Language and Tradition

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Culture has been defined as ‘the total set of beliefs, attitudes, customs, behaviour, and social habits of the members of a particular society’. Our culture informs us what’s appropriate, what is normal, what is acceptable when dealing with different members of our society. Our culture lets us know what to anticipate from others, what they will say in certain situations, and the way in which they will say it. It lets us know how they will act, and how they will react. It’s the wisdom of the ages handed down to the present. We are affected by it, and it is affected by us. Culture is in a constant state of flux, changing incrementally, changing the way we speak and the way we think, the way we act and the way we react.

That culture is indelibly linked to language is undeniable, for language is a vehicle by which it is transmitted, probably its chief vehicle. One observable way in which language acts as a vehicle for, or a transmitter of, culture is in the usage of idiomatic language. Idiomaticity is arguably the commonest form of language, when it comes to percentages of the whole. Idiomatic language, most frequently found in the form of phrases consisting of more than one word, usually doesn’t conform to say the grammatical construction of non-idiomatic language. For instance, within the phrase, ‘at massive’, as used in the expression, ‘the general public at large’, or in the sentence, ‘The escaped convicts were at massive for two weeks earlier than being recaptured.’, the preposition ‘at’ seems before what appears to be an adjective, ‘massive’. This appears to be in direct contradiction to the ‘normal’ place such a part of speech occupies in a grammatically appropriate sentence, viz. before a noun, resembling in the following examples, ‘at residence’, ‘at work’, ‘on the office’ et al. The phrase, ‘at massive’ appearing on the page in isolation from any context that might make its that means more transparent, has an opaque quality the place semantic meaning is concerned, and perhaps still retains a few of its opacity of which means even within the context of a sentence.

To members of the community utilizing such idiomatic language, there may be tacit agreement on what these phrases imply, despite their opaque quality. Idioms are cultural entities.

To learners of a overseas language, any international language, tradition imbues language with this opacity. The word, table is definitely understood and learned, however what in regards to the phrase, ‘to table a motion’? That phrase carries a cultural worth that is not readily appreciated or apparent to a learner. The which means does not reside in the particular person words that make up the phrase. The verb, ‘to table’ should initially seem nonsensical to a learner. Likewise, ‘a motion’ should appear like an anachronism, having discovered that motion is a synonym for the word ‘movement’.

Each culture has its own collection of phrases that are peculiar to it, and whose meanings aren’t readily apparent. Have been this not so, George Bernard Shaw’s adage that America and Britain are nations separated by the same language would haven’t any ironical appeal. Ostensibly, we speak the identical language, the British and the Individuals, however both varieties use many different words, and have many alternative phrases which can be typically mutually unintelligible, and generally uttered very differently. Generally only the context in which a phrase or word is used serves to disentangle. Generally even the context isn’t quite enough. Typically we think we have now understood when we’ve not.

This factors out another feature of culture bound language; that it exists within a bigger entity, that localized varieties exist. What’s comprehensible to a person from one region could also be unintelligible to one from another. If this is true within the community of a particular set of users of one language, how a lot more must it hold true to learners of that language. Many a learner of English, feeling herself proficient, has gone to England only to seek out the language at worst totally unintelligible, and at best emblematic, however still not fully comprehensible.

The ‘cultural weighting’ of any language, within the form of idiomatic phrases, is understood by members of that cultural community, or maybe more correctly, and more narrowly defined, by the members of that particular speech community, and conversely, just isn’t readily understood by those who come from one other tradition or even another speech community, albeit ostensibly within the identical culture.

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