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Communities of language users

The relationship of language and culture

Language is the principal means whereby we conduct our social lives. When it is used in contexts of communication, it is bound up with culture in multiple and complex ways.

1) Language expresses cultural reality.The words people utter refer to the common experience. They express facts, ideas, events that are communicable because they refer to a stock of knowledge about the world that other people share. Words also reflect their authors’ attitudes and beliefs, their point of view.

2) Language embodies cultural reality.But members of a community or social group do not only express experience; they also create experience through language. The way in which people use the spoken, written, or visual medium itself creates meanings that are understandable to the group they belong to, for example, through a speaker’s tone of voice, accent, conversational style, gestures and facial expressions.

3) Language symbolizes cultural reality. Language is a system of signs that is seen as having itself a cultural value. Speakers identify themselves and others through their use of language; they view their language as a symbol of their social identity.

Nature, culture, language

One way of thinking about culture is to contrast it with nature. Nature refers to what is born and grows originally (Latin “nascere” – to be born); culture refers to what has been grown and groomed (Latin “colere” – to cultivate).


Emily Dickinson

Essential Oils – are wrung –

The Attar from Rose

Be not expressed by Suns – alone

It is the gift of Screws –


The General Rose – decay –

But this – in Lady’s Drawer

Make Summer – When the lady lie

In Ceaseless Rosemary –


The poem expresses in a stylized way the relationship of nature, culture, and language. A rose in a flower bed (The General Rose - generic) is a phenomenon of nature – beautiful, but faceless and nameless among the same species. Perishable. Forgettable. Nature alone cannot reveal nor preserve the particular beauty of a particular rose at a chosen moment in time. Nature can only make summer when the season is right. Culture is not bound by biological time. Through a sophisticated technology, logical procedure, developed especially to extract the essence of roses, culture forces nature to reveal its essential potentialities. The word Screws suggests that this process is not without labour. By crushing the petals, a great deal of the rose must be lost in order to get its essence. The same is the technology of the word. It selects among the many potential meanings that a rose might have. Culture makes the rose petals into a rare perfume, purchased at high cost, for a particular, personal use of a particular lady. The Lady may die, but the fragrance of the rose’s essence (the Attar) can make it immortal, in the same manner as the language of the poem immortalizes both the rose and the lady, and brings both back to life in the imagination of its readers. The word has immortalized nature. The nature and culture need each other.


Particular meanings are adopted by the speech communities and imposed in turn on its members. E.g. once a bouquet of roses has become codified as a society’s way of expressing love, it becomes risky for lovers to express their love without resorting to the symbols that their society imposes upon them, and to offer chrysanthemums as a sign of love ( which in Germany are reserved for the dead).

The screws that language and culture impose on nature correspond to various forms of socialization and acculturation. Etiquette, expressions of politeness, social dos and donts shape people’s behavior through behavioral upbringing, schooling, professional training. These ways with language, or norms of interaction and interpretation, form part of invisible ritual imposed by culture on language users.


Communities of language users

Social conventions, norms of social appropriateness, are product of communities of language users.

Speech community is composed of people who use the same linguistic code.

People who identify themselves as members of a social group (family, neighborhood, professional or ethnic affiliation, nation) acquire common ways of viewing the world through the interactions with other members of the same group. These views are reinforced through institutions like the family, the school, the workplace , the church, the government. Discourse communities refer to the common ways in which members of a social group use language to meet their social needs. Not only the grammatical, lexical, and phonological features of their language (for example, teenage talk, professional jargon, political rhetoric) differentiate them from others, but also the topics they choose to talk about, the way they present the information, the style with which they interact – their discourse accent. E.g. reaction to the compliment. The Americans – Thank you, the French – downplay the compliment and minimize its value.

The diachronic view of culture focuses on the way in which a social group represents itself and others through its material productions over time – its technological achievements, its monuments, its works of art, its popular culture – that punctuate the development of the historical identity. This material culture is reproduced and preserved through institutional mechanisms that are also part of the culture, like museums, schools, public libraries, governments, corporations and the media. Language plays a major role in the perpetuation of culture, particularly in its printed form.


Date: 2015-12-18; view: 1112

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Vergangenheitsform des Konjunktivs II | The non-arbitrary nature of signs
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