Does it make sense to separate a language from the culture it belongs to?

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Re: Does it make sense to separate a language from the culture it belongs to?

Postby aokoye » Fri Aug 16, 2019 10:05 pm

rdearman wrote:Some languages are already separated from the culture.

Latin, Old English, Middle English, Sanskrit, Ancient Egyptian. So while you could find native books I challenge you to find magazines, newspapers, television, movies, plays, music - aka CULTURE.

What degree of separation do you need? Many people read Latin, or Sanskrit, or Ancient Egyptian, but they aren't speaking to natives.

Eh I think you're pretty far off base here, especially given that one can easily point to cultural aspects of religion (and religious aspects of culture). Never mind that culture isn't bound to speaking to native speakers and that native speakers don't somehow hold all of cultural power of a language.

Also do you really think it's hard to find music written in Latin? Heck I've sung at least two secular pieces written with in the last 20 years in Latin. The only language of the ones that you listed I could see any of that being hard to find music and plays in is Ancient Egyptian.
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Re: Does it make sense to separate a language from the culture it belongs to?

Postby zenmonkey » Sat Aug 17, 2019 2:06 pm

rdearman wrote:Some languages are already separated from the culture.

Latin, Old English, Middle English, Sanskrit, Ancient Egyptian. So while you could find native books I challenge you to find magazines, newspapers, television, movies, plays, music - aka CULTURE.

What degree of separation do you need? Many people read Latin, or Sanskrit, or Ancient Egyptian, but they aren't speaking to natives.


I'm going to come form the other extreme and say "Language IS culture."

If you learn Latin to any depth and use any of the existing material that references texts or ideas or standard phrases from the period then you can't escape the culture of the time.

barba tenus sapientes - as smart as his beard
barba non facit philosophum - the beard does not make the philosopher
barba crescit caput nescit - the beard grows, the head does not know (or the head does not grow in knowledge)

Right away one is steeped into the cultural ideas of philosophers being wise old men with beards (age, experience, leisure to maintain a beard... and rare, as people did not live as long as now) and to understand these phrases beyond the literal requires a minimum of cultural referencing.

So no, no language can be learned without some sort of steeping in the culture of the language. Now it might be, much like a tea-bag, that one chooses the flavour or the strength of the cultural depth. How much of Cicero or Seneca are you going to read, what details of the Roman life do you need to read In Catilinam?

For me, the answer is absolutely vague. I truly think you can learn Japanese, Russian or whatever language to some depth while consciously ignoring large aspects or the related culture and history. Or by staying away from such aspects that one finds displeasing.
But at the end of the day, the absence of those hooks and references are just small handicaps in the language learning process.

If I say to the Spanish language learner "Que onda?" She can translate that directly to "what wave?" and it will have no particular meaning. Someone with a minor understanding of the culture of Mexico will clearly get that I'm giving a greeting equivalent to "What's up?".

Learning Arabic or Hebrew or Tibetan or Sanskrit without a minimum of religious referencing (needed for greetings, blessings and the most basic exchanges between two people that meet ...) is possible but results in parroting that is empty of sense.

Somewhere in here I think one can even drop the weak Sapir-Worf Hypothesis*.

It's an incredibly personal voyage to decide who much depth your own language learning will include and personally, it varies a lot for different languages how far I decide to investigate and learn.

Language is culture.

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Re: Does it make sense to separate a language from the culture it belongs to?

Postby Cavesa » Mon Aug 19, 2019 6:14 am

aquarius wrote:Cavesa, do you mean that OTHER PEOPLE perceive speaking Russian publicly as a sign of sympathy with Russian politics, or do YOU perceive it like this?


Most people above 30 make the connection. Some of those claiming not to see it just clearly sympathise with that regime and values too. Some are the case of "I care about money, not values" but that is much more common in my generation, under 30. They also often happen to be the people not knowing the significance of the most important dates in our history, as some kinds of research show.

Nope, I am not some weird exception imagining things. It is not like under the communist regime (everybody was supposed to learn Russian but very few did, it was a sort of a protest to be bad at it), but the connection is very much alive and still supported by a part of our Russian minority (the new russians, behaving in some way just like the occupants). When you say Russian, most people will simply not remember a writer or a hockey player first.

I have no clue, why you would doubt the existence of this fenomenon. As a German, you should have some knowledge of the history and culture of our region.

Learning about a culture and being immersed in a culture is frequently assumed to lead to 'developing sympathy and respect for a culture', but it must not necessarily be like this. Personally, I have experienced that the more I'm interested in learning about the culture and the values of a country, the higher is the risk of coming across "something nasty hidden in the history" (or, much worse, in present times), and to be compelled to fall back to some kind of "compartmentalisation".

In this case, it's helpful for me to see that often there is not just one uniforme "culture" of a country, but lots of people with different values, opinions and styles of life.


Well, these are all nice phrases. It sounds good and there are some grains of truth there, sure. But it makes more sense to dive into this, when you are forced to learn a language you don't like for any reason (including English for a part of the learners). When you have a free choice, it makes more sense to gather enough information, and decide whether it is worth it, or you should put your free time into something less complicated, such as a language with nasty bits hidden deeper bellow the surface and easier to compartmentalise.

David1917 wrote:Sound the alarm, politics have entered the conversation.

I sympathize with what the Czechs endured during the Soviet years, and I can understand that an older section of the population is probably still turned off by hearing the Russian language at all. Today is a different story and it should not be discussed here.

-

As for the thread's topic, I don't think it makes sense to separate from the culture. You can be successful in certain cold transactions in foreign languages, sure, but to advance to higher levels your only options are to expose yourself to large swathes of the language, and that almost inevitably includes native books, magazines, newspapers, television, movies, plays, music - aka CULTURE.

Basically, I'd say there are two goalposts to set, the first one can be achieved without culture, the second would be impossible and basically pointless.


Excuse me, David, but it is not a totally different story today. If you had any experience, you would know. The damages are still here (and will be, for a few more generations), and the way Russia influences us today and the way many russians in the country treat us today is very real and it is directly connected to the language and how it is used. It is simply not distant past. But I understand that someone from a country without any historical experience with this could doubt that.

The purpose of the illustration was very simple, the discussion was going into weird turns, trying to dumb it to someone stupidly refusing to learn basic vocabulary!
A different example: Of course "Schnitzel" is not only a word but also a cultural fact, because it is a meal eaten in the German speaking countries and not in some others. The discussion is not about someone refusing to learn what a "Schniztzel" is, but more about a learner considering learning German despite not being interested in the German culture at all (that is actually a very common thing. Most Czechs couldn't care less about anything German but money. This attitude was also keeping me away from the language for more than a decade, as I was finding it very sad and boring), or about the learner considering whether to learn German despite coming from a family with tragical past during WW2. And those learners exist and I see them from time to time on the internet. Either considering whether to learn the language, or commenting like "it may be weird due to my Jewish background, but I am learning German, and I am enjoying these or those parts of the culture". These things are alive and learners consider them all the time.

About your last point, the word "almost" is important: There are people achieving C1 without any native content outside of their classes. So, while they are ready for quite a lot of situations and their exam, they certainly haven't devoured tons of cultural input.
And there are languages, that you could learn with tons of input but without any input really created by the native speakers.

So, for example the learner not interested in German culture at all, could still learn the language and get their hundreds of hours of input just from watching dubbed american shows (in how many languages does this forum's population watch Buffy, Friends, Peppa Pig,...) and reading translated books. It is certainly one of the possible solutions.

aokoye wrote:Eh I think you're pretty far off base here, especially given that one can easily point to cultural aspects of religion (and religious aspects of culture). Never mind that culture isn't bound to speaking to native speakers and that native speakers don't somehow hold all of cultural power of a language.

Also do you really think it's hard to find music written in Latin? Heck I've sung at least two secular pieces written with in the last 20 years in Latin. The only language of the ones that you listed I could see any of that being hard to find music and plays in is Ancient Egyptian.


I love this answer. Really, the culture tied to most languages is usually a really wide and varied collection of stuff. And only a narrow sample is being presented. What would definitely be awesome, would be making much more about the cultures widely known.

zenmonkey wrote:So no, no language can be learned without some sort of steeping in the culture of the language. Now it might be, much like a tea-bag, that one chooses the flavour or the strength of the cultural depth. How much of Cicero or Seneca are you going to read, what details of the Roman life do you need to read In Catilinam?

For me, the answer is absolutely vague. I truly think you can learn Japanese, Russian or whatever language to some depth while consciously ignoring large aspects or the related culture and history. Or by staying away from such aspects that one finds displeasing.
But at the end of the day, the absence of those hooks and references are just small handicaps in the language learning process.

If I say to the Spanish language learner "Que onda?" She can translate that directly to "what wave?" and it will have no particular meaning. Someone with a minor understanding of the culture of Mexico will clearly get that I'm giving a greeting equivalent to "What's up?".

Learning Arabic or Hebrew or Tibetan or Sanskrit without a minimum of religious referencing (needed for greetings, blessings and the most basic exchanges between two people that meet ...) is possible but results in parroting that is empty of sense.

Somewhere in here I think one can even drop the weak Sapir-Worf Hypothesis*.

It's an incredibly personal voyage to decide who much depth your own language learning will include and personally, it varies a lot for different languages how far I decide to investigate and learn.

Language is culture.

This is so beautifully written.

I'd say there would be significantly fewer people with negative views on language learning, if the individual decisions concerning "culture learning" were easier to follow. If the coursebooks offered more varied cultural image, if all the marketing lists "10 reasons to learn X" didn't regurgitate the same stuff all over, if people commenting on language learners didn't assume certain personal characteristics just based on the language.
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Re: Does it make sense to separate a language from the culture it belongs to?

Postby tarvos » Mon Aug 19, 2019 8:28 am

Language belongs to a certain culture, but the politics that come along with certain languages as baggage are a very different thing. I enjoy Russian culture and learning about communist times, but I'm not a communist, nor do I support Russia's current regime. There are plenty of people with abhorrent politics even if you learn Dutch, English or Swedish - that's not really an argument. There are Egyptian feminists I'd learn Arabic for (Mona Eltahawy :ugeek: ) and there are Russians I'd swear I'd just forgotten the language for.

Of course in certain times, knowing a language may imply something about the politics, but it doesn't have to - and for some of us, we're just people doing our jobs. And for some of us, it's a "know thy enemy" kind of thing.

You can't separate a language from its culture, but you can and should separate it from the politics of leaders we disagree with.
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Re: Does it make sense to separate a language from the culture it belongs to?

Postby Inst » Mon Aug 19, 2019 9:34 am

Gòl·lum wrote:I'm asking this because many people learn a language without being really interested in the culture where it developed. They do it out of different reasons, like adding another language to the ones they already know and to have more and better job opportunities. You have many people that learn languages on the Internet without the need to interact with native speakers or visit the country/countries where this language is most commonly spoken.

Apparently, people do this because they think a language is just a bunch of grammar/syntax rules, vocabulary and sounds. However, you can't really learn a language without being immersed in the culture where it belongs, because there's a lot of slang, idioms, songs, proverbs that relate to the way the people of that culture live and their history. So does it make much sense to start learning, let's say, Japanese, if you don't plan to live in Japan? Is it possible to learn Navajo without spending a significant amount of your life living with and like the people of the Navajo tribe?



It depends on your goals. If your need is to understand the surface culture of the target language and be able to read their texts, understanding the culture is not necessary. On the other hand, for anything else, you need cultural understanding. Chinese, for instance, has formal and informal language and understanding when to use either is necessary. Japanese and Korean have sophisticated politeness language that ends up inflecting the language. You are not going to be able to effectively communicate without understanding the cultural basis of the language.
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Re: Does it make sense to separate a language from the culture it belongs to?

Postby Inst » Mon Aug 19, 2019 9:37 am

tarvos wrote:Language belongs to a certain culture, but the politics that come along with certain languages as baggage are a very different thing. I enjoy Russian culture and learning about communist times, but I'm not a communist, nor do I support Russia's current regime. There are plenty of people with abhorrent politics even if you learn Dutch, English or Swedish - that's not really an argument. There are Egyptian feminists I'd learn Arabic for (Mona Eltahawy :ugeek: ) and there are Russians I'd swear I'd just forgotten the language for.

Of course in certain times, knowing a language may imply something about the politics, but it doesn't have to - and for some of us, we're just people doing our jobs. And for some of us, it's a "know thy enemy" kind of thing.

You can't separate a language from its culture, but you can and should separate it from the politics of leaders we disagree with.


Disliking the politics of a specific culture makes it much harder to achieve language learning. Disliking the IJA and Japanese nationalism, for instance, makes a lot of texts in Japanese unpalatable. Not being able to stomach Communist literature takes you far away from the cultural base that underlines Russian and Chinese culture.

In some cases, you do have access to "liberal" offshoots of a specific language; i.e, you don't need to go through Cuban material to master Spanish, and you have South Korean literature as well as Taiwanese literature for Korean and Taiwanese respectively.
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Re: Does it make sense to separate a language from the culture it belongs to?

Postby zenmonkey » Mon Aug 19, 2019 9:42 am

tarvos wrote:You can't separate a language from its culture, but you can and should separate it from the politics of leaders we disagree with.


It's not just leaders - language etches how a culture thinks about "other". The terms used to qualify the outsider, by the words used to describe ethnicity, geographical groups, genders, social standing, etc ... have some impact on social and cultural thought. The outside learner may have the conscious ability to subjectively consider and accept or reject those constructs or may be forced to use them as standard speech or from absence of conscious choice.

An easy example, removed by time, since no one should really be offended by my use of it, is "punic". Not only does it mean someone from Carthage but it came to mean someone who was being labelled as treacherous and faithless. It was a strong slur.

Often one can navigate language and separate it from these constructs. Personal example, my daughters are not allowed to use "scallion" in Spanish anywhere near me, it's an ugly socio-economic denigration that taken hold of the Mexican-Spanish vernacular.
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Re: Does it make sense to separate a language from the culture it belongs to?

Postby zenmonkey » Mon Aug 19, 2019 9:53 am

Inst wrote: Disliking the politics of a specific culture makes it much harder to achieve language learning. Disliking the IJA and Japanese nationalism, for instance, makes a lot of texts in Japanese unpalatable. Not being able to stomach Communist literature takes you far away from the cultural base that underlines Russian and Chinese culture.


Aside from being extremely reductive (and stereotypical) examples of these societies - they're wrong. For example, Russian literature is objectively vast and it's greatest period (in my own opinion) has absolutely nothing to do with Communist writings.

All literature has issues. The critical reader has the capacity to reject imagery and conclusions.
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Re: Does it make sense to separate a language from the culture it belongs to?

Postby aaleks » Mon Aug 19, 2019 11:06 am

I belong to one of the last generations of soviet kids. Because I was just a kid at the time I may have forgotten something, and there might be the things I just don't know but speaking of my own experience I can say that never - never - I was taught to hate people living in other countries, looking differently. As a soviet kid I grew up with stories about the WW2 - books, movies, real-life stories - but I don't need to pretend that it didn't happen to learn the language. I think people should learn from history to not allow the bad things happen again - and that is what I was taught as a little soviet girl. But I don't have any negative feelings towards the modern Germans or Germany. I don't know maybe there's something wrong with my values...

P.S. Communism per se is rather part of western culture given the fact that Karl Marx was neither Russian nor Chinese
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Marx

Life and the world are complicated...

edited: typo
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Re: Does it make sense to separate a language from the culture it belongs to?

Postby David1917 » Mon Aug 19, 2019 12:20 pm

Cavesa wrote:
David1917 wrote:Sound the alarm, politics have entered the conversation.

I sympathize with what the Czechs endured during the Soviet years, and I can understand that an older section of the population is probably still turned off by hearing the Russian language at all. Today is a different story and it should not be discussed here.


Excuse me, David, but it is not a totally different story today. If you had any experience, you would know. The damages are still here (and will be, for a few more generations), and the way Russia influences us today and the way many russians in the country treat us today is very real and it is directly connected to the language and how it is used. It is simply not distant past. But I understand that someone from a country without any historical experience with this could doubt that.


I was specifically referring to your lines concerning "today's regime" and "current leading politicians" being less than suitable for discussion, due to the political nature of your accusations. Like I said, historical memory is something I can understand, and I mean no disrespect. Moreover, I admit that I do not know about the present situation with Russian businessmen in the Czech Republic. The last line here is nice, though ;)

So, for example the learner not interested in German culture at all, could still learn the language and get their hundreds of hours of input just from watching dubbed american shows (in how many languages does this forum's population watch Buffy, Friends, Peppa Pig,...) and reading translated books. It is certainly one of the possible solutions.


Sure it would "work" but what would be the point? Sounds like a tremendous waste of time.
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