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Effects Of Diversity In Language Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 1266 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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“If you speak a different language you see a different world”

We live in a world in which there are millions of people of diverse national, ethnic, religious and linguistic backgrounds; they practice, enjoy and share their culture. Amongst these elements of diversities linguistic background is considerably important. Linguistics is the study of language. According to definition of a dictionary; language is a system of communication consisting of sounds, words, and grammar, or the system of communication used by the people of a particular country or profession [5]. Languages are crucially important in knowledge acquisition. Knowledge is understanding of or information about a subject which has been obtained by experience or study [5]. Perception, reason and language are the three ways of knowing. None of the three may exist without the presence, at least, one of the others. Language is more important than perception in our acquisition of knowledge because people who speak different languages perceive the world differently since languages sway people’s thought processes.

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Language is not just a means of communication. It has impacts on our culture and even on our thought processes.[1] During the last century, language was seen by various linguists and anthropologists as being more significant than it is in carving out our perception (the process by which the sounds of language are heard, assimilated and understood). This is because of the idea of linguistic determinism which states that our thoughts are completely limited by our language. This idea is also known as Sapir-Whorf hypothesis after the two anthropologists have suggested. Benjamin Whorf had a huge interest in Native American languages and is famous for his work on the Hopi language. [4] Whorf made his analysis of languages, Indo-European and the Indian languages, to show the structural differences between these languages and how they connote a different thought and logic. [4] For instance, a Hopi word rehpi means “flash (occurred).” This sentence is composed of only a predicate and no subject, which is impossible in European languages where we always need a subject in order to make it meaningful: “It flashes” or “The light flashes.” [4] Sapir and Whorf also used comparison of colors for different cultures as evidence for their hypothesis. Experimentations in color perception and language acquisition substantiated that different cultures have different views on some particular colors. [2] For example, in India, the color saffron, a bright orange and pink blend, relates to the color of the cassocks of Hindu holy men. On the other hand, In North America, saffron represents the shade of purple crocus, golden yellow or a slightly different color. [2] The example illustrates that people from different regions of the world have dissimilar views on things, such as colors, and that is a result of the difference between their languages and cultures.

Apart from their aforementioned arguments, Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf had an argument which is related to how we codify information in the brain. Language, Whorf says, is the universal set of knowledge into which we must first translate what we observe before we can interpret and understand it. [3] That is to say, the concept of knowledge is carried by the words together with their definitions. They argue that we can know neither the word “book” means nor what it exactly corresponds to, if we have not been previously taught what it is. [3] Importance of obtaining knowledge through language rather than perception is proven here. Let us imagine that a person does not know any kind of language i.e. he can only perceive the world. How would you expect that person to describe you what book is? It is not quite possible, is not it? He would start making some signs, some gestures but he would just confuse you. If another person, however, tells you, in your language, what book is you will immediately understand what he is talking about. Using perceptions not always help. As it is said earlier neither perception exists without knowledge, nor does knowledge exist without perception.

Every living thing in the world has its own way of communicating but only humans have developed a language which is more than a set of prearranged signals or symbols. Our ancestors were probably speaking a million years ago, but with a smaller vocabulary and almost no grammar. Languages have been developing and changing from back then and nowadays there are about 5000 spoken and living languages in the world. Every language has its own vocabulary, idioms, proverbs and expressions. In some languages there are words that are spelled and pronounced in exactly the same way but have different meanings. For example, hat in Turkish and hat in English. Both words are spelled and pronounced in the same way but they have different meanings. Hat in English means, “Headdress that protects the head from bad weather”; hat in Turkish means, “A line that provides communication through telephones, telegraph, or television.” As the example shows different groups of people have different understanding of certain words. When somebody says this word to a Turkish and an English guy, they would understand it in their own language. Another example is Bulgarian baba and Turkish baba. It means grandmother and father respectively. Both examples show that when you speak a different language you see a different meaning and a world. There are some specific proverbs that can be understood differently in different languages. A Japanese proverb says, Minu no hana (Not seeing is a flower) and this proverb makes a distinct sense in Japanese, than a language other than Japanese. People are likely to interpret and think about the proverb in different aspects. Again we see that speaking a different language makes you see a different world.

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Diversity in national, ethnic, religious and linguistic backgrounds of people have resulted in miscellaneous cultures, nations and languages. All of these elements are important to people. Billions of people in our world speak thousands of languages. People from different parts of the world have different understanding of the world. An Asian will have different thoughts about life than a South American, for instance. The two perceive the world different than each other. Culture and languages have influence on the way of people’s thinking whereas perception does not. It is said that perception of a person is less important than a person’s language when he is acquiring knowledge. Subject in a sentence is indispensable for Europeans, but some people do not need a subject to understand the meaning of a sentence as they view the world differently than each other. When a friend makes you close your eyes and gives you an object and wants you to tell what the object is. However he does not allow you to use your senses other than touch. You cannot really recognize the object, can you? You will immediately identify the object when your friend says; “It is an apple” let us say. Again language is superior to perception. As it is mentioned, people who are speaking different languages have different outlook on vocabulary use of other people. Their language influences them on their worldview. It is disputable issue of discussion for humans but big portion of the world admits the superiority of language on perception in acquisition of knowledge.


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