p>By Kamil Wiśniewski, Aug. 12th, 2007
Linguists are concerned with many important issues such as various aspects of speech, turn-taking, models of analysis of discourse and how human brain makes such examinations. Moreover, scholars are interested not only in the differences between languages, but also in the influence of language on culture and culture on language in different communities throughout the world. As the first language acquisition process is unconscious similarly the acquisition of culture (which might begin even before acquiring a language) is what people are unaware of. Culture in linguistics is described as socially acquired knowledge of the world, as well as attitudes towards it.
With the acquisition of a mother tongue people acquire a system of categorizing the entities in the surrounding world and terms used for describing personal experiences. A category is a set with some common properties, and it is said that when new vocabulary is learnt it is in fact inheriting sets of category labels. Therefore, depending on the culture in which a speaker was brought up the amount of words available in language for describing certain phenomena might vary. For example in Norwegian there is a distinction between ‘male parents mother; – farmor; and ‘female parent’s mother’ – mormor, while both of those terms are expressed by one English word – grandmother.
The examination and classification of culture-dependant words can be made thanks to the grammatical markers called classifiers which show the type or class of the words. In Swahili there are different prefixes for nouns denoting humans, non-humans and artifacts. In Australian language Dyirbal men and women belong to different conceptual categories, just as countable and uncountable nouns in the English language.
The analysis of numerous similar instances of differences in many languages led to the development of the linguistic relativity theory known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis with its two versions. According to the linguistic relativity theory language used in a given community with its predetermined categories influences the perception of the world to some extent. There is also a strong version of this theory called linguistic determinism which states that people can only think in the categories provided by language.
Also language change is culturally dependant what can be clearly seen on the example of the American and British Englishes. Although in the history they derive from common origins the changes that take place in their development set them apart. In American English there has been a culturally led tendency to substitute words such as policeman and fireman with more ‘acceptable’ terms such as police officer and firefighter, while the former forms are still in use in British English.
Yule G. 1996. The study of language. Cambridge: CUP.