Lade Inhalt...


Does culture influence language

Does culture influence language? Does culture play a vital role in language society? Or is it vices versa. These questions have baffled linguists and anthropologists for decades. Language is an inevitable mechanism for oral communication. Environmental background, cultural and natural aspects play a tremendous role in indicating cross cultural differences and the only possible way of classifying experience.

Culture is an essential facilitator and plays an intermediary role in conveying our thought by thought language, which is a characteristic of human behaviour and the only mechanism for communication effectively. And, moreover, there is a causal linkage between language and culture, which is closely connected.

It is axiomatic that culture is a social conduct since human beings are social actor and culture has a great influence on human behaviour. No one can deny that culture is remarkable factor for distinguishing between speaker of the same language by different utterances or sound patterns.

This essay therefore discusses the view of Sapir and explores the linkage between culture and language from the theory of linguistic relativity. The essay argues that Sapire’s claim is partially untrue.

The impact of language on culture

Language may be used as a vehicle of cumulative knowledge defined in terms of new semantics to highlight culture which presents highly productive knowledge about the linkage between culture and language.

Most notably, Edward Sapir, who is very important intellectual figure in both linguistics an anthropology shared the view of Boas (1992, P.21) that “culture influenced language (and not vice versa) and that this influence was chiefly evident in the vocabulary and not in the morphological.” In other words the assumption that language is basically a part of influencing culture- the only way is through thought which makes it possible to say culture can survive without language.

Similarly, Sapir states there are significant implications for cultural and linguistic bonds. In this case, Edward Sapir believed that (2007) “language and culture are not intrinsically associated” and he went further that “language and our thought- grooves are inextricably interwoven, [and ] are, , in a sense, one and the same”. In this respect, thought acts as an intermediary between language and culture and differences between Sapir and Boas in their views are slight difference like splitting –hairs in their argument. But Sapir and Boas believd in thought plays an intermediary role in influencing culture. It is also acceptable that, analyzing this side there generally reciprocal mixing between vocabulary and culture. However, Sapir himself did not argue the reverse influence and his claim may be false.

Note However, that Whorf (1992, P.65) arguing in note however that Whorf favour of Sapir’s position, claimed that “language and culture undoubtedly influence each other.” He analyzed the nature between them, and firmly testifies there is a mutual relation or influence because the relation was related to the individual concepts. In addition, linguistic patterns and cultural norms are paralleled to each other .In short, he did not exclude reciprocal linkage between language and culture but he rather emphasized the importance of long history which plays a tremendous role in interlinking language with other concepts of cultures.

Similarly, Plotkin (2000, P.141) stated that “culture inheritance depends on the transmission of learned ‘knowledge’ among individuals by one or more kinds of social learning.” In other words, the evolution of culture is basically evolution of social learning because it can be changed by the transmitters but the change is dramatically slow for tow reasons –genes and environment. Sapir’s claim is sharply critical of linguists and anthropologists claims. However, Sapir’s main stream is that language has no direct power to influence culture.

Whereas, Boas argued with Sapir about the connection between language and culture emphasized that “language as primarily reflecting thought and culture and only on occasion having a direct influence back on them”.(1992,P.24). For this reasons, interestingly, Sapir noted that language has enough power and impact to shape our thought and patterns of thinking, but it is hard to analyse the role of language, because it is deeply embedded in human behaviour.

After thinking deeply about the implication of this, Sapir made a slight concession to his claim. He stated that (1993,P.24) “certain re-conceptualizations of thought and culture emerged which pointed toward a notion of culture involving shared symbolic understanding”. However, there is little doubt that he still agreed with the doctrine, although he did not mention any argument about the influence of language on culture .However, Sapir clearly believes that there is obviously a direct influence on culture because the influence is deducible. But he summed up that there is no strong proof and the evidence is ultimately negative.

On the contrary, John J. Gumperz and Stephen G. Levinson in their book Rethinking linguistic relativity, Attributed to Humboldt, Boas, Sapir Whorf that (1996,P.2) “the semantic structure of different languages might be fundamentally incommensurable, with consequences for the way in which speakers of specific languages might be think and act”.

Clearly, it makes an assumption that language, thought and culture are surely and firmly interlinked, as well as each language in the world being comprised of a vast number of unique characteristics of linguistic structure which make it display its posture and its fashion to distinguish itself from other languages in the world view.

On the other hand, Sapir and Whorf’s Hypothesis has a strong standpoint which is that language has a unique expression that can not be understood by the speakers of different languages because the nature of thinking is firmly affected by the native thinking of language .So thinking is not identical in terms of certain perception of appropriate words-this is an obvious deficiency due to cultural differences, so consequently, culture and language are inseparable in terms of being held by a language background.

Culture can crystallize language

There is no doubt that culture has a profound influence on language .Furthermore, culture is a key feature in distinguishing language. On this view, Sapir indicates significant implications of cultural and linguistic bonds. On one hand, he went further, stating that “Nor can I believe that culture and language are in any true sense causally related. Culture may be defining as (what) a society does and thinks. Language is a particular (how) of thought” (1992, P.22) on this standpoint, he divided thought into two segments. From this one can see Sapir’s claim that has a totally one –way influence on culture.

On the other hand, Duranti (1997, P.22) claimed that “to know a culture is like knowing a language .They are both mental realities. Furthermore, to describe a culture is like describing a language.” In this perspective, culture ha s no behaviour, feeling, place and existence but os only doiplayed by being sorted out in people’s minds.

However, according to Nancy Parrot Hicherson (1999, p.153) “anthropologists who have done both linguistics and ethnographic research have often remarked on the close connections between particular language and culture”. In reality, culture vocabulary obviously appeared in language and differences lies on environmental, cultural background.

Whereas Sapir aid that “Culture has an innate form”, thus culture can show or introduce the words and display its posture a dn its fashion to distinguish itself from other language; therefore, there is no split between culture and innate behaviour, and consequently he had a tendency to see culture as a biological inheritance, form this standpoint, everyone has a cultural concept, that is inborn ability, which would be seem a bit controversial. Because it can create scientific clash between anthropological and psychological discipline.

On the other hand, Diamond stated that (2000,P145) “ one way in which human being could adapt to culturally induced environmental changed is through quicker acting response at some monogenetic level, especially through further cultural change.” In the other words, there are potential sources of being influence by culture.

This is done by the following.

1- Environment is much more influential than genetic culture and culture is changeable
2- Culture has a unique capacity of changing the niche construction.
3- Proto-cultural species is set to be more vertical transmission by offspring.

Howevr, Mesoudi, A. Whiten, A and Laland, K stated that (2006,P.344) “Genetic information is represented in sequences of DNA molecules and cultural information is represented primarily in the brain. Viewing culture as comprised of discourse unites of information”. From this view, cultural transmission is widely complex to identify its specific patterns in terms of culture change. Aspects of culture such as behaviour and cultural background are learned by experience. By means such as copying, Observing and imitating behavioural patterns but basically you are not born with culture.

By the same token, the basis of Goodenough’s and other cognitive anthropologists pointed that (1997, P.19) “Location of culture within the individual’s mind is the fact that it is learned people learn as individuals. Therefore, if culture is learned, its ultimate locus must be in individuals rather than group.” Human being acquired culture because social interaction with community around you and wherever you were born in culture.Clearly, culture has a magnetic force to follow its cultural patterns.

He remained basically opposed the idea of nature of culture and he sees the culture as “a symbolic act”. In this view, he went against Greets for the public nature culture. Whereas Edward Sapir concluded that (1997, P.20) “moving toward a conception of culture based more based on shared symbolic understanding.” Thus individual experience of culture joins the same common comprehension. From this assumption, we might think that language is a symbolic compass of culture. However, from one may also note that culture might be “innate” yet Sapir’s theory is incorrect.

Overlapping culture and language

Language is a device into the culture and it is absolutely true to understand people’s culture should know their knowledge, for this reason, relationship between culture and language is clearly inherent. Therefore, cultural concepts plays a tremendous role in indication cross cultural differences. In addition, the only possible logical way of classifying their experience.

From this standpoint, Boas had a sharp argument about of language, he argued that (1992, P.11-12) “first language classify experience. Second, different languages classify experience differently. Third, linguistic phenomena are unconscious in character, apparently because of their highly automatic production.” There are so many arguments about this issue but it is clearly from this view that language paves the way for shaping our thought; the best example could be Eskimo language in the words “snow”. On the other hand, it can be described as a lack of accurate vocabulary could be obstacle to achieve their goals and culture per se is linguistic treasure.

Whereas, Sapir rather went against Boas’s boas claims, he stated that (1992,p.18) “ the systemic nature of language is itself one source of this diversity.” From Sapir’s view every language has grammatical concepts and different cultural experience which is incommensurable to other language.

In addition, every language has indeed different interpretation according to cultural concepts. In the North Africa for example, Libya people partially used to assimilate Italian words in their speech subconsciously which is the main cause of slightly misunderstanding with the rest of Arabic speakers because they have Italian concepts in their minds. On the other hand, Whorf elaborated his view that (1992, p.36) “Languages are background phenomena for speakers and are not easily brought to conscious attention because of the lack of contrasting example.” Whorf’s assumption has here an implication of unconscious part behind our cultural background and experience which project from contextual clues to the meaning.

Pursuing this idea, Boas claimed that (1997, P52) “One could not really understand another culture without having direct access to its language.” From this speech we can say that language supplements culture and the other way around. In addition, there is a strong bond between language and culture .Culture and language are deeply inseparable and both of them are seems as instinctual patterns which acquired naturally.

Cultural Transmission

This refers to how languages are acquired by our children. The assumption is that there is no genetic component (although Noam Chomsky challenges this with his theory of Universal Grammar) which would enable a child to simply start speaking e.g. English at a certain age, but rather that children need to be exposed to a language (and culture) in order to acquire it. This means, for example, that a child born in Korea to Korean parents but then adopted by French parents in France will tend to grow up speaking French as his/her first language and not Korean (unless the French parents make sure the child is also exposed to Korean). Many animals, however, do seem to pass the ability to communicate on to their offspring genetically e.g. dogs will bark even if they have never heard another dog.

Cross cultural conceptions of colour term

What is drawing on us here is basically colour concept of different languages could be ultimately “discrepancy” .In this case, there is only issue will come to light which was taken up by Sapir Whorf hypothesis that about language conceptual differences, and this issue is going around linguistic anthropology that is related to language and culture, moreover, the essence of this hypothesis influenced by cognitive comprehension of language speakers.

This hypothesis is ascribed to Edwards Sapir and B.L Whorf (2006, P.92) claimed that “the search for semantic universal is fruitless in principle.” because “each language is semantically arbitrary relative to every other language.”

Providing great evidence for backing up (lexical coding of colour) there is one exceptional is bluish and the rest of the colour which is given some apparent explanation for instance, crimson and scarlet are not actually lexical colour because they come from the same family of red colour. The word of crow in Arabic culture which refers to “black” and has negative aspects that means “sadness” or “bad omen” .In comparison with White which refers to “purity” that has a sense of angelic and joy. White if try to apply this mechanism cross culture and language. Indeed, it is set to find every culture has different perspective.

Pursuing this idea, In English language might cast light on blue colour for example “to have the blue” (Plural-informal) it means the state of feeling sad. However, If it translates this colour term in Brazilian language it refers to “Happy” .While in German language refers to be “drunk”.

Note. However, Berlin and Kay strongly argued that (2005, P.471) “the focal point of colour categories is shared by all language and culture of the world.” Kay studied colour categories deeply but colour categories seem to be the most contentious field of study in the cognitive science. Furthermore, there is obviously strong bond between environmental influence in all over the world.

This is a substantial evidence which showing clearly big difference when we compare between different culture especially between the west and east. In addition, people with diverse social background have widely perceptual divergence too.

It must be indicated that anthropological linguists such as Sapir and Whorf who argued that proposition that (1966, P.36) “cognitive behaviour is influenced by the semantic structure of language.” This proposition could be acceptable evidence at the first glance. However, it makes an assumption that language is initially affected by cognitive behaviour and then comes perceptual influence. For this reason, culture in language is clearly based in human behaviour and the idea that universal of colour perception is completely rejected. Argument is highly controversial it can be affirmed that lack of actual imitation in colour sense.

On the other hand, the colour perception is obvious contradictory which totally based on the individuals in various culture might recognize the disparity between colour perceptions .the clear proof which must be stated in Ray and Kluckholn’s works (1966,p.47 ). “. . . central point that perception of colour is determined in part by culturally arbitrary standard, and especially by linguistic categories . . . seems unarguable.”

It also makes possible to drop the alienation from the proof is not yet available .absolutely the issue of ability to distinguish with no language having the names ,for example Philippines also have no native words for green , blue and violet .in Philippines society it seems to me colour term is surpassing normal human comprehension and peculiar term is beyond their understanding .as result it is confirmed by every culture has an intrinsic value and intrinsic structure in its own.

.Furthermore, it shows that people from different culture recognize the world view differently by the force of culture .in other words, culture can crystallize our thought and also our experiences .Another point is that perception is a particular feature of human conduct and basic criteria of perception is the same but different crystallizations are only in the contents.

By way of conclusion, it should reiterate the main reason of this essay is to clarify that the relationship between language and culture according to what Sapir said .Indeed, language is an inextricable linked with culture and relationship between them are generally interdependent. Language is really an indispensable part of culture, furthermore it can be assumed that linkage is reciprocal but people could argue that because of it highly automatic mechanism, culture has a power to influence us by environmental affect and it can couch in linguistic patterns and forms.

Virtually, language has magic power to classify the experiences with the aims of being mediator in cultural influence. Off course, understanding of culture easily raises linguistic awareness of Absorbing linguistic concept, it is important that these concepts can be awash with cultural concepts in our mind, but the concept of reverse influence is highly controversial.

To this end, It is deeply wished that this essay has contrived to be self explanatory most of the issues is set out the reasons to understand all the intricacies of interfere culture with language and dispel incomprehension. So, one answer to the question “Does culture influence language?” is simply “Of course it is, but so is everything else”. Another question is “Is there reverse influence?” it’s, for both of them is definitely yes”. However, Language is an innate as Chomsky claimed and culture is an innate as Sapir claimed from those statements can be concluded that language and culture might be springing from the same source.


Duranti, Alessandro (1997) Linguistic anthropology.UK: Cambridge university press

Foley, William (1997) Anthropological linguistics, UK: Blackwell.

Gymperz, J and Levinson, S (1996 ) Rethinking linguistics relativity, Uk: Cambridge university press.

Hickerson, N (1999) Linguistic anthropology, 2ND .USA: Harcourt College Publishers.

Laland, K. Smee,J AND Feldman , M (2000) Behaviour and brain science: niche construction, biological evolution and cultural change: Journal of psychology,23(01): 131-175.

Lucy, J (1992) Language diversity and thought, Uk: Cambridge university press.

Mesoudi, A.Whiten, A and Laland, K (2006) Behaviour and brain science: Toward a unified science of cultural evolution: Journal of linguistics, 29(04): 329-383.

Segall,M . Campbell,D and Herskovits,M (1966) The influence of culture on visual perception, USA: The bobs-Merrill Company.

Steels, L and Belpaeme, T (2005) Behavioural and brain science: coordinating perceptually grounded categories through language: A case of colour: Journal of linguistics, 28(04): 469-529.

Yamaoto,M (2006) Agency and impersonality, The Neherland: John Benjamin Publishing Co.

Salzmann, Z (2007) Language, culture and society.4th, USA. Westview Press.

هل تؤثر الثقافة علي اللغة ؟ هل تلعب الثقافة دورا حيويا في مجتمع اللغات ؟ أو بالعكس. هذه الاسئله حيرت اللغويين وعلماء الأنثروبولوجيا علي مدي عقود. اللغة هي اليه حتمية للتواصل الشفوي وتؤدي الخلفية البيئية والجوانب الثقافية والطبيعية دورا هائلا في الاشاره إلى الاختلافات الثقافية والطريقة الوحيدة الممكنة لتصنيف الخبرات.

والثقافة هي مسهل الأساسي وتؤدي دورا وسيطا في نقل أفكارنا باللغة الفكرية ، التي هي سمه من سمات السلوك البشري للتواصل بفعالية. وعلاوة علي ذلك ، هناك صله سببيه بين اللغة والثقافة التي ترتبط ارتباطا وثيق ومن البديهي ان الثقافة هي سلوك اجتماعي لان البشر هم متفاعلون الاجتماعين والثقافة لها تاثير كبير علي السلوك الإنساني. ولا يمكن لأحد ان ينكر ان الثقافة عامل ملحوظ في التمييز بين المتحدثين بنفس اللغة من خلال ألفاظ المختلفة أو الأنماط السليمة يناقش هذا المقال بالتالي وجهه نظر سابير ولف ويستكشف الصلة بين الثقافة واللغة من نظرية النسبية اللغوية وتقول المقال ان نظرة سابير ولف غير صحيحه جزئيا.


ISBN (Buch)
Institution / Hochschule
University of Wales, Bangor – Omar Almukhtar niversity



Titel: Does culture influence language?