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Language and Culture

  • Date Submitted: 02/17/2012 02:05 PM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 42.2 
  • Words: 1460
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Language and culture are both unique phenomena to human beings and therefore attract considerable anthropological, sociological, and linguistic study. In Chapter 14 of Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes, Everett evaluates the relationship of language and culture from a linguistic point of view. Although he titles this part of the book “The Partnership between Language and Culture,” in his discussion clearly exists an inclination to explore whether language or culture plays a determinant role. Everett makes the case that culture certainly determines language while language represents the complex interaction among culture, cognition, and language itself.
    We are to first look at the dynamics among culture, language, and cognition; then, we will move to discuss different theories that deal with interface of culture, cognition, and language.
Language as determined by culture
  According to Everett, Language is “the product of synergism between values of a society, communication theory, biology, physiology, physics (of the inherent limitations of our brains as well as our phonetics), and human thought… this is also true of the engine of language, grammar.” (Everett, 211) That is to say, language and its structure are dependent on the context in which they exist.
  In this vein, the author offers us an example of eating a salad. When Xahóápati noticed Everett eating a salad, he pondered why the author would “eat leaves” as a meal, which was a rare occurrence in Pirahã culture. The Pirahã friend even kindly reminded the author that eating salads is why he could not master their language. This is a shocking discovery that Pirahãs take the role of their culture (here symbolized by following their lifestyle not to eat salad) so seriously that language acquisition won’t take place if one is not to actually live their culture. For Pirahãs, one has to acquire different life experiences so as to “speak … language well.” Cultures, as distinct eating habits, differ from one...

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