more.


The festival of Vishu celebrated among the Malayalam speakers brings about the images of 'kannikonna' [a tree bearing yellow flowers], 'kanni' [a ritual associated with Vishu], 'kayineetam' [he ritual of giving gifts to the young members of the family by the elders at time of Vishu] and so on. Even if the English speaker tries to realize the idea of Vishu, he/she will still never be able to have the same approach to it as a native because he lacks the social attributes.

3.7 Abusive Language

Reference to female genitals

The Malayalam culture seems to have some kind of predisposition towards using abusive language with reference to female genitals. When a native abuses someone he/she tends to abuse him/her with abusive terms associated with his female relation's genitals. When an English speaker abuses he doesn't tend to be inclined to this unlike a Malayalam speaker which shows that former doesn't think along the lines thought upon by the latter.

Affinity to female relations

English language does not discriminate among males and females a lot when concerned about abusive words. But Malayalam shows strong affinity for abusive words which pertain to female relations of the person concerned .Most of the taboo words often tend to pertain to females which shows how much language and culture are related and how much perception is influenced.

3.8 Colors

The Malayalam language has 7 colors': 'chumala' [red], 'manja' [yellow], 'karup' [black], 'vella' [white], 'uutu' [violet], 'neela' [blue] and 'pacha' [green]. It doesn't have terms for orange, indigo, grey etc which thereby limits their world view to some extent. As some colors of the rainbow are absent, one who speaks of it will talk about in as different shades of a color unlike an English speaker who will be able to separate and talk about each color.

3.9 Address Terms

Unlike English speech community which doesn't have a culture which has a caste system, Malayalam has in place a society with prevalent caste norms which defines the reality to some extent. The address terms often used reflect these caste norms present like in 'nom' and 'aen' used by the upper caste and lower caste people respectively in the place of personal pronoun 'I'. Similarly words like 'adiyan' and 'thampran' were used by the workers and subordinates to landlords and kings instead of 'I' and 'you'.

3.10 Kinship Terms

While talking of kinship terms too Malayalam boasts of a large number of words to signify the relations unlike English which has very few words in this aspect. While English confines itself to terms generalized to signify both maternal and paternal relations and both elder and younger relations, Malayalam provides specific terms for the same. For example 'vallyamma/vallyachan' refers to the wife of elder brother or husband of the elder sister of the father and 'cheriyamma/cheriyachan' refers to the wife of younger brother or husband of the younger sister of the father. Also it has a lot of synonyms for signifying the same relation like 'veli', 'antherjanam', 'bharya' all for the same word wife. Then some relations absent in English language are also present like the concept of 'muracherukan/murapennu' [which speaks of the son and daughter of a brother and sister respectively being deemed to enter wedlock at time of birth by custom]

3.11 Gender

Malayalam has no grammatical indication of gender and is similar to English in this. But the disposition towards the two genders is entirely different for a Malayalam speaker from an English speaker. In Malayalam Language, many words for prostitute exist like 'veshya', 'vebicharini' etc but there seems no word for a male counterpart. Also the concept of 'Devi' [ installing a chosen female of the community as the Goddess of the temple, restricting her worldly pleasures and the deity to authorize rituals] has no where a parallel idea which floats the thought of a male being subjected to the same measures.

3.12 Time Concepts

4 nimisham/mathra/kashta/noti = 1 ganitham 10 ganithams = 1 Neduveerpu

6 neduveerpu/ 240 mathra = 1 vinazhika 60 vinazhika = 1 nazhika

60 nazhika = 1 day

(Each present day hour = 2.5 nazhika. Also 1 day has 864,000 nimisham/mathra and present day consists of 86,400 seconds which implies that 1 second = 10 nimisham/mathra)

15 days = 1 paksham 2 pakshams/ 30 days = 1 month

365 days = 1 human year/Deva day/Divya day

Therefore we find a clear demarcation between how the Malayalam speech community has varied concepts regarding time inculcated by culture when considered along the lines of an English speaker. While an English speaker normally would talk of time with terms like seconds, minutes, hour etc, a Malayalam native will perceive time not the same way as units differ. Also while talking of time the Malayalam speech community will have differing perception of the external reality as they dissect time not the way done by an English speaker because unlike the latter who thinks of the day as 24 hours, the former considers the same as 60 'nazhika' which will make no sense what so ever when conveyed to the latter.

