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Language, thought, and culture - Реферат

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Language, thought, and culture

Culture Bound. Edited by Joyce Merrill Valdes.

Cambridge Language Teaching Library. –

Cambridge University Press, 1998. – pp. 3-6.

In 1911 when Franz Boas published his Handbook of American Indian Languages, he could not possibly have imagined that one day an excerpt from it would serve as an introductory article in a book that might be used in a course on teaching culture in foreign- and second-language classes; in fact, the teaching of foreign languages at that time was far removed from his sphere. Yet his work inspired a generation of anthropologists and sociologists before the applied linguists took up the subject of the effect of culture on languages and vice versa, and shaped it to their own use. The process of learning more about the interrelationship between culture and language within the native environment led the way to consideration of the effect of a second culture on second language learning.

The extent to which language, culture, and thought have influenced one another, and which is the dominant aspect of communication, have been matters of controversy for three quarters of a century; the influence of the work of Boas, Sapir, Whorf, Hoijer, et al. is seen in the amount of both speculation and careful research that has ensued. Stated perhaps simplistically, the current consensus is that the three aspects are three parts of a whole, and cannot operate independently, regardless of which one most influences the other two. To see them as three points in a constantly flowing circular continuum is surely more accurate than, say, to see them as an isosceles triangle, with one dominant over the other two. It is conceivable that the lack of acceptance of artificial languages such as Esperanto may be explained by their isolation of language from culture. Thought, in any real sense, is very difficult to express without an underlying value system understood tacitly by both the sender and the receiver in a communication, whether both, one, or neither speaks the language natively, no matter how scientifically successful the language may be. While it is true that an artificial language may be a politically wise choice for intercultural communication because it is offensive to none, on the other hand it is a poor choice for a more basic reason: No one can feel, or therefore think deeply, in an artificial language.

The research that has been produced in this century has evolved the theory that a native culture is as much of an interference for second language learners as is native language. Likewise, just as similarities and contrasts in the native and target languages have been found to be useful tools in language study, so cultural similarities and contrasts, once identified and understood, can be used to advantage. Devotion to a language other than one's own is quite common among those who venture into other languages, most often with the connection in mind between the language and the people who speak it. One says, "I love French – it's so musical and expressive," and produces a mental image of a Frenchman or woman speaking in pleasing notes with sparkling eyes and communicative gestures. Another says, "I love German – it's so precise, regular, and dependable," and the stereotype that peeks out from the mind of the speakers is of a sturdy blond plodding down a straight path, keeping a wary eye out for accusatives and datives. Such reactions to both languages and people are subjective, impressionistic, and, fortunately, variable. Yet it is very natural to associate a people - in appearance, manners, and possibly thought patterns – with the language they speak. The most successful language learners are able to take on the "mindset" of the speakers of the second language, assuming the culture along with the language (though not, of course, without reservations that are consistent with their own mindsets). Yet most people are not aware of themselves as cultural beings, products of their own environments, whether or not they are aware of the cultural base for the behavior of persons from other environments. After the learners are guided to a recognition of the cultural base of their own attitudes and behavior, they are ready to consider others in a more favorable light. Through this process, what has seemed quaint, peculiar, or downright reprehensible becomes more reasonable and acceptable. Once the second language learner comes to understand the behavior of the speakers of the target language, regardless of the original motivation for study, the task of adding the language becomes far simpler, both through acceptance of the speakers of the language and through increased knowledge of what the language means, as well as what it says.

The research of Gardner and Lambert (e.g., 1972) and of Acton and Walker de Felix (in this volume) determined that integrative motivation (the intention of becoming a part of the target culture as well as speaking the target language) resulted in more effective language learning than did instrumental motivation (the intention of learning the language to serve a purpose, such as getting a job, with no wish to mix socially with speakers of the language). While subsequent research (e.g., Brown 1980) casts some doubt on this theory, no one has hypothesized that motivation per se is a negative attribute for second language learning. A positive attitude is seen as a boon to any learning situation, and comprehension of a people's behavior patterns and their underlying values clearly gives a more positive attitude to the person who is trying to learn that language, as will be seen in the article by Acton and Walker de Felix. Furthermore, language meaning is obscured without some recognition of cultural values. Even the learner whose motivation is so instrumental as to cover only the intention to read technical texts in English, for example, is likely to fail to grasp the significance of some explanations and directions if unaware of the American/British value regarding time, especially in the technical field: Things must be done in the least possible time, and ways to do them must be set forth in the least possible space, in order to reduce the reading time. Brevity + directness = efficiency. A learner from another culture may be put off by the lack of eloquence and feel that some important information has been omitted.

The most obvious influence of language and culture on thought is that of vocabulary. As Boas points out, words are suited to the environment in which they are used. Linguistics students are always amazed at the often-cited vast number of words for snow in Eskimo languages (see Brown, in this volume), yet they fail to consider all the words used for rain in warmer climates. In a glossary of Old English the number of warlike words is conspicuous, but the tribes of Ancient Britain were a warlike people, a fact that is naturally reflected in their language and, hence, in their literature, which reflects their thought.

Many influences of the structure of language have been noted (see Henle 1958, ch. 1). Translations, particularly of literary works, point up the differences. Literal translations are seen to be true to the form of the original, while free translations depart from the text to find expression that fits the tone and meaning in essence but not exactly in language. A truly literal translation is virtually impossible from any one language to any other, primarily because of vocabulary and structures. For example, the degree of formality in which a work is written can be translated into another language, but the cultural and linguistic influence that resulted in that formality in the original work is lost in the translation. The degree of formality of a language surely affects thought, just as surely as it is affected by culture, and just as surely as it affects culture.

The influence of language on thought and behavior can perhaps best be seen in the world of advertising. The culture - beliefs, attitudes, overt and covert aspirations, pragmatic designs and fantasies, actions and reactions - is studied by advertisers around the world to find the basis for the concepts and language that will inspire the people of any given locale to buy a product of one manufacturer rather than that of another. What sells in Chicago may also sell in Kyoto, but not through the same advertising. The influences of the language of advertising are revealed in Nilsen and Nilsen, Language Play (1978), in Bolinger, Language -The Loaded Weapon (1980), in Brown (this volume), and in many articles in the popular press. Again, however, the influences are reciprocal. Although the linguistic influence of advertising on the people is undeniable, the culture and thought of the people influence advertising. Whether one begins or ends with language, thought, or culture, the other two are woven in; the circular pattern holds, with each influencing and being influenced by each of the others. They are not all the same thing, but none can survive without the others. Second language learners must not only be aware of this interdependence but must be taught its nature, in order to convince them of the essentiality of including culture in the study of a language which is not their own. The articles offered in Part I provide the theory that underlies the practice, each in its own way. Boas looks to primitive cultures to illustrate his views on the mutual influences of language, thought, and culture, Kaplan traces the history and development of writing and indicates the cultural aspect of this component of language, Acton and Walker de Felix consider acculturation from the point of view of various researchers, and Brown gives an overview of the topic and clarifies its significance.

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