Culture and Language

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Language and culture are closely intertwined, but there is no question about which shapes which one: culture shapes language rather than the opposite. Culture occurs first, and language is used to put forth elements of that culture. There may be different languages within the same culture, but regardless of that fact, the culture is the bond that unites all of those languages. There are many different examples of the ways that culture shapes language. In regards to the United States, for instance, hip-hop is a culture that is characterized by certain music, attitude, behaviors, and other features, and there are certain phrases and words in the English language that came out of the hip-hop movement. These words have become commonly used in the American culture, such as homes or homeboy, boo as a term of endearment, street cred to signify that someone has legitimacy, etc. In all of these instances, it is the hip-hop culture that shaped the language; the language came out of the culture rather than language creating or influencing the culture.

Another example of culture influencing language involves the southern region in the United States. The southern culture is distinct and different from all other regions in the country, and is characterized by speaking English with a distinct accent but which also includes a wealth of words and phrases that are specific to that culture. The language that is spoken down south does not create the culture, but rather emanates from it and provides education and information about that culture. There are many other examples of the way that culture shapes language. A person from the upper echelon who has been highly educated, travels in circles that include an upwardly mobile population, and has been exposed primarily to upper class culture will generally speak in a way that makes his or her background evident. The language will be proper, relatively formal, and will reflect the person’s cultural background easily so that as soon as he or she opens their mouth, it is clear that they have been part of a culture that is elite and/or affluent. By the same token, a person who has been raised in a culture of poverty and has not had access to the kind of opportunities mentioned in the previous sentence, will likely reflect his or her culture by their specific language skills, possibly using more slang or words that are not generally acceptable in upper class society but which are perfectly normal among the culture with which that person is familiar.

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Racial and ethnic cultural groups also have an impact on the way language is used within their populations. A person from an Asian cultural background may relate the same experience in a completely different way than a person from an African-American background who has recalled the exact same situation. The recounting of that incident would demonstrate the impact that one’s culture has on his or her use of language to tell stories or describe events.

Using English as an example, this language has evolved by taking words from other languages and cultures, so that nearly every word spoken in English has been shaped by any number of cultures. In particular, the Romance languages have had a tremendous effect on the English language, and so the cultures that have spoken these languages have had a tremendous impact on the language in the United States, UK, and other English-speaking nations around the world.

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