3.13 Art Forms

Art forms have their say in perception and speech community's language. While an English speaker will have just things as signs or symbols, a Malayalam native has words like 'aangyam' and 'mudra' where 'aangyam' simply refers to various signs but 'mudra' has a deeper connotation of bringing in a dancers poses or steps. Similarly various words associated with art forms specific to the culture in question like 'arangetam'[ first performance of an artist or of an event], 'padham' [refers to the various parts of a dance performance esp. 'Margamkalli', a Christian dance form] and many more are exclusive to Malayalam speech community.

3.14 Profession

In Malayalam language, terms for various professions are typically associated with a particular group, like a specific gender, class or faith. For example, 'koythukaran/koythukari' [a farm hand] is someone who brings along the perception of lower class. A 'vayidyan' [practitioner of traditional medicines] brings with term an image a male member of the society and never does a female cross one's mind when the image concerned is talked about. Also when one talks of 'kapiyar' [assistant to the priests in church] the imagery being projected is of a Christian follower who carries out the basic duties in the religious ceremonies.

3.15 Cuisines

The Malayalam Speech community boasts of a large variety of culture specific delicacies which in no way can be translated and grasped by an English native. Cuisines are deeply cushioned with cultural fervor may it be religion or occasion. Be it 'pathiri' [ pancake made of rice flour] is a typical Muslim food item or 'pallukachal' [ boiling of milk] which marks the beginning of a new life in a new house.

3.16 Dress

'Chattyum-mundum' [a native attire of females among native Christians] illustrates how a particular reference to a type of dress has influence over the speaker's reflection of reality. While an English speaker might identify the dress and who wear it he will not be able to grasp the various images of Rosary wielding old females and so on. Also 'mundum-neriyathum' [a traditional attire of 2 'mundus 'making a set, with one 'mundu' worn similar to men as lower garment and the other worn on the upper half resembling a 'sari'] identity's the person as a part of Hindu religion, most probably the higher class.

4. Language and culture: Research Findings from Mother Tongue

Consider language as an exclusively human ability for acquiring and using complex systems of communication and culture as an integrated pattern of human knowledge, faith, and manners that depends upon the ability for representative notion and communal education. "Although all observers may be confronted by the same physical evidence in the form of experiential data and although they may be capable of "externally similar acts of observation," a person's "picture of the universe" or "view of the world" differs as a function of the particular language or languages that person knows." (Lee 1996, page 87) .When one takes into consideration the evidences gathered from Malayalam, [mother tongue/language] Sapir-Whorf hypothesis remains relevant though the strong variant fails to hold ground and the weaker doctrine dominates the argument. Linguistic determinism can no longer be thought as a strong claim as the examples cited as evidence clearly demarcate between the 'determining' and 'influencing' effect on display between language and culture. The main problem of which among language and culture influences the other still remains debatable but an agreement upon the use of the term influence rather than determine has been reached or linguistic relativism has been recognised over the deterministic approach. The proof offered by the Mother tongue have illustrated how cultural fervour stands as an obstacle in the way of a translator who has to keep in mind the native culture, the resultant culture and idea originally conveyed all have to be kept in mind and given their due. The whole variety of examples taken from all aspects of language like Kinship terms, Proverbs, Folk songs, Religion, Time units and many more provide conclusive evidence regarding the two way relation of language and culture i.e. both are interdependent and one cannot be considered in isolation from another. The proof that anthropological studies and linguistics studies must go in hand in hand and the perception of world reality gets enriched in being multilingual is the straightforward answer of the research. How languages across the globe have similarities like being sexist, having culturally rich vocabulary etc are some of the notable results. The human e


Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing stye below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Related Services

View all

DMCA / Removal Request

If you are the original writer of this essay and no longer wish to have your work published on UKEssays.com then please: