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Does language shape culture or does culture shape language?

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nothingshocksmeanymore Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-14-04 04:01 PM
Original message
Does language shape culture or does culture shape language?
Edited on Tue Sep-14-04 04:02 PM by nothingshocksmeanymo
Does the language we live in ..the hundreds of thousands of thoughts that cruise through our brain everyday...create the world that we live in or does the world create those thoughts?

Which came first? Welfare queens abounding? Or the phrase WELFARE QUEEN?

If one finds it easy to rap along with the song "i'll pop a couple caps in your ass." Does it not take the charge (by making it a joke) out of a kid taking a gun just like the song says and popping a couple caps in your ass?

If one finds it easy to casually call the women at the office bitches..is that a symbol of their deep respect and regard for women?

If one runs around using words such as bitch, cunt, dick, n______, g (asian slurs) does one NOT LIVE IN A WORLD IN THEIR HEAD of bitches, cunts, dicks, n______s, g's (asian slurs).

Doesn't that world of language that you live in dictate what you see when you look out?

If no...please explain persuasively..because I'm not buying it.
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SarahB Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-14-04 04:08 PM
Response to Original message
1. I think they feed off of each other.
Pervasive cultural attitudes can augment the use of certain words within the language. They only diminish in their meaning (to an extent anyway) when the group being offended by the term adopts it and refuses to be pigeonholed by someone's negative terminology. Being thick-skinned doesn't make it right for someone to throw bad language at you, but it can keep them from having power over you when they do.
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Snow Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-14-04 04:10 PM
Response to Original message
2. I think I agree, but
I speak Korean. Korean does not really have gender pronouns, nor really use those it has. It doesn't use gender-specific referents much. Women have always retained their family name after marriage. Terms of address or descriptions of occupations are for the most part not gender-specific. Yet for the most part, Korea is a society that has tight gender role expectations, to the point that you could use the cliched term "sexist" (of course there're tight role expectations for everybody, come to that). So how come their language is so much more gender-neutral than ours?
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nothingshocksmeanymore Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-14-04 04:16 PM
Response to Reply #2
4. Because I would venture to guess their language uses class monikers
instead and a gender may be relegated to another class...no?
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Snow Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-14-04 04:24 PM
Response to Reply #4
6. No. They do indeed have tons of class levels, drives me nuts
with my relatives trying to show good manners, but women are not a separate class. Example: my wife's aunt...each of the following bits plays into how I'm supposed to address her. She's my wife's mother's brother's wife. But, that brother (uncle) was younger than my wife's mother. And she was his second wife. However, she is now the last person of that generation in the family left alive. So my wife is the clan matriarch, but her aunt is older & of the previous generation. See, class is mostly a matter of age, position, and so on. But just to reassure you that there is still an element of class as we conceive it, and to make the situation even trickier for me, the dear old lady is niece to the last dowager queen of Korea, who died in the mid-60's. And that whole long business is all important in how I address her. Fortunately, she's also a very nice old lady who is happy that I even function in her language.
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miss_kitty Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-14-04 04:15 PM
Response to Original message
3. well I'd say since you can't type a word Mark Twain used in
Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn, but you put 'cunt' in there-I'd say there's some culture going into shaping some language use. before the OJ Simpson trial people could say "nigger" in the context of saying someone else said it, or the way John Lennon used it, as in "Woman is the Nigger of the World." now it's 'n______', the 'n' word and more off limits than 'cunt' which was the most off-limits of the off-limit words...it's probably some of both, though
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nothingshocksmeanymore Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-14-04 04:17 PM
Response to Reply #3
5. Actually I would have used it and have in the past on DU
when using it in that context but a couple folks objected...if someone objected to any of the other words..I'd edit too
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miss_kitty Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-14-04 04:31 PM
Response to Reply #5
7. well in a list, they're just words.
directed, they are weapons. but that's a cultural influence. have you read The Story of English? it was also a PBS series in the 80's-extremely interesting-imho anyway... :)
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HEyHEY Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-14-04 04:40 PM
Response to Original message
8. In my experience
I'd say a person can use these words and terms and not really mean them, kinda like sketch comedy. I say this because the only time I ever here them is when someone is joking around.
However, people who really buy into the idea that there is nothing wrong with using those words on an everyday basis are full of shit. I have a friend who always jokes around with his Asian friends (he has many) ANd he always calls them asian slurs, but then they'll call him a white slur - it's all in fun. :shrug:
When I worked at the city, we always made fun of each other's ethnicity for fun. No one ever took it seriously and just answered back with another playful jab.

Example, I remember one day...during the World cup of Soccer a conversation between two guys in the lunchroom.

A: "Hey this is good sausage, did your Mom have it shipped from Italy?"
B: "I'm not Italian, I'm Polish dumbass."
A: "Polak, Wop, same thing"
B: "Hey, anything's better than being Korean."

It was like that all day. They all laughed the whole time :shrug:
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Lydia Leftcoast Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-14-04 06:26 PM
Response to Original message
9. Coming from a background in an unrelated language (Japanese)
I think that language and culture reinforce each other.

As a very hierarchical society, Japanese has different levels of politeness for speaking to other people, depending on how you rank in relation to the other person in that situation. These aren't like military ranks, by the way. A person may be a "general" in one situation and a "private" in another. For example, just about everyone would speak politely to the prime minister, but anyone who had ever been a teacher of his would talk to him as if he were a kid.

Any extended conversation with another person will reveal how the two parties rank in relation to each other.

The hierarchical society is reflected in the language, but the language reinforces the hierarchy, and the language has featured levels of politeness for as long as written records exist (about 1300 years).
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Snow Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Sep-15-04 12:21 PM
Response to Reply #9
13. Thanks, that is the bit I left out of my description of Korean
to which all your comments apply in full. To get back to your original point, NMSA, a cousin of mine has lived in Thailand for a number of years, in a small farming community, where he also farms. He proposes that the politness, etiquette, etc - the structure of Asian society - is determined in part (he says in whole, but I don't think he's right) by the labor demands of rice farming. It's really labor-intensive, traditional wet rice farming, and if the whole village doesn't get along and cooperate, they're going to starve.
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ulysses Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-14-04 07:30 PM
Response to Original message
10. both in different ways.
Language does indeed shape our outlook, but it doesn't develop in a void. Rapping about popping a couple of caps in someone ass does desensitize us to the fact of it, but then people were capping other people in the ass well before they started singing about it.

Or maybe not "well" before - how old the the human habit of memorializing martial victories in song?
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Maddy McCall Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-14-04 07:44 PM
Response to Original message
11. The very first convo that you and I had was about this topic. :-)
I believe that culture shapes the lexicon--your environment and surroundings influence your lexicon. But language does shape culture, too.

Won't go off on anthro theory, but this has been a huge argument amongsts anthropologists for decades. :-)
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DrWeird Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-14-04 07:59 PM
Response to Original message
12. I'd say culture shapes language.
Mostly because I'm adamantly against the idea that language shapes culture, i.e. words, rap, movies, etc. do not cause own to go out and "bust a cap" in somebody's ass. Tupac Shakur's line about "and you wonder why they call you 'bitch'" does not cause anyone to be more disresptful of women any more then when Hendrix sang about going downtown to shoot his old lady, or when Shakespeare rountinely threw around the word "strumpet." Saying the word "nigger" does not make one a racist, being a racist makes one use the word "nigger." Now like I said, culture shapes language which is why words have so much different meaning depending on small changes in culture. Rap artists don't have any more or less respect for women then country music artists do, even though they use the word "bitch" more, and they're obviously not more racist for using "nigger." In some parts of the english speaking world "cunt" is just slang for female genitalia and can be used as an insult the same way "dick" is often used here in the states. There is, or was, a Gropecunt Lane in England for awhile. Whereas here in the states the term is much more offensive.

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tigereye Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Sep-15-04 03:49 PM
Response to Reply #12
14. see Steven Pinker
Edited on Wed Sep-15-04 03:49 PM by tigereye
he analyzes this question well.. and if you are really into some turgid academic analysis of thought and language.. as no doubt you all are :), I found this as I was trundling around the web lookin for some work stuff...


http://www.def-logic.com/articles/RevealLanguageOfThoug...

just have your academese detector/deflector ray ready and armed...
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