Language Culture And Identity English Language Essay

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In his book Primitive Culture, Edward Tylor defines culture that as complex whole which includes knowledge, morals, beliefs, art, custom, law, technology and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of the society".

Being human being communicative, however, Language is more than just a means of communication. It influences our culture and even our thought processes. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis states that the structure of a language affects the ways in which its speakers conceptualize their world, i.e. their world view or otherwise influences their cognitive processes.

The cultural worldview of a man is presented by the language and reflected through his responses in a specific period of time. Cultures are transmitted from generation to generation, and influenced by the geographical location, history and interaction of the group over time. Language develops in response to the different needs required by its speakers, their tradition and culture, and the environment in which they live. It can be stated that your language can reveal many things about your identity. It can disclose your nationality, culture, religion, age, gender, level of education, socio-economic class or your profession.

Mendoza-Denton (2002:475) defines "identity to mean the active negotiation of an individual's relationship with larger social constructs." This is reflected in the language we use, our word choices in identifying ourselves as well as in the words we choose not to use. Language is part of one's identity.

Understanding the nature of the relationship between language and culture is central to the process of learning another language. It is also a chance for lanaguage learners to discover or re-discover and more appreciate his or her identiy.

With my limited understanding about socialinguistic and my eagerness to more learning about a useful subject that enriches me - a language teacher - the knowledge of language's role in soceity as well as the implications for language teaching and language policy, I would like to discuss the following contents:

Discuss the relationship between language, culture and identity.

The Sapir - Whorf hypothesis

Intercultural communication

Language policy

Language and power

Language as a core value and indentity

What are the implications for language teaching and language policy?


The relationship between language, culture and identity

The Sapir - Whorf hypothesis

The principle of linguistic relativity holds that the structure of a language affects the ways in which its speakers conceptualize their world, i.e. their world view or otherwise influences their cognitive processes.

In linguistics, the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis states that there are certain thoughts of an individual in one language that cannot be understood by those who live in another language.

The hypothesis states that the way people think is strongly affected by their native languages.

Popularly known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, or Whorfianism, the principle is often defined as having two versions:

the strong version that language determines thought and that linguistic categories limit and determine cognitive categories

the weak version that linguistic categories and usage influence thought and certain kinds of non-linguistic behaviour. 

Whorf and Sapir argue:

• 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. 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.(Whorf)

• "The world is presented in a kaleidoscopic flux of impressions which have to be

organized largely by the linguistic systems in our minds." (Whorf)

• "Meanings are not so much discovered in experience as imposed upon it, because of the tyrannical hold that linguistic form has upon our orientation to the world." (Sapir)

Intercultural communication

Intercultural communication refers to the communication between people from different cultures. According to Samovar and Porter (10:1991) intercultural communication occurs whenever a message is produced by a member of one culture for consumption by a member of another culture, a message must be understood. Because of cultural differences in these kinds of contacts, the potential for misunderstanding and disagreement is great. To reduce this risk, it is important to study intercultural communication.

As the editors of the most successful collection of intercultural readings wrote "in many respects the relationship between culture and communication is reciprocal - each affects and influences the other. What we talk about, how we talk about it, what we see, attend to, or ignore, how we think, and what we think about are influenced by our culture. Culture cannot exist without communication, one cannot change without causing change in the other. (Samovar & Porter, 1991, p.21)

Interculture communication generally refers to face - to - face interactions among people of diverse cultures. Imagine how difficult communications can be if the source and receiver are in different contexts and share few symbols.

Collier and Thomas (1988) define interculture communication as between people "who identify themselves as disctinct from" others in a culture sense.

Language policy

Language Policy is what a government does either officially through legislation, court decisions or policy to determine how languages are used, cultivate language skills needed to meet national priorities or to establish the rights of individuals or groups to use and maintain languages. (Wikipedia)

The relationship between culture and language has been studied for many decades, but scholars from different disciplines still have not reached consensus on the degree to which culture and language are related to each other. The first argument is that language determines our culture. This approach comes from the "Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis" which claims that language not only transmits but also shapes our thinking, beliefs, and attitudes. In other words, language is a guide to culture. Other scholars argue that language merely reflects, rather than shapes, our thinking, beliefs, and attitudes. Despite these differences in approaches, all scholars still agree that a close relationship exists between language and culture.

The implications for language teaching and policy making are therefore vast and far reaching. As a teacher of language, one must be culturally aware, considerate of the students` culture, and inform students of cultural differences thus promoting understanding. Language policy must reflect both the target language culture as well as the students`, teacher`s, and administrative persons` culture thus avoiding any cultural misinterpretations.

Basic to the process of correcting or trying to correct language usage is a widespread belief that parents or other caretakers have a responsibility to guarantee the successful socialization of their offspring by helping them to develop a variety of language that is useful for communication, by being intelligible, and that will lead to acceptance in desirable social settings, by not giving offense. Caretakers generally accept responsibility to help their offspring learn an appropriate or good variety of language. Governments also take on the task of managing bad language.

Language and power

Language is one of the most important things in our world. It is used in many different ways, whether it is good or bad. Language is extremely powerful. It is, after all, how we communicate for the most part.

In looking at how power is exercised through language, Speech Acts, Gricean Maxims, Adjacency Pairs,

Language can be either empowering or disempowering depending on how it's looked at.

One obvious feature of how language operates in social interactions is its relationship with power, both influential and instrumental. Neither rule nor law, neither discipline nor hierarchy sanctions influential power. It inclines us or makes us want to behave in certain ways or adopt opinions or attitudes, without obvious force. It operates in such social phenomena as advertising, culture and the media. (Strictly, we are not coerced into buying what the advertiser shows us, nor will we suffer any penalty for our "sales resistance".) Instrumental power is explicit power of the sort imposed by the state, by its laws and conventions or by the organizations for which we work. It operates in business, education and various kinds of management. (In many, but not all cases, if we resist instrumental power, we will be subject to some penalty or in trouble.)

Given the real time dimension of speaking, thinking and speaking at the same time, there is more repetition, hesitation and redundancy than written discourse. Saying the same item again, starting and stopping, and giving more information than is required are features of speaking that are not comfortably tolerated in writing. Redundancy in writing occurs when the writer adds unnecessary words 'due to the fact that' instead of 'because'. Further, there are pauses, false starts (e.g. then, the next thing.. then the next thing to happen) and fillers (you know, well, 'hhh') allowing the speakers to hold the turn in conversation while thinking of the next part of what they want to say.

Spoken language is quite different from written language in the way it is produced. The

speaker is able to monitor language used in response to the hearer, but there is no permanent

record of the interaction in conventional conversational situations. "Repair" occurs as the

theme is developed. The writer on the other hand has an opportunity to pause, to check and

to make changes without being interrupted by an audience.

Pragmatic rules govern a number of conversational interactions: sequential organisation and

coherence of conversations, repair of errors, roles and speech acts. Organisation and

coherence of conversation includes opening, maintaining and closing a conversation, taking

turns and making relevant contributions to the conversation, establishing and maintaining a

topic. Repair includes receiving and giving feedback and correcting conversation errors.

In looking at how power is exercised through language, you should be able to refer to real examples you have found, and explain these texts. But you should also have a theoretical approach that will enable you to interpret language data you are presented with in an exam. Among other things, you should look at pragmatics and speech act theory, lexis and semantics (forms and meanings), forms that include or exclude (insiders or outsiders), structures (at phrase, clause and discourse level), forms of address, phatic tokens, as well as structural features of speech, which may be used to exercise or establish power. And in some contexts, you will need to be able to show how rhetorical devices are used to influence an audience

Consider, for example, how conversational maxims may be adapted for reasons of expedience, rather than integrity. Does all power corrupt in language, as (according to Lord Acton) it does generally

Language as a core value and indentity

Mendoza-Denton (2002:475) defines "identity to mean the active negotiation of an individual's relationship with larger social constructs." These social constructs have been understood as comprising gender, ethnicity, and class following Gumprez (1982) in some of the earliest work on language and identity.

