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

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

Postby nooj » Tue Aug 20, 2019 11:08 am

Chung wrote: Native speakers would be foolish to think that outsiders have figured out tidbits though language-study that are really a kind of "inside information" that require exposure. When I see ser's examples about the nuances of certain Spanish phrases, I'm reminded of my experience when learning Korean honorifics which ultimately reflect Confucian societal organization. I'm not expected to know all of the attendant subtleties and really it's enough just to know a few bits on a superficial level so that I don't readily commit an egregious faux-pas (a minor one in the eyes of natives shouldn't invalidate me or invite derision from them).[/b]


First of all, as native speakers of whatever language, we do expect certain things from beginners of a language. Being able to say hello, excuse yourself. And yes, we are forgiving but there are limits even for beginners. Take the T-V difference found in many Indo-European languages. As a beginner you may likely be excused for treating a professor with the T equivalent, especially if you introduce yourself as a beginner, have a very noticeable accent or you look different from the native speakers. But no matter how beginner you are, you or may not be excused for treating a judge in a court room with T (tu, du etc). That's just a bridge too far.

Korean tolerance for transgressing social norms has limits. What might be forgivable when you are an absolute beginner simply is not when you are clearly not an absolute beginner and show some proficiency in our language. Once you're well on your way to learning Korean, there WILL be expectation laid upon you to fit into the speech community and not stick out. For example, it is not acceptable - it simply isn't - for an advanced learner to choose to only use 반말 out of a dislike for how Korean society works. Something has seriously gone wrong there, and it doesn't make this speaker independent minded, free from social constraints etc. It just makes them a bad speaker of Korean.

Learners are not any more special than say, little babies. There is a grace period for babies learning to talk, walk, eat, behave. But by the time you are 5 years old, it is socially acceptable for an adult (usually a family member) to criticise your behaviour or for the way you talk, and once you are a teenager of 15 years old, it is socially acceptable in many societies for anyone to criticise your behaviour or the way you talk.

We learners of a language, by virtue of learning the language are knocking at the doors of the speech community. Should we be surprised then if they set some guidelines in their house once we enter that door?

Of course, if one is simply content to stay outside the house and look in the windows (= study the grammar of a language and have no human interaction with a speaker of that language) there's nothing wrong with that.
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Cavesa
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Re: Does it make sense to separate a language from the culture it belongs to?

Postby Cavesa » Sat Aug 24, 2019 10:03 am

I am mostly away from my computer these days, that's why I answer rather late, sorry about that

David1917 wrote: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 ;)


While you are definitely right that the contemporary politicians mean getting to a thin ice here, it is still an extremely relevant part of this topic in particular. If nothing else, those politicians are just as known (or sometimes more) than most pop stars speaking a given language. And the politics is unfortunately relevant to the learner as soon as you want to interact with the culture from a bit closer distance. I meant no offence. I just think that this thread was showing some really weird turns, completely ignoring the real world and instead inventing nonsense.

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.


What would be the point? A few times bigger salary doesn't sound like enough? :-D

Really, German is actually an awesome example! In Central Europe, it is a rather popular language (too bad it is being pushed out by English, that has some bad consequences). Most people learning it couldn't name even a few German singing musical bands, name more than two or three movies mentioned in their class, and speak about any tradition not mentioned in a coursebook. Yes, they could name a few writers of the classics, like Goethe, as they were learning about them at school, but hardly any contemporary author of anything.

Perhaps the German language related culture is not too popular in the region, because it is very similar to everything else around here. That might be a factor. But a more important one: people want the money and that's all for most of them.

Yet, a surprising amount gets to a solid level (still not that many in absolute numbers, since English has pushed all the continental and useful languages to the margin). And most would be even better and get safely beyond the B levels, if only they consumed more content, but they usually don't think of that, because they are not interested in German content. Dubbings would work, my Italian improved immensely and I have yet to watch an original show (not due to refusing the culture). The German learners, who would watch Friends, would be even better at the language and possibly earn even more money. They still wouldn't know much more about the German culture.

tarvos wrote:
zenmonkey wrote:
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.


Besides that, there was plenty of dissident literature - and there was the whole samizdat movement ;)

This is an extremely valid point. The language can get us through the most basic barrier of them all: what gets out of the region/country. Either due to being or not being interesting enough for foreign media and translators, or due to being or not being allowed to leave the country.

It is a bit sad, that there are few places to discuss this. It is not that easy to get an insight into this and a learner wanting to learn language X due to its "less official" or "less stereotypical" production will still have to face two barriers:
1.the stereotypes about the learners: it is not rare to read about the experience of learners, who face unpleasant (or even dangerous) reactions for learning a language not considered appropriate around them, for any reason.
2.the language learning materials. If you want to read Chinese dissent opinions, watch Egyptian tv shows, read Russian scifi, and so on, you still need to get to that point. And deal with the fact that majority of the material for learners may have for example lots of religious references, the local cultural center with a library may be actively trying to push political agenda, and so on.

So, it is again an issue worth informing oneself about. Some learners will love the opportunity to get behind the filters and will find the path to that goal worth walking and fascinating too, others will not find the rewards fitting the investments.

However, let's not forget that most people do not go that far, when considering language learning. Either they go for the profit, or for the cultural goods they already know about.

iguanamon wrote:People all over the world learn English to some extent without ever setting foot in an English-speaking country, reading any native literature or watching any of our native media.

We tend to get out of something what we put into it in life and the same goes for language-learning. Personally, I gain a more richly rewarding experience delving into a culture through its language. This is the primary reason why I learn other cultures' languages in the first place.

Could someone learn communication without delving deeply into culture? Yes. it's done all the time with ESL learners outside of English-speaking countries. Would I want to learn Spanish and know nothing of Pablo Neruda, Federico García Lorca, Almodóvar, Gabo or Tito Puente? No! That would be akin to learning to bake and eating only white bread made from processed flour... to me, all the flavor would be gone.

While people don't have to learn a culture along with a language, especially when learning a large a large pluricentric language, I feel they are missing out on a possibly enriching experience that they could have for just a bit more effort. Learning a language can open the door to that experience. It can open a learner to new ways of thinking, new ways of seeing themselves and their world, new literature, new poetry and songs. A door can be open or shut. It is up to the individual to choose to walk through it or not. Believe it or not, even English has a rich and worthy cultural heritage ranging from Shakespeare to Steven King, from V.S. Naipaul to J.M. Coetzee, from Mark Twain to Moredcai Richler, from Banjo Paterson to Bob Marley, from Flatt and Scruggs to JayZ. As people, we don't have to buy into all the cultural heritage within a language. We can and do choose what we wish to associate ourselves with in life.


Yes, this is exact.

Learning a language without learning much about its culture is possible to a larger extent, than the people with the luxury of always learning without any obligation can imagine. It is done all over the globe every day.

Yes, learning about the culture is extremely rewarding. Including learning about the less nice things sometimes. But there is a lot to discover. I would be a much poorer person without these bits of foreign cultures inside my head.

But I simply don't think people choosing to go the "as direct as possible" path to their exams and job promotions are necessarily the bad language learners. They often actually get some things "more right" than the people too focused on the culture. Their focus on acquiring the grammar and vocab and the stuff you can use should definitely inspire some of the course makers, who dissolve everything in tons of cheesy "cultural" photos, for example.

The paths for the learners wishing to "just learn the language" should be discussed too, not frowned upon as something inappropriate.
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Cavesa
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Re: Does it make sense to separate a language from the culture it belongs to?

Postby Cavesa » Sat Aug 24, 2019 10:44 am

Speakeasy wrote:
David1917 wrote: ... If you hold the people whose language you are learning in contempt, then you will fail, and it is moreover a huge waste of your time.
I do not believe that contempt for a language, for the culture from which it arose, and for the people who speak it, will lead to "failure" in learning the language at a very sophisticated level. Many people, and perhaps most, are capable of compartmentalising the mastering of a complicated task and their abhorrence with many aspects associated therewith. For people who find themselves in such a situation, language is simply a tool, viz. "I despise my oppressors, but I will not deprive myself of the opportunity of seeking vengeance upon them and upon all their kind by refusing to learn their horrid language."


Who said that last line, please? It is an interesting quote, which could belong to so many countries and eras!

The compartmentalisation is a must for some learners. It is something deserving of discussion and "how to" threads, not of contempt.

The "contempt" towards the people whose language you are learning, that is a very narrow way to put it. There are tons possible attitudes leading to this need. Really, I don't think contempt is even one of the top five. You usually don't learn a language of somebody you hold in contempt, or at least it is not the primary emotion. But you can definitely need to compartmentalise learning a language of people you couldn't care less about (most people dreaming of becoming a gastarbeiter), people who are basically holding a knife at your throat (there are lots of both historical and contemporary examples), people whose money you need but you dislike their usual manners (are most tourist industry employees interested in the cultures of their guests?), and so on. I don't think any of this is primarily contempt.

