More Than Just Mirror Effect – Language Reflects Culture

In different parts of the globe there are different languages. Not only are languages different but the world views of different cultures are also reflected in the languages. Put simply, Japanese culture has a word for “death by overwork” or karoshi which may not be present in other languages. This reflects the Japanese culture and their perspective on hard work to support the family. In Japan, the first incident of karoshi was reported in 1969.

There is a close and intimate connection between culture and language. It does not only mirror each other, but also enrich and develop each other. Culture began when speech started (Kroeber, 1923). There are experts who say that you cannot fully understand the culture without understanding or having direct access to the language.

It is a characteristic of culture to be socially transmitted through language. Culture is transmitted to one generation to another through language, whether it is verbal or non-verbal, through gestures and signs, orally or in writing. Overall, we could see that communication was actually a manifestation of culture. Children learn language based on what they see in their community. For example, it is difficult for Africans or Koreans to fully grasp the concept of Santa Claus since it is not that significant in their culture and community.

In 1931, Edward Sapir wrote his perception of language. In his articles, Sapir mentioned the man’s perception and cognitive faculties can be seen and understood in the language. According to his study, it mentions that there are no two languages exactly similar. Because there are different social relationship evolving around the language and this would manifest on the language, itself.

Another thing to ponder on is that in a national culture, there are also subcultures. Subcultures are smaller groups that also have norms, values, beliefs and special languages which make them distinct or different form the national culture and broader society. Subcultures may be based on the age, social class, occupation, politics, education or religious affiliations. An example would be military language. In this case, understanding the subculture’s language would help us understand the organization structure.

Second language learners are even encouraged to immerse on the culture of the language they are learning. Linguists like Krasner (1999) stated that for second language learners it is not enough to be learn the liguistics, but it is also important to know the behaviour and patterns in the community which can be significant in the language. For example, how to address the elderly and show respect. Another concrete example would be using “You there, come here.” This is grammatically and linguistically correct. However, it is inappropriate to use to talk to elder or authoritative figures.

There are teachers that would incorporate culture while teaching second language. For example, to teach about eating utensils, vegetables, fruits or meat, then it would be better to teach about the food culture. In this way, the students will be able to understand the concept behind the words and vocabulary being taught. Not only will the student learnt he language quicker, but they would also be able to relate it to their own culture. This understanding would help the, appreciate and understand, on a higher level the other people’s culture.

It is impossible for a culture to exist without languages and languages to exist without having a culture. How we perceive the world and life would be represented on how we speak of it. These two do not just reflect each other, but feeds each others existence.