Relationship of language, identity and culture:
Language is a mode of communication or the way of swapping ideas among people, and even it (language) exists in animals and birds. People have their different languages as animals have theirs. Yes, animals have the language that is why they stay together and perform things. For human beings, language is handy in whatever they do and on how they live. Kramch (1998) says, members of a group do not only express experience but create experience through language. He further says language is a system of signs that is seen as having itself a cultural value; speakers view their language as a symbol of their social identity. These statements are true in the context of the interrelationships of language, identity and culture.
Culture is a representation of many aspects ranging from indigenous practices eating habits and even clothing, thus culture is expressed all the way through many and various ways, customs, habits and the behaviours. According to Stuart (1997), culture has been thought and said in a given society. This sum up to great ideas represented by great doings of paintings, literature, music and philosophy of an age. Stuart further argues that culture refers to whatever is distinctive about the way people live. I personally agree with this idea because culture can be used to define the way people live.
Through language people are able to identify others, through the accent and some by their facial expressions. When for instance Italians speak, one can be able to identify them from for instance the French. If the two speak English still through their accent they are identified. Some people have used language to identify themselves and hence a culture is maintained and passed from one generation to another. People have spread their culture to other areas of the planet by first teaching the language. The missionaries being a good example. Wherever the missionaries went they first taught English, French, Italian, etc languages as a medium of communication and the next step was easier by transforming people from their indigenous culture to the new culture. Culture and language are so intertwined and in that complexity culture can not be separated from language either language can not be separated from culture. The way people choose to use language in various phases of life affiliates them to a one specific culture from the other. An example is of a woman married to a far away tribe or community and then the couple lives in another city or community. A city where people do not speak either of their language. What will happen? For this case for the couple to adapt they must learn the language of those people partially or fully. Through the language they adapt their traditions so that they do not look odd among them. If they use the only language that facilitated their communication to get married then they will be identified as not people of the same culture. This supports the strong bond between language and identity. Language brought them together and this scenario introduced a new culture in the world. Diversity of culture then may mean it is determined by the language spoken. People use the language to meet their social needs, identity being one of them. In some occasions when people learn a new language they adopt very fast to the culture of the people who speak that language. The adoptions equate them as equals in that new setting. Equal among them in the reason that they share their culture and the identity. Language and culture are so equal that the other cannot avoid the other one.
Factors interfering with culture, language and identity:
There are several factors that interfere with the co-existence of these three aspects. Some factors are simple but detrimental and some are complex to that matter. Education is one of the threatening factors to culture and language. All over the world already many cultures have disappeared or are near extinction simply because of education. Nobody has earned his/her degree or diploma or masters without moving out of his/her village, meeting new people, integrating, associating and identifying with them slightly or completely changing their lifestyles, hence culture and way of doing things. Education intermittently expose people and the people have moved out of their cultural cocoons, thus the educated that are now exposed identify themselves to people of their class. They learned no longer have to be in the village to do what the others are practicing there. They may not join the locals by their own making or liking and they may not join them because the chosen career has no time for that. The different identity blurs the original one thus causing the culture and language to disappear. It disappears because one has to speak a language so as to interact and enjoy the new company and the new setting, thus twisting the birth right culture and language.
The home_set or background culture diminishes gradually. This implies that, if someone loses the culture, language may disappear and vice versa, especially for the young children. The disappearance is confirmed by the instance that a person leaves his/her native country/ tribe/ race for further studies in another far away country joining and mixing with people of different culture, language and other tastes. It is logical that the person has to adapt to the new environment by learning their new countries norms and culture but and only through the language they speak. The question is how will the person integrate and mingle in the new environment? The simple answer is learning their habits. How? By learning their culture and the habits constitute the culture in part. Which medium will one use to learn the culture? The answer is their language.
Another threat is the racial/ tribal intermarriages factor. As people are crossing borders and oceans for new adventures they are getting absorbed to other cultures and languages and their identity is no longer the same. Women leaving their home/place of birth to get married. Some may not totally forget their culture and language but they will never practice, and gradually it disappears. The children’s identities born in this engagement are more and better oriented to this new environment and as a consequence they are in this culture by default. Of course my argument must be clear that this tribal, clan and racial intermarriages are very positive towards promoting harmony anywhere in the world but the factor itself is harmful to the survival of some cultures and languages. And by assurance, this is causing a very hot debate as already many cultures, languages, groups of people and tribes are disappearing or they are totally extinct.
Modern technology is another hot factor in the offing. Technology is altering culture at a stupendous tempo. People are being fashioned anew. People are copying other cultures and languages. People want to be identified uniquely by learning and doing new things. For this to be facilitated they have decided to learn and then copy other cultures. This factor has accelerated changes to culture because with the new technologies there are no boundaries. Internet has no borders.
Language and culture change identity. Language is the denominator of the two. The denominator meaning it is used in the transition from one cultural practice to another. People must speak one language for the integration to be complete. If language is not the same then it implies cultural differences may be demarcated easily. The consequence of learning another language is simply the spiriting away of another culture or interfering with another culture.
In some nations racial segregation is rampant. This phenomenon is in existence because of diverse practices or cultures and languages. This denotes the danger of extremism or total observance of culture and language. This is when people feel outsiders have invaded their culture and it will be a threat to their identity. Strong adherence to culture and identity may divide a society. Indeed many nations in the world have been divided along tribal, racial lines because of extreme adherence of culture and identity. Not only division but armed conflicts and turmoil as well. Many wars and other armed or unarmed conflicts have been fueled by people’s culture and identity versus culture of identity.
Now, the connections of language, identity and culture are exhibited through many ways. The way they impact a society or a community. The impact may either be positive or negative implicates the impacts on the interrelationships. For instance the interrelationships are intertwined in their practices that are influenced by their culture, their way of doing things like worship, traditional rituals, and dances. All these are done because these people share one thing in common that is language. Then the arithmetic is, culture + language = identity. It is absolutely agreeable that everyone in the world belongs to a certain culture. The belonging is demonstrated by behaviour and practices, that is culture. Stuart (1997) says that, through practices culture marks and maintains identity.
Many people are socially controlled by culture. Language being the main factor in culture, it is a medium by which people share the beliefs in their culture and the daily practices. Thoughts or perceptions can be passed among people who have an identity as same grouping by the drawings and other practices but language supersedes them all. Language is faster and articulate. Without a language in a culture, then there is no culture. For instance in some communities, people of different language ages use one language, but older people may use a complex version of their language to the detrimental of the younger generation. Therefore, language is part of culture. People to be of the identical or same culture then they must synthesize and correctly interpret the message communicated by the language they speak.
Language provides overall model of how culture works Stuart, (1997). Imagine in the case of two deaf people they have their language through signs and signals, they intermingle superbly well, than when those who verbally speak are mixed with the deaf. The deaf identify themselves quicker and this is through the language of their signs. Because the understanding is much quicker, they form a culture of their own. This is why facilities like schools are built for them. Their language is easier when they are together and it is cheaper and appropriate to cater for their needs lather than when they are mingled with others. This people may develop may develop their own practices that join them together. Many people do not understand the signs; this puts them aside because they can not identify with the deaf who have a language for and of their communication.
Personal experience with culture, language and identity:
This is the time when I was studying for my bachelors. I lived among people who do not speak my language and their language was much harder for me to comprehend even greetings and any time I tried to speak a few words or sentences those who were around me laughed at me and even mimicked me. But I lived among them timidly for a short while. What changed my life so that I started living with them comfortably is the language. At least I learned a few phrases and could mingle with them unidentified except many a few occasions. I started also to take some pleasure in their norms and practices. This catapulted me to have many friends around. Some who taught to me the language could lie and teach me vulgar language such that when I say anything, some colleagues will stare at me and they correct me. Through experience I started to speak to young kids who taught me everything and even though I did not master everything my integration in that society was bearable. I was identified as one of them. What they came to enjoy most is my native food that they saw me cooking and with curiosity that killed the cat they came closer to see what I am eating. They tasted the food and spit it in the first day. Some swallowed with difficult but at the of one month, during supper time my room was awash with many of them expecting more food of the kind and others more accompanied them to make and the see strange food that they have neither see nor heard of in their lifetime. And so many other things I learned from them and likewise from me.
These experiences agree with many of Stuart statements on culture, language and identity. What I was speaking, eating and practicing identified me as foreigner. What I taught them especially cooking my native food is today done there. This demonstrates how education can change one’s culture for the better and for the worse. The interest of learning a new culture also encourages the other of different cultures to have the urge of learning something new.
This form of identification may severely damage the conscious of some people regarding other cultures. If people are slow to adapt the new cultural environment then they suffer the damage. The experience may also teach people to accept others respect their cultural practices and status. Some cultures have proved to be oppressing. For instance during the colonial times when the masters new that the natives are not ready to follow and respect their culture they resorted to cruel styles of imposing their culture. The imposed culture cause discontent in groups of people and misunderstanding begins there. Some people may end resisting some culture that they do not understand and that may threaten their existence within the culture that they found themselves.
The Europeans imposed their culture on Africans during the scramble for land and natural resources. The forced culture was not welcome until it caused mistrust that led to opposing by force this imposed culture. But those who came in with the human face integrated well and they stayed in our culture with harmony. They European missionaries taught the Africans their language and they leaned African dialects which enabled to spread the gospel wherever they went.
Stuart’s stand is questionable:
Stuart Hall’s philosophy is questionable because it does not address crucial cultural levels in any age group for example the youth. How age implores culture. In different age groups, in different generations’ youth affairs are not featured in depth. Especially the youth can not be left behind. This is the group that can revolutionalize culture and language hence propping their own identity.
Another issue is the possibility of hiding one’s culture. Is it possible? These are a few important studies Stuart Hall has left unanswered. As Stuart (1996) denotes that identity and culture come from somewhere, they have history and they undergo constant transformation. Yes who does this history involve? How and when?
Stuart, H. (1997). Introduction in “representation: cultural representations and signifying practices”, sage, pg 1-11
Stuart, H. (1996). Introduction: who needs identity? Questions of cultural identity, pp1-17.
Kramch, C. (1998). The Relationship of Language and Culture in Language and Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press.