Chung wrote:I've studied several languages whose respective speech communities have historical baggage either as oppressors or the oppressed, but it hasn't really bothered me. In line with Széchenyi's thinking, I'm not foolish/arrogant enough to think that my ability in some language, no matter how good or bad, gives me justification to tell myself that "I'm now one of them" ("them" being the native-speaking community of the target language).

I love a lot of what you've written and you've certainly given me food for thought. But I think a very important difference here is, that you were not part of those communities (as you have written really well later in your post). It is different for a spaniard to learn Russian, than for a pole. It is different for a czech to learn Mandarin than for a person from an oppressed minority within the country.

It is not as simple as "I'm now one of them". But when you are directly involved in that particular intercultural relationship, the ability in some language can also mean stuff like "I am making this thing I disagree with much easier for them than necessary" (not only an extreme situation like the occupation, but also unacceptable tourist or business behaviour. one of the main reasons, why I didn't want to learn German for more than a decade was this. I simply didn't want to partake in the tons of very unequal and demeaning situations I was seeing in daily life. I guess this is a less controversial example than my previous one :-D ) or "I am ceding to the pressure and doing something I do not want to do" (me learning English actually required a lot of compartmentalisation, at least for a few years.)


tl;dr, the absolutism of equating language and culture (and the related idea that learning culture cannot be separated from learning a language) ultimately doesn't sit well with me and my preferences for libertarianism and pragamatism. How learners of a language deal with culture(s) of the associated speech community (communities) should be left to them. Making them pay an undue amount of attention to cultural sensitivities which are most relevant to native speakers isn't that helpful, and ignores that language-learners are often (and will remain) outsiders. Native speakers would be foolish to think that outsiders have figured out tidbits though language-study that are really a kind of "inside information" that require exposure. When I see ser's examples about the nuances of certain Spanish phrases, I'm reminded of my experience when learning Korean honorifics which ultimately reflect Confucian societal organization. I'm not expected to know all of the attendant subtleties and really it's enough just to know a few bits on a superficial level so that I don't readily commit an egregious faux-pas (a minor one in the eyes of natives shouldn't invalidate me or invite derision from them).


This is extremely true.

I wouldn't equate learning more about a culture=trying to become part of it. Most of us are not some sort of a "weeaboo" concerning our target languages. Yet, we are sometimes treated as such. That is actually a big part of the stigma coming with some languages in some kinds of context. (A typical example is a French learner in the Czech Republic. It is very difficult to tell someone you are not some romantic moron set up for the Paris syndrome, to put it very simply).

It is no shame to accept this and not obsess over every nuance. Some learners will try to soak in as much as possible in any way possible, and good for them. Some will go for the bare minimum required for usage of the language in their life, and good for them too.

nooj wrote:First of all, as native speakers of whatever language, we do expect certain things from beginners of a language. Being able to say hello, excuse yourself. And yes, we are forgiving but there are limits even for beginners. Take the T-V difference found in many Indo-European languages. As a beginner you may likely be excused for treating a professor with the T equivalent, especially if you introduce yourself as a beginner, have a very noticeable accent or you look different from the native speakers. But no matter how beginner you are, you or may not be excused for treating a judge in a court room with T (tu, du etc). That's just a bridge too far.

Korean tolerance for transgressing social norms has limits. What might be forgivable when you are an absolute beginner simply is not when you are clearly not an absolute beginner and show some proficiency in our language. Once you're well on your way to learning Korean, there WILL be expectation laid upon you to fit into the speech community and not stick out. For example, it is not acceptable - it simply isn't - for an advanced learner to choose to only use 반말 out of a dislike for how Korean society works. Something has seriously gone wrong there, and it doesn't make this speaker independent minded, free from social constraints etc. It just makes them a bad speaker of Korean.

Learners are not any more special than say, little babies. There is a grace period for babies learning to talk, walk, eat, behave. But by the time you are 5 years old, it is socially acceptable for an adult (usually a family member) to criticise your behaviour or for the way you talk, and once you are a teenager of 15 years old, it is socially acceptable in many societies for anyone to criticise your behaviour or the way you talk.

We learners of a language, by virtue of learning the language are knocking at the doors of the speech community. Should we be surprised then if they set some guidelines in their house once we enter that door?

Of course, if one is simply content to stay outside the house and look in the windows (= study the grammar of a language and have no human interaction with a speaker of that language) there's nothing wrong with that.


