It’s true that we live in a globalized world today, and this world is shaped by different cultures.
It’s true that we live in a globalized world today, and this world is shaped by different cultures. And when it comes to language, we know that culture often influences our language: when a concept exists in our culture, it exists in our language.
Anthropologist have defined culture as a complex whole that includes ideas, knowledge, law, arts, customs, morals, and any potential habits acquired by man as a member of a specific culture. In addition, culture is constituted by beliefs, traditions, norms, values, and symbols; and shared by varying degrees with members of a particular community.
In general, culture experts agree that a culture is characterized by being –
- Shared: families, group members, and society itself must be shared;
- Acquired: culture is learned and transmitted via observation, study, generations, traditions, and so on:
- Adaptable: the culture is based on humans’ ability to change or adapt;
- Cross-Generational: meaning passed from one generation to the next;
- Influential, on How the World is Perceived: it shapes behavior and structures the way people interpret the world
With reference to the last point, let’s discuss language’s effect with regard to this statement. Cultures reflect what a society does or doesn’t value in their language. Here are just a few examples –
- When different dialects or languages are spoken in the one country, there is generally one that is commonly used for communication between cultures – like China for example. China’s official language is Mandarin Chinese, but there are more than 50 dialects coexisting, all very different from each other. And it would be wrong to conclude that the same language means the same culture: Canada and the United States share a common language, but these countries have very different cultures.
- Business executives are often confused when they see their Japanese colleagues nod, even though they don’t agree with what is being proposed. The reason for this is that the Japanese word for agreement, hai, means I am listening, or I understand, which is not the same as Yes, I agree.
- The Zuni Native Americans had no words to distinguish between yellow and orange, but this doesn’t mean they couldn’t see the difference between the colors. It just means that, in their way of life, the difference is irrelevant.
- The Amazonian Indians distinguish between a wide variety of greens, as opposed to just the few greens that we acknowledge. But of course that doesn’t mean we don’t see shades of green: it just means that this linguistic distinction is not as important in our world as it is for the Amazons.
- Another example was mentioned in one of our previous articles and that is the different shades of white acknowledged by Eskimos; whereas to us, white is just white.
These few examples show that there is always a linguistic equivalent in another language, which is why automatic translations are often unable to resolve these issues in translation. Human translators, on the other hand, who are experienced in the language or dialect, can produce a 100% accurate and high-quality translation.