Language provides a window into national culture

How Language Usage Provides a Window into National Culture

There’s little doubt that language and culture are closely related, with some linguists even going as far as to describe language as a verbal expression of culture. The evolution of language and culture has gone hand in hand, so it’s hardly surprising that a complex and deeply ingrained relationship has developed between the two.

The expression of our thoughts is through language, but our thought processes are also affected by the language we use. For this reason, it is nearly impossible to understand a country’s culture unless you can speak the language, then, through the idiosyncratic linguistic twist and turns, you soon get a feel for the culture.

The link between language and our thoughts

It stands to reason that the more time we spend thinking about particular subjects, the more words we’re likely to have to express these thoughts. The French are famous for their love of food. This fixation has resulted in such a broad food-related vocabulary that restaurants around the world borrow from the French to fill gaps in their own language. For example, how many times do the words canapé, terrine or quenelles form part of our very own culinary lexicon? Just watch MasterChef and you’ll soon find out.

The Mongolian people have a different fixation. As nomadic herders, they spend much of their time thinking about their animals. The result is an unusually large vocabulary to describe the health and condition of their animals.

Japan’s unique national culture

Anyone who takes the long flight to Japan will find the politeness of the people alone is well worth the trip. The level of politeness, deference and respect in the country is unlike anywhere else on earth. This culture is communicated by a language that has huge capacity for social etiquette and apology. Even something as simple as declining an invitation in Japan is a long-winded process.

As well as a reputation for politeness, Japan, with its island climate, also shares a fascination with the weather with us Brits. While words such as inclement, balmy and muggy are pretty tough to beat, the Japanese certainly do not want for choice. With single words for winter rain (凍雨), spring rain (春雨) and even regional rain (局地的な雨), Japan must be a pretty wet place.

Korean collectivism

The Koreans are renowned for their collectivism around the world, and this manifests in an increased usage of ‘we’ rather than ‘me’. In fact, pronoun use in Korea is a world away from here in the UK. For example, Koreans tend to talk about ‘our workplace’ or ‘our school’, rather than using the singular ‘my’. Koreans even use the collective pronoun ‘we’ when expressing their own views or opinions.

In the UK, where we are far more individualistic, this is known as the ‘royal we’, and is more of a linguistic mistake than anything else. In the US, a country even more individualistic in culture than the UK, you will rarely see collective pronoun use at all.

The importance of using mother tongue linguists

If you want to communicate loud and clear overseas, it’s essential you use a mother tongue linguist who understands the cultural nuances ingrained in the language. At Linguistica International, all our translators and interpreters translate into their mother tongue, which ensures the quality and cultural integrity of our work. For more information, please get in touch with our team by calling +44 2392 987 765 or emailing: today.