This is not just about being a language learner. Just like we already discussed a few years ago that not all foreign accents are perceived equally. An Irish student addressing the professor with the T-you in Czech? How cute. A Russian or Peruvian student? They'd better be careful.

I am not sure, whether the T-V distinction (and the more complex equivalent systems in languages like Korean) are simply "culture learning" or as well "language learning". I personally consider the T-V distinction in the european languages I learn to be primarily a grammar feature. You sometimes use the T form and sometimes the V form, and there are some rules to it and some instinct you develop. Just like there are rules and some instinct to using various past tenses. Is using the past tenses properly "culture learning" too? I am not sure the T-V is the best example, no offence meant.

I'd say the last part is a bit of a prejudice. The people not caring about the culture usually do not just study the grammar without any human interaction. As Iguanamon said very well, they usually go to classes, have plenty of human interaction in class, use their ESL coursebooks (which include some bits of culture, but surely not enough to suffice as what most people on this forum do as culture learning), and pass their requirements. They just don't care about anything beyond that.
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Speakeasy
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Re: Does it make sense to separate a language from the culture it belongs to?

Postby Speakeasy » Sat Aug 24, 2019 5:49 pm

Speakeasy wrote: … viz. "I despise my oppressors, but I will not deprive myself of the opportunity of seeking vengeance upon them and upon all their kind by refusing to learn their horrid language."
Cavesa wrote:Who said that last line, please? It is an interesting quote, which could belong to so many countries and eras!
It is not a quote, I made it up for the purposes of this discussion. It is meant to exemplify the deep-seated resentment which some people may feel towards another linguistic/ethnic group whom they view as invaders and oppressors, expressed by people who feel humiliated by the experience and who are faced with the choice of either learning the oppressor’s language or facing unpalatable consequences. It was in response to David1917’s comment that people who attempt to learn a language which they hold in “contempt” are doomed to “failure”, a position with which I strongly disagree. That is, there is no need for a kumbaya holding-of-hands and linking-of-arms for one to be successful in learning a foreign language. Other motivations, even very negative ones, are possible. While I wrote these words “on the spur of the moment”, the possibility exists that they are an amalgam of melodramatic lines taken from Hollywood “B Films” of the 1950’s (I was so impressionable back then).

Cavesa wrote:The "contempt" towards the people whose language you are learning, that is a very narrow way to put it. There are tons possible attitudes leading to this need. Really, I don't think contempt is even one of the top five...
Again, I was responding to David1917’s comment that people who attempt to learn a language which they hold in “contempt” are doomed to failure. Nevertheless, my own experiences suggest that large portions of a population can harbour such feelings and still learn a contemptful language. Furthermore, such hard feelings can be passed from generation-to-generation and persist without the need of actual contact with the (perhaps now only historical) oppressors.

For greater clarity, I was not suggesting that "contempt" for a language which one has chosen to learn represents the "average" situation. There exist untold reasons for learning a language. I would imagine that most people take on such a challenge with much enthusiasm. However, not everyone does, some people view the whole language-learning process rather negatively whereas others can be quite resentful towards the "obligation" of learning a specific language. While less-than-positive attitudes will not be helpful, there is absolutely no guarantee that people harbouring negative feelings will not be successful in their endeavours.

EDITED:
Tinkering.
Last edited by Speakeasy on Sat Aug 24, 2019 6:46 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Does it make sense to separate a language from the culture it belongs to?

Postby Speakeasy » Sat Aug 24, 2019 5:53 pm

David1917 wrote: … prejudices against the "regimes" and the people in general will always put up a wall between them and their ability to penetrate the language at large...
I take issue with the word “prejudice” when referring to some people’s attitudes towards certain “regimes”.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary provides the following definition of prejudice: (1) preconceived judgment or opinion, (2) an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge, (3) an irrational attitude of hostility directed against an individual, a group, a race, or their supposed characteristics.

A well-informed and intellectually-honest person would not deny the horrific crimes perpetrated by certain “regimes” against their own citizenry. Characterizing someone’s fully-justified revulsion against certain oppressive and murderous “regimes” (that is, contempt for the regimes themselves, and not for their citizenry who have so unjustly suffered, or for their language) as “prejudice” is inconsistent with the meaning of this word.

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

Postby vkukko » Tue Sep 24, 2019 2:44 am

I hate it when people say you can't or shouldn't learn a language if you don't love the culture and/or want to immerse yourself on it. For many years I've had to deal with people telling this to me. It's a very close minded and an old way of thinking. Seriously, imagine caring about what other people find enjoyable.
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