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What is Culture?

Language and Cultural Worldview
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins

Americans tend to see things in utilitarian terms:  What can I do with this, How will this help me perform the stated task.

This cultural bias may limit cross-cultural workers from fully extending themselves into the world of the people through the language of the people.  A major benefit of language learning is to provide a window on the world, insights into the thought and life of the people for whom that is the heart language.

The Opportunity to Communicate
Anyone who misses out on an opportunity to become proficient in a local language has been cheated out of a chance to learn how the world looks to a member of that local world.  Without that local perspective, we also miss the opportunity to communicate meaningfully.

Any basic lifestyle decisions are made at this deep worldview level.  The language is the window that gives a view into that deep decision-making level of the psyche.

English-Language Settings
Even those foreigners working in an urban, English-language setting should have the opportunity to reach an adequate proficiency in a local language.  This language will better enable them to deal with basic social situations, general cultural practices and perspectives in the worldview, before they have to sacrifice themselves to working in the foreign tongue.

English - Corrected and Adapted
An overlooked factor in this regard is the fact that the English spoken locally is rarely that spoken in the European homeland.  For example, in the versions of English encountered in Africa, the African cultural background(s) come(s) through the English.  The African speaker of English "corrects" and adapts that foreign language to suit the need to express the African setting and background brought to the urban English context.

Interpreting Local English
The learning of one or more African vernaculars (indigenous languages) will help interpret the English spoken by modern urban Africans, which may be considered an African vernacular (indigenized language).

The principle applies in every culture-language context.  To effect change the outsider must be in that inner circle of cultural thought and reality.  That language is intricately interwoven with the worldview.  Even the English is an opening into the cultural worldview.

Also related:
[TXT] Accent, Dialect and Language
[TXT] Approaches to Language: Models
[Menu] Cognitive and Social Culture
[TXT] Language and the Cognitive Worldview
[TXT] Language as Worldview Window


Originally published as a general article entitled "Language as Worldview Window" in Focus on Communication Effectiveness, July 1995
This version rewritten and posted to the web 12 July 2001
Updated 17 December 2008
Last edited 30 March 2012

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD

Copyright © 1995, 2001 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Please give credit and link back.  Other rights reserved.

Email: orville@jenkins.nu
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