View Full Version : Is (Can) Language (be) free of Culture ?

13-06-05, 08:55
To what degree can language be free of cultural content or bias ?
For example, if someone was speaking English (let's say with a native speaker's fluency), how much of the cultural content has (s)he have absorbed and internalized ?

I know this is a very vague characterization and might not qualify as a valid question. Still there seems to be certain problems when we try to define language that muddles clear communication.
For the general topic of language extinction, I can't really see the problem. It seems people put too much importance in language. It's just a communications tool.
When languages die out, that doesn't mean that any related culture follows suit. It's more probable to happen the other way round: when a culture dies, the related language dies as well. Although, it does not have to be like that. Languages can survive a culture, a culture can survive a related language.What are some of the reasons that you think inculturation is necessary for language learning ? "The more inculturated, the more fluent." Is this a factual observation ? Is it factual, but objectionable nevertheless ?
How are inculturation and indoctrination (brainwashing, white-washing, yellow-washing, black-washing, any-other-washing) different ?
How can an English learner (the same goes for a native speaker as well) be independent of common values found in mainstream English speakers for the purpose of being objective ?

13-06-05, 14:45
M. Heidegger

He called the language "house of entity".
In a work "Dialog about the language" (between the japanese and inquirer) some questions somewhat related to the tread are being raised.
1) certain dangers are faced when we try do describe some japanese concepts with european definitions, using tools of european aesthetics.
And one of them - true meanig in this case more likely to slip away, leaving the frame of hollow western words.
Besides such excessive westernization is more likely to kill the origin (the essence) of many concepts of other cultures

2) discussing the meaning of japanese "koto ba", Hidegger brings his word for defining the language - "the tale" (closest i could pick for russian, perhaps, german memebers can help here)
He says that we put ourselves above the language(uber die Sprache),
instead of being with it (von der Sprache).

3) language goes beyond the frame of its phonetic or written constituent
(super-sensuous nature)

A.R. Luria (russian scientist worked on the problems of linguistic psychology,

Language is a powerful tool for communication, but also for analyzing the world we live in, for self-reflection. Due to the language human beings posess two realities
1) the one we constantly perceive trough our sences (the one that can be measured, weighed, touched and so on)
2) abstract reality created by the semantic fields (webs) of the words, with all their classes and levels of relationship. Thus, any subject (object) can be brought to the view and analized regardless to its physical representation.

Semantic component of the word turns a language into a system of codes, which encrypts experience (knowledge) of the society. Most of the times of a particular society. Simple word can be a tightly wrapped definition, analysis of a subject.


There are literally hundreds of definitons of this concept, and various approaches in its studing. Altough there is something unique for all of them
1) culture transfers through the teaching
2) through the nurture
3) culture is social
4) fixes ideal codes of conduct and patterns of behavior
5) provides satisfaction of wants and needs of a man

There are some streams in science that study "culture" from following levels
- individual
- ethnic/ national.
Some of them directly deal with semantics and significs. According to them, a man lives in a web of significances, which (the web) is the culture. Culture is always "among" individuals, within the web of their relationships.
Cultural semiotics looks at the culture as at the system of symbols which are to be interpreted


As for translators

What are some of the reasons that you think inculturation is necessary for language learning ? The more enculturated, the more fluent. Is this factual observation ? Is it objectionable nevertheless ?

I`ve read some advises of professional translators. They say it is very important to study the culture. There were many embarrassing situation even on high levels when simultaneous translation failed being unable to grasp the cultural differences. Culture is also very important for those who translate literaure and movies, ability to find cross-cultural similarities and differences will save the spirit of the subject

As for common language, i think i fell myself more free in expressing myself,
when know idioms and some other little sayings which are part of that culture.

14-06-05, 20:54
Cultures create and use languages.

Languages can't exist without cultures that create and use them.

As for languages that is free of cultural content or bias.

There's no such language as that. Every languages have the content and bias of the cultures that create and use them.

Of course, verbal and visual languages aren't really that necessary to communicate with each other.

One's soul can communicate directly to each other, which made the language barrier non-existent.

15-06-05, 01:26
To what degree can language be free of cultural content or bias ?
Any "naturally" grown human language probably can't. All human languages have been shaped by the related cultural environment. You can see that when a language is used as a primary language by another than the root culture. The native Indian English diverges from British English, & probably will do so even more in the future.

What are some of the reasons that you think inculturation is necessary for language learning ? "The more inculturated, the more fluent." Is this a factual observation ?
I'm not sure that I understand 100% what you mean by inculturation.
But I'm pretty sure that to understand & use a foreign language on a similar level to a native speaker you'd have to live in the native culture for quite a while (& not just live there, but really experience it). The closer your own native tongue & culture are to the foreign one, the easier this is. Therefore, in general, a German should have less problems to get a grip on English than, say, a Japanese. With exceptions, of course.

Is it factual, but objectionable nevertheless ?
Objectionable? Development of language is a largely natural process, I wouldn't say it's objectionable. Differences are interesting, not bad.

15-06-05, 16:06
I agree with Bossel. Languages are shaped by the world around them. Some native languages reflect each persons place in society and their relation to the world around them. Which can make them very difficult for non-natives to learn. It is one of the problems they have encountered trying to keep some of these languages alive. It stems from the fact that the children learn the dominant first and then try to learn their native language. Because the dominant culture into which they are immersed they learn the language of that culture around them and then try to learn their native language which is a different culture and views the world in a different way. hence they lose interest in trying to learn their own, native language. I don't think language on a whole can ever be free of the culture around it.
Even an artifical language would have aspects in it that come from the inventors own culture. They probably wouldn't even be aware they where doing it as they went along.

17-06-05, 23:17
I agree with Bossel and Mycernius. Culture is inevitably omnipresent in language. If it weren't, meanings, connotations, and conveyances wouldn't be lost when translating from language to language. Some understanding of the culture inherent in the language is necessary to understand some things. That becomes very clear when, say, attempting to translate something in Japanese to English: English simply doesn't have the capability of conveying the same sense that was in the original Japanese text. Culture foments language - language is thusly inextricably tied with culture. Culture is also what makes language evolve - it always influences the coining of new words, such as 'metrosexual.' This word in particular is clearly an innovation of culture. Also, if culture was not tied to language, the various English-speaking nations would share the same form of English - this isn't the case. The English in each English-speaking nation differs from the next; it has been altered by its cultural environment. For example, Canada's relationship with Britain is waning greatly in the face of the U.S. This is shown in the writing and speech of my teachers, my peers, everyone. They frequently use the American spelling rather than the Canadian and British spelling - they're exposed to such a vast amount of American culture, so they adopt the variant spellings they are presented with day after day. Most people are not even aware of that there are variant spellings. Language and culture walk hand in hand; culture is the mold; language, the product. As Mycernius said, even artificial languages will contain cultural bias, imparted to it from its creators. It's unavoidable.