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Language and Culture

Updated on April 29, 2015

Can language transcend cultural needs? This is an interesting topic. Many may ask if the cause of unease in certain communities is related to the confines of language? Does the word respect have the same meaning from culture to culture in the greater community and for that matter are they even important if a global understanding is reached? Well hold on not so simple. I would argue that individually the cultures need to assimilate some of the global meaning into the essence of the culture in order for it to be fully embraced. In saying this I would state that respect may mean something completely different in a Somali community versus a drug culture or a party culture. I thin that that is where differences come into action.


Having said that everyone can agree that a global understanding of respect "a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements" may be important to the overall understanding. What happens when that respect isn't warranted or even given by the culture then there is a breakdown in communication. One culture may respect certain qualities over another and find certain traits more respectable. I would say that this is where the divide lives. It is not ok for one culture to show disrespect for abilities and then show the same if not more for qualities they find admirable. I would suggest that yes, they can show respect in any way they wish but to discount another simply because of culture is too shortsighted. More information should be gathered and important differences noted and then praised as being part of the greater collective of culture.

Everyone knows that within cultures there are sub-cultures or within cultures that tend to be overlooked. Even within the example culture there are subgroups and divisions. I would think that certain drug or party cultures see things completely different from one another and even in the Somali culture there are differences in practices and beliefs. Much of this could depend on length of assimilation and cultural acceptance of the greater culture. I am not arguing giving up complete all t eh traditional ways of perceiving things with in a culture but it is important that unified language be used so that everyone knows what is on the stake. I think that respect and love are good words to start. Love being another word that may have different meanings depending on the context.

Speaking of context, "the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed." It is vital that we understand the realm in which a word is derived. If for example one culture thinks love is derived from mothering or fathering a child restrictively then that is what love will mean in the views of culture within that group. However if another group believes that love is simply freedom to express desires and wants then there is going to be a disparity in views. This is critical in coming to terms with out group understanding go language. Even the spoken language that one speaks is critical. If one group refuses to speak the dominant language then there will be burdens on assessing understanding in the groups. Culture may play a role in this as well by stressing the importance of assimilation. Whether or not a group believes in assimilation or not there is a truth to be told about the value of same culture referencing. It is vital that groups understand the similarities in messages while maintaining some of their own distinctive qualities. That is why language should and can be global with room for individual references to main meaning and understanding given cultural references


What happens of you are not part of the culture and you get the words mixed up and the meaning is alluding you? This can be a real problem. Love and respect may turn out to be words that offer strong defensive posturing instead of collective understanding. This can lead to in fighting and clashes in culture. I also think that it can lead to disagreements that are completely avoidable. There is room for more than one view or understanding but similar needs and assessment must be understood. Further there is room for meanings to be colloquial and certain idioms be used in place of globally acceptable words and phrases. Try asking next time you encounter conflict over word choices. Try asking;" Is you understanding of the word [insert word] the same as the globally accepted meaning?" You may be surprised as to the response or that there is no understanding of the word in their culturally identified language. Interesting points I would give it a try once.

Try stepping outside the culture you find comfortable and emerge yourself into a different understanding and then see if language makes a difference. You may find that there is a world of differences waiting for you and that there has always been misunderstanding in globally accepted terms yet there is some peace in knowing that they are a foundation for knowing and understanding. I think that this would be beneficial in all relationships not just culturally specific relationships.

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    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 

      3 years ago from Auburn, WA

      I have seen this my entire life. Growoing up in NYC, you had to speak several different types of English so as not to offend. And it's not just language but actions and symbols too. The swastika is a religious symbol in India (I believe) but in the West, it's reviled. In this era of globalism, cultural sensitivities abound. I remember the Danish woman in NYC who left her baby and stroller outside of a store on a very cold day (a common practice in Scandanavia) and was arrested by the NYPD for child endangerment. Endless topic. Voed up and shared.


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