One's identity was understood as whom you were, but one's identity is not necessarily stable.

Identity in these studies is very much the basis of who we are. But who we are or how we are seen by others may involve differing identities. Zimmerman (1998) identifies three types of identities:

1. Discourse identity which is determined by the particular discourse and applies to the roles within the discourse (i.e. speaker, hearer);

2. Situational identity which is determined by the specific situation and may involve a power differential; and

3. Transportable identity which applies across situations and discourse and includes such constructs as ethnic, gender, and age.

Your language can reveal many things about your identity. It can disclose your nationality, culture, religion, age, gender, level of education, socio-economic class or your profession.

Nationality - This can be shown through your accent (American, British, Australia, Scottish, Irish etc. It can also be shown through the words you use. For example, Americans say sidewalk, British people say pavement and Australians say footpath. Americans say fall and British people say autumn. ETC, you get the point. Furthermore, it can show through the way you spell - favour or favor? grey or gray? centre or center?

Identity involves our own self-identification. It is defined by our behavior, values and self-concepts. This is reflected in the language we use, our word choices in identifying ourselves as well as in the words we choose not to use.

How we say these words; how we put them together grammatically; how we construct our discourse: all these reveal how we view ourselves linguistically. In identifying their own identity, an individual has both a private self and a public self. There is the identity one assumes in public, in relation to other peoples and in different situations, which may or may not reflect the identity one holds in private, which may involve choosing one language for private use with family and close friends and another language in public. This social identity is according to Rembo (2004) an interactive process. "A person's social identity comes from an individual's knowledge of himself as an individual in relationship to others." (2004: 33-34) In part we construct our identity by how we perceive ourselves in the eyes of others.

Our identity is not limited to our own self-identification, but entails that identity assigned to us by others. Bucholtz (2003) proposes a tactics of intersubjectivies model contending that that the formation of identity is determined by the context.

Gumprez (1982) cites the creation of in-group symbols to establish social identity and the most powerful of these symbols is language.

Our language choices reflect not only how we view ourselves, but how we are viewed by society. An individual's identity is reflected in various language constructed identities: ethnicity, gender, and cross-cultural/counter cultural. In turn these identities are projected by society on the individual/ethnic group by the language choices society makes in describing and addressing these individuals.

Language will always be a significant part of whom we are and who we identify with culturally, ethnically and socially. It will always be a means of self-identification. In the bilingual's world, the significance of language and language choice takes on more complex dimensions as the speaker navigates his/her way through the choices and the sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious implications inherent in each choice.

Having an identity places one into a category, whether one is the person speaking, or being spoken to, or being spoken about. This category, identity, involves being ascribed the characteristics and features understood by that category. (Antaki and Widdicombe, 1998) Language is one of these features.

Implications for language teaching and language policy

Being a language teacher, we must instruct their students on the cultural background of language usage.

Learn Languages for Life in a Global Community

Learning languages promotes intercultural understanding across languages and cultures. We not only expand our ability to access ideas and information, but also become aware of how our behaviours and attitudes have been shaped by the language/s and cultures we experience. Being multilingual provides us with new ways of thinking that we can explore to express ourselves creatively in our own time and place.

The AGTV values all languages, and supports the promotion of a plurilingual Australia, its rich cultural and linguistic heritage, and the intercultural skills that can provide future generations the understanding and means to find creative and peaceful solutions to significant global challenges.

Learning and teaching another language will be more interested once we discover the beauty of language and successfully convey to learners.

It should be exploited effectively for a better teaching; therefore, a motivated learning might be obtained.


the relationship between language, culture and identity

the implications for language teaching and language policy?