Culture, identity and language differences and the relations are both interesting topics. According to Stuart Hall (1997), he discusses the definitions of culture, identity and language and explores the links between them in the introduction of his article ‘Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices’. Meanwhile, three factors, culture, identity and language will be discussed further by me as well as the relationships between them.
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According to Hall’s circuit of culture (p1), it shows the close relationships and the connections between culture, identity and language differences. Hall (2003) claims that, ‘culture is about shared meanings’ (p1). Culture is regarded as a process or a set of practices other than embodying the “best that has been though and said” in a society (p2). It is concerned with the ‘giving and taking of the meaning’ between the members of a group or society (p2). In other words, members of the same culture must share a set of ideas, concepts, values and images of the group which manifests their cultural characteristics and makes them idiosyncratic from members who belong to other groups, this refers to their identification. Meanwhile, they are also consuming their culture when they indicate their identification. The ways where members of the same group share the same cultural code (p4) encompass their behaviours or life style in the contexts of both human and society.
Based on Hall (2003)’s perspective, ‘language operates as a representational system’ (p1) in which people may represent their ‘ideas, concepts, images and feelings’ to others through language. This means, ‘the representation through language is the process by which meaning is produced (p1). In other words, the ‘production and circulation of meaning’ cannot take place without language. In short, through language, people able to give meaning to things including emotions, ideas and values as the meaning gives us a sense to know who we are (p3). In order to communicate such meanings to other people, they also need to use the linguistic codes (p4) of language. In addition, Hall argues that language has a much wider sense (p4) which involves anything that can represent meaning such as life, music, food, pictures, any non-verbal actions and etc. Instead of only spoken and written words.
As far as language is concerned, it is a key tool to convey cultural values and who we are as well as the characteristics of the group we belong to. In other words, ‘Language is one of the media through which thoughts, ideas and feelings are represented in a culture’ (p1) which means culture could not exist without language. Hence, consumed culture, produced meaning and language representation decide the way in which it is organised and governed as well as regulate practices.
There are some interesting examples which clearly express the relationships between culture, identity and language differences. From my experience, i remembered that my first Professional Accounting Skills for Business Decisions (PASBD) seminar which was about to do a presentation of National Trust to my two tutors. When my group mates and i addressed them as ‘Mr. Trevor’ and ‘Mr. John’, they were unhappy with the word ‘Mister’ and asked us to call them by their first names instead of adding a word ‘Mister’ or calling them ‘Sir’. This gave me a big ‘cultural shock’. In Malaysia, this situation is not common. We address elder people such as tutors, lecturers and employers with a title in order to express our respect for them. It would be regarded as a taboo or dishonour if we call the first name without title.
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At that time, i could not understand why students dared to address lecturers or tutors by using their first names without title. Until now i read Hall’s article and realised the reasons why they prefer us to use their first names. This is concerned about ‘how does the tutor represent herself or himself?’ My tutors, Trevor and Joyce represented themselves through their first names in their cultural community. Conversely, in my Chinese cultural context, i represent the tutors through the title in order to express my respect for them. In other words, my tutors and i produce our different identities through our representation and languages. As Hall indicates that ‘Language is not only the privileged medium in which we “make sense” of things but also meaning is produced and exchanged’ (p1) and gives us a sense of our own identity (p3). Besides, language can be served as a symbolic practice (p5) which expresses the meaning of the cultural identity we belong to.
After i came here as an overseas student, i was worried that i had lost my identity and my way which i belong to due to the culture difference. Until i read Hall’s article, i understand and recognise that it is a necessary experience which one needs to be adaptable to a new society. This means, one uses a new language to form a new membership in a new cultural context and also any change in language will lead to a change in identity and social relationship. Finally, i am realised and understood by reading Hall’s article which he argues that this is a process of adaption to a new culture and society which is a need for one to experience the change and be adaptable to a new environment. Now, i accept this new culture and also get used to using the lecturers’ first name. Nevertheless, i have to bear in mind and remind myself to address the elder people with their title after i go back to Malaysia. The rationale is i have to change my language since i change the cultural context where i live and the group which i belong to. Overall, the understanding of the relationships between cultural, identity and language differences does help me to do a good job and communicate effectively with my lecturers during seminars and lectures.
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