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 tradition informs us what is appropriate, what is normal, what’s settle forable when dealing with other members of our society. Our culture lets us know what to expect from others, what they will say in sure situations, and the manner in which they will say it. It lets us know how they will act, and the way they will react. It’s the knowledge of the ages handed down to the present. We are affected by it, and it is affected by us. Culture is in a continuing state of flux, altering 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, tradition 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, often doesn’t conform to say the grammatical structure of non-idiomatic language. For example, in the phrase, ‘at large’, as used in the expression, ‘the public at giant’, or within the sentence, ‘The escaped convicts had been at massive for 2 weeks earlier than being recaptured.’, the preposition ‘at’ appears before what seems 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. earlier than a noun, corresponding to within the following examples, ‘at home’, ‘at work’, ‘at the office’ et al. The phrase, ‘at massive’ showing on the page in isolation from any context that may make its which means more clear, has an opaque quality the place semantic which means is anxious, and perhaps still retains a few of its opacity of meaning 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 foreign language, any overseas language, culture imbues language with this opacity. The word, table is easily understood and discovered, however what concerning the phrase, ‘to table a motion’? That phrase carries a cultural worth that is not readily appreciated or apparent to a learner. The that means does not reside in the individual words that make up the phrase. The verb, ‘to table’ must initially seem nonsensical to a learner. Likewise, ‘a motion’ should seem like an anachronism, having discovered that motion is a synonym for the word ‘movement’.

Each culture has its own collection of phrases which can be peculiar to it, and whose meanings will not be readily apparent. Had 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 same language, the British and the Individuals, but both varieties use many alternative words, and have many different phrases which can be often mutually unintelligible, and sometimes uttered very differently. Generally only the context in which a phrase or word is used serves to disentangle. Typically even the context shouldn’t be quite enough. Typically we think we have now understood when we’ve not.

This points out one other function of tradition bound language; that it exists within a larger entity, that localized varieties exist. What is comprehensible to an individual from one area may be unintelligible to one from another. If this is true within the community of a particular set of users of one language, how much more should it hold true to learners of that language. Many a learner of English, feeling herself proficient, has gone to England only to find the language at worst totally unintelligible, and at greatest emblematic, however still not absolutely comprehensible.

The ‘cultural weighting’ of any language, in the form of idiomatic phrases, is understood by members of that cultural community, or perhaps more accurately, and more narrowly defined, by the members of that particular speech community, and conversely, shouldn’t be readily understood by those who come from another culture or even another speech community, albeit ostensibly within the same culture.

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