Language, Culture and
By: Zhian Fadhil Asaad
The phenomenon of language does not have natural divisions
between varieties of language, which called (language, dialects,
and registers),though there may be natural internal divisions
within it on the bases of levels of language such as: vocabulary,
syntax, morphology, and phonology.
The external relation of language , whether there are natural
boundaries between the phenomena covered by term language
,and other kind of phenomena ,notably those called culture and
Language is both unique and autonomous
• There are similarities between language and other
phenomena rather than the differences
• There are close connection between phenomena rather
than their independence.
• Many of the properties of language are also properties of
culture in general.
To avoid confusion we must start with some matter of
1.culture: is some thing that every body has. The term used
differently by different anthropologists , but always refers to
some characteristics shared by a community, especially those
which might distinguished from other communities.
So it refers to all that human beings learn to do, to use, to
produce, to know, and to believe as they grow to maturity and
live out their lives in the social groups to which they belong.
We shall follow Ward Goodenough in taking culture as socially
•“a society's culture consist of whatever it is one has to know or
believe in order to operate in a manner acceptable to its
members…culture, being what people have to learn as distinct from
their biological heritage, must consist of the end-product of
learning: knowledge, in a most general … sense of term.
•If culture is knowledge, it can exist only inside people’s heads so
there is a problem in studying it!!!!
•The solutions are much the same whether one is interest in
culture or language.
→ → → → → →
Methods used in both cultural anthropology and linguistics:
•Firstly: we can observe people’s natural behavior and draw our
conclusion about the knowledge that must underlie it.
•Secondly: we can arrange interviews & ask people more or less
direct questions about their knowledge, taking their answers
with a pinch of salt if need be.
•Thirdly: we can use ourselves as informants.
•Fourthly: we can conduct psychological experiments of one kind
or another. such as measuring the length of time it take people
to perform certain tasks in order to develop a measure of the
relative complexity of the knowledge involved.
2. Thought :The term covers a number of different types of
mental activity, and lies in the province of cognitive psychology.
• memory :is the process in which information is encoded,
• inference: is a mental process by which we reach a conclusion
based on specific evidence.
• propositions: may be either remembered (already stored in
memory)or inferred(worked out) it may be either something we
know or something we discover add to our memory so that next time
it will be there as knowledge.
•Concepts: may either exist in our memory as a category used in
thinking, or may be created as a new category which could then be
stored away in memory. as general categories in term of which
propositions are formulated and experience is processed.
What is the relation between thought &
Given the definition of Cultural as socially acquired
knowledge, so culture is one part of memory, namely the part
which is acquired socially, it might be distinguished between
propositions which are known to be true from one’s own
experience and those which have been learned from other
•Non culture concept: is one which we build without
reference to other people, as a convenient way of interpreting
Kinds of knowledge
1.Cultural knowledge: which is learned from other people.
2.Shared non-cultural knowledge: which is shared by people
within the same community or the world over, but is not learned
from each other.
3.Non-shared non-cultural knowledge: which is unique to the
Most of language is cultural knowledge, since it has to be
learned from others, but some is shared non-cultural
1. The classical theory of concept is that each one consists of a set of
features (criterial features) which are necessary and sufficient for
something to count as an instance of that concept. as:( bird)
2. The most promising approach is based on the work of
psychologist Eleanor Rosch, who showed that at least some
concepts are organized around clear cases or Prototypes.
•The first attraction of the prototype theory : is that it is not
too hard to understand how people can learn such concept
from each other.
•Second attraction: is that it allows for the kind of creative
flexibility in the application of concepts which we find in real
life(it predicts that the boundaries of concepts will be fuzzy
as they in fact are), as: (fruit & vegetable).
•The third attraction: is the possibility of using the theory in
explaining how people categorize the social variable to which
they relate language- variable such as the kind of person
who is speaking & circumstances in which they are doing so.
“What kind of bird are you, if you cannot fly”, said the little bird to
the duck. “What kind of bird are you, if you cannot swim”, said the
duck and dived. (Prokofiér, Peter und der Wolf)
Well established system of analysis developed by
Joshua Fishman in term of Domains.
the assumption underlying this system is that the choice of
language in a bilingual community varies from domain to
domain, & that domains are congruent combination of a
particular kind of speaker and addressee in particular kind of
place, talking about particular kind of topic.
The speaker has to use intelligence & imagination in deciding
which language to use.
Language, Culture and Thought
• Culture may be defined as the kind of knowledge which we
learn from other people, either by direct instruction or by
watching their behavior, since we learn our culture from those
around us. We may assume that we share it with them so this
kind of knowledge is likely to play a major role when we
communicate with them& in particular when we use
• The same will be true for any knowledge that we share with
other people, regardless whether we learned it from them or
not. Our knowledge consist of a vast network of concepts
interrelated by propositions.
Three controversy points need to be considered:
• The nature of concepts, when classical and prototype-based
concepts, the outcome was negative verdict on the idea that
concepts have a definition , a set of necessary and sufficient
propositions which are distinct from all the other
propositions that mention them.
• The distinction between concepts and percepts, which are
the outcome of direct perception, such as: a smell, a taste, a
sound they do not depend on propositions for their content.
• We shall also ignore the third distinction between knowing
that & knowing how, & sometime called declarative and
procedural knowledge. As in: (how to ride bicycle is different
from knowing that it has two wheels.
There are points at which language makes contact with
knowledge, more specifically with the kind of knowledge that we
as a distinguished anthropologists said ‘ a society's language is
an aspect of its culture… the relation of language to culture is
that of part to whole’.
1.Language consists of concepts & propositions: in whichever
way we understand the notion linguistic items ,we can see them
as the categories which we use to analyze our experience (as
2.Meanings are concepts& propositions: there is widespread
agreement that the meaning of linguistic item is its sense.
Note: in point (1,2) hearer and speaker needs to know the
relevant linguistic concepts (words, constructions…)& also the
concepts & propositions that serve as their meanings.
3.Understanding and using speech involves the whole of
The mental processes that take place in our minds are called
inference; the hearer infers what the speaker intends,& the
speaker infers the best way to express the message so inference
is like a mental calculation.
4.Linguistically relevant social categories are concepts.
Speakers located themselves in a multi-dimensional space in
relation to the rest of their society& located each act of speaking
in multi-dimensional space in relation to the rest of their social
lives.& each dimension is defined by a particular concepts of a
typical type of person or typical situation.
Linguistic & cultural relativity
The first issue is (relativity):we shall concentrate on how far
meanings may differ from variety to variety & whether there are
any connection between differences in meaning &differences in
The second issue is Determinism :which is concerned with the
influence of language on thought.
Semantic relativity: different languages do not provide different
ways of expressing the same ideas, but they are also different in
more fundamental & interesting sense, that the ideas that can
be expressed differ from language to language.
Some possibilities about semantic relativity
•All the concepts that serve as word-meanings in different
languages are simply different ways of combining a limited range
of rather basic components. As: eat when translated into
•It only applies to vocabulary.
Semantic relativity is limited only by the limits of culture
variation ,& it is at any certain that there is much more semantic
variation between languages than most of us are aware of.
Rosch’s view support the argument that
the notion of prototype is defined as: the
best or most representative member of
a given category.
If meanings are examined in relation to
prototypes, it can be shown that there
Are fewer differences if we focus on the
Prototypes around which the meaning
of words are organised than if we try to
cover the extensions of the prototypes
as well. consider the analysis of kinship
the way that our
minds adapt to the
similarity of things
in the world
There are three different ways in which a
word’s prototypical meaning may be extended:
• A speaker or hearer may exploit the creative flexibility, by
making an original extension to the meaning .
• There may be accepted & clear rules for extending meaning.
We may assume that some of the extended meanings are
worked out afresh each time rather than being stored in the
speaker’s memory.(table 3.1,p.86)
• There are words whose meanings center on some prototype
but whose extended meanings are presumably stored in
memory as well.(eg: the sense of father which allow it to
applied to a Catholic priest is stored in the memory.)