More than Just Mirror Effect: Language Reflects Culture


Different languages are spoken in different areas of the world. It’s not only the languages that are different in different parts, cultures too are widely different. And without fail, everywhere you’ll find that culture of an area is aptly reflected in the language spoken there. Here’s an example: In Japanese culture, there’s word for “death from overwork”. The word is “karoshi”. This word is not present in other languages, even of countries close to Japan, like China. If you have joined Mandarin Classes in Singapore or Mainland China, you would know that’s certainly the case. However “karoshi” is more than a simple word, it reflects Japanese culture and how committed Japanese people are towards their work.

A close, intimate connection exists between language and culture. Both mirror each other obviously, but the connection actually runs deeper. Culture enriches as well as develops the language. According to experts, culture started with the beginning of speech only, many experts are in the view that it is impossible to completely understand a culture unless you understand the language.

What is Culture

Culture is socially transmitted via language. That has been the case earlier, that’s the case right now, and that will be the case in future as well. This is an unchanging characteristic of the culture. Culture is passed from one generation to the next one through language, spoken or non-spoken, written or oral. It is clear if you look a little thoroughly that communication was nothing else but a manifestation of culture. Young children learn through language what is part of their culture. For instance, it would be difficult for African kids to completely understand Santa Clause and the concept behind it, simply because it’s not an important part of the culture they live in.

According to Edward Sapir, a famous American anthropologist-linguist, one could see and understand the cognitive faculties and perception of the man in language. In his study, Sapir says that every two languages are different. As cultures from which different languages manifest are different, these differences are observed in these languages too.

What is Subculture

It is also necessary to consider another thing, that is, there are subcultures within national culture. Because of different values, norms, special languages, and beliefs, subcultures are different or distinct from national culture as well as the bigger society. Religious affiliations, social class, occupation, education, politics or age are the founding stones of subcultures. An apt example is a military language. You can develop a better understanding of the military by becoming familiar with its subculture’s language.

Probably this is the reason why usually why when foreigners start to learn a new language like Chinese, they are encouraged to develop a sharp understanding of the new culture as well. You can understand this if you are a foreigner and learn Chinese in Singapore, especially through regular Chinese classes, which most consider is not only the most effective way but also the only way to learn Chinese well. Classroom training, in addition to introducing you to the Chinese language, helps you become familiar with the rich Chinese culture. This exposure, in turn, helps you develop a greater interest in the Chinese language and speeds up your learning.

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