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Relationship Between Language Culture And Identity English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 2599 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Relationships among language, culture and identity have become a favourite topic in social science for decades. In his book Primitive Culture, Edward Tylor (1871) defines culture that “as complex whole which includes knowledge, morals, beliefs, art,

law technology and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of the society.

Being human being communicative, interestingly, language reveals much more what we actually speak out, not only a means of communication. The Sapir Whorf hypothesis states that the structure of a language influences the ways in which its speakers conceptualize their world or otherwise affects their cognitive processes.

The cultural worldview of a man is presented by the language and reflected through his responses in a specific period of time. Cultures are

maintained from generation to generation and affected by geographical location and history of that nation as well as the interaction of that people

over time. Simultaneously, language also develops to meet the need of communication of people. Therefore, it can be stated that your language can reveal many things about your identity. It can disclose your nationality, culture, religion, age, gender, level of education, socio-economic class or

your profession.

Mendoza-Denton (2002:475) defines “identity to mean the active negotiation of an individual’s relationship with larger social constructs.” It means that identity is reflected in the language we use, our word choices in identifying ourselves as well as in the words we choose not to use. Language is part of one’s identity.

Understanding the nature of the relationship between language and culture is central to the process of learning another language.It is also

a chance for language learners to discover or re-discover and more appreciate his or her identiy.

With my limited understanding about socialinguistic and my eagerness to more learning about a useful subject that enriches me – a language teacher – the knowledge of language’s role soceity as well as the implications for language teaching and language policy, I would like to discuss the following contents:

A. Discuss the relationship between language, culture and identity

The Sapir – Whorf Hypothesis

Intercultural communication

Language as a core value and indentity

B. What are the implications for language teaching and language policy

Language policy

Language and power


A. The relationship between language, culture and identity

The Sapir – Whorf Hypothesis

In linguistics, the Sapir – Whorf Hypothesis states that each language holds an own way to present its meaning that can not be understood by those belong to another language. Native languages are concerned to strongly affect people’s thinking.

Whofianism is another popular name for this hypothesis and is often defined as having two versions:

The strong version linguistic determinism that states that the language you speak determines the way that you will interpret the world around you.

In this case, interlocutors think much of how to speak to best express their ideas and how to avoid misunderstanding caused by spoken words. For

example, in Vietnamese culture, when visiting a newborn baby, we usually say that “she/ he is very ugly” to mean that the baby is so cute. Vietnamese

do not use direct saying to compliment a newborn baby.

In Western culture, questions about ages or marriage status are considered impolite.

The weak version that linguistic categories (part of speech) and usage influence thought and certain kinds of non-linguistic behaviour. The strong version of this hypothesis has been mostly discarded but the weak form of the hypothesis is generally accepted.

Defintion of UG of Noam Chomsky (1957) also states that the human brain contains a limited set of rules for organizing language. Language is governed by a set of highly abstract principles that provide parameters which are given particular settings in different languages. This set of rules is known as universal grammar.

Articles in Englis such as “a/an”, “the” or gender of language “mascular”, “feminine” in French maybe appropriate examples for this part.

Intercultural communication

Intercultural communication generally refers to face – to – face interactions among people.

If the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis states that there are certain thoughts of an individual in one language that cannot be understood by those who live in

another language, intercultural communication, according to Samovar and Porter (1991), occurs when a member of one culture understands a

produced by another whose culture is different from him.

It is a good idea to use title such as “Mr” Mrs” or “Dr” along with a family name in a business discussion in some parts of Europe. The first name used without permission is considered direspectful.

In Japanese culture, long pauses in a conversation are normal, especially after a question. They need time to think over it. However, in other

cultures, it is comfortable if interlocutors keep silence in a dialogue, there will be someone to speak to end the silence.

To work together without problems, people need to understand their differences. People belonging to diverse culture are still able to understand

their language each other, though, there are the potential misunderstanding and disagreement. Learning about intercultural communication is a very

good idea to reduce this risk. And a language teacher as a language messenger must realize this.

Language as a core value and identity

Mendoza-Denton (2002:475) defines “identity to mean the active negotiation of an individual’s relationship with larger social constructs.” These social constructs have been understood as comprising gender, ethnicity, and class following Gumprez (1982) in some of the earliest work on identity.

One’s identity was understood as whom you were, and who we are or how we are seen by others may involve differing identities.

According to Zimmerman (1998), there are three types of identity:

Discourse identity which is revealed through particular discourse and presented by speakers, hearers.

Situational identity which is revealed through the specific situation. For example, a person who is half Italian half French may want to identify

with a particular ethnicity in some social situation. (e.g., attending a soccer game). This choice may even be crucial for his personal security.

Transportable identity which applies across situations and discourse and includes such constructs as ethnic, gender, and age. I would like to mention my ideal woman- Hillary Clinton and her concession to Barack Obama in 2008. In order to successfully reposition herself from an opponent to a supporter of Obama, Clinton draws on several aspects of her transportable identity to stress the similarity between herself and Obama. Next to focusing on the fact that they are both Democrats, Americans and human beings, she zooms in on their membership of two powerless groups: namely that of women and African Americans. Both from a historical and a personal perspective, these two categorizations of herself and Obama are presented in a highly persuasive way and create unity between the two former opponents.

A man’s identity can disclose his nationality, culture, age, profession and socio – economic class.

Defined by the article Understanding Racism, “a defining feature of a person’s identity, contributing to how they see themselves and the groups with which they identify. Culture may be broadly defined as the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings, which is transmitted from one generation to another. Every community, cultural group or ethnic group has its own values, beliefs and ways of living” (“Understanding Racism,” sect.1). This clearly shows the importance of language, culture, and heritage in forming and shaping one’s personality.

In my real teaching, my students are usually given the difference from phonetic transcribtion between British English and American English to distinguish the origin of the words, therefore; they are parlty trained the way of word usage for the better speaking and writing as well. The difference in writing is also explained sometimes when needed.


British English

American English







call box 

phone booth
































Our pronunciation of the words, our grammartical structure usage, and our utterance reveal how we view ourselves linguistically. Our language choice

reflects more than the way we view ourselves. Teenagers’ words might be quite different from their older generations might use. That is the way how we are viewd by soceity as well.

According to Rembo (2004: 33-34), “A person’s social identity comes from an individual’s knowledge of himself as an individual in relationship to

others.” It can be stated that we construct our identity by how we perceive ourselves in the eyes of others.

Language is not only a means of communication but also self-identification. In a globalization communication, learning other languages as a second

language positively promotes intercultural understanding across languages and cultures. In addition, personally, this is also an ideal way especially for the youth of every country become aware of how our behaviours and social attitudes have been shaped by the languages and cultures we experience.

The implications for language teaching and policy

Learning and teaching another language will be more interested once we discover the beauty of language and successfully convey to learners. It should be exploited effectively for a better teaching; therefore, a motivated learning might be obtained.

Learning a new language means accessing a new culture. Teaching students how to internalize selectively is also a leading concern a language teacher should pay much attention to besides conveying the beauty of that second language.

Being a language teacher, I assum that we should realize deeply Language and Power as well as Language Policy to have an appropriate thinking to do teaching in the classroom.

Language and Power

During the period of domination in some countries, whether colonizers governed directly or indirectly, the political and cultural of those were

greatly affected.

The people’s wealth was the colonizers’ real aim. However, economic and political control can never be obtained without mental control. It means that

once language, which is part of culture, the tool of self-definition in relationship to other nations is under controlled, that people will be truly


Well understanding power of language will help students more motivated to learn the standard language as well as to selectively uncover what they

take for granted and internalize as personal failure.

Language Policy

Language Policy is what a government does either officially through legislation, court decisions or policy to determine how languages are used

cultivate language skills needed to meet national priorities or to establish the rights of individuals or groups to use and maintain languages


In terms of this definition, an overview about the status of reality of teaching and learning English language in Viet Nam would be best to support

this part of my writing.

Since its open door policy in the mid 1980s, Viet Nam has welcomed many foreign organizations to invest and establish their business. As a result

the demand for English increased greatly in all aspects

The Government of Vietnam is devoted to developing English language skills on a long-term strategic basis to compete more effectively in

international markets and thereby achieve sustainable economic growth. One of the biggest reflections to push this strategy is a project whose title

is Teaching and Learning Foreign Languages in the National Education System, Period 2008-2020 by the Ministry of Education which was approved by Prime Minister. The authority promotes this project to obtain a result that, by 2020, the majority of young Vietnamese will be able to use English communicate confidently and be able to study and work in a multi-lingual and multi-cultural environment; thus the industrialisation and modernisation of the country will be contributed by the more dynamic and better integrated young Vietnamese people. Common knowledge in many other fields at school is a background and English as a secon language is a key to get success for the youth and the development of the country as well.

In this setting, the implications for language teaching and policy therefore vast and far reaching. Policy makers should specify their guidelines the teaching of culture in foreign language pedagogy. Curriculum should be implemented on the basis of being linguistically, culturally, and developmentally appropriate for students.

A comparison between the target-language culture and the native language culture is essential to help learners avoid the mono-cultural view.

As a teacher of language, one must be culturally aware target language culture as well as the students’, thus avoiding any cultural misinterpretations.


Language and culture are deeply related and dependent on each other. Language is formed by culture, while culture is influenced by language. Furthermore, language is not only an expression and a display of heritage and history, it is also the component of culture that makes it unique, and that creates a difference from one to another. Cultural identity is an important contributor to people’s wellbeing. Identifying with a particular culture helps people feel they belong and gives them a sense of security. However, strong cultural identity expressed in the wrong way can contribute to barriers between groups. And members of smaller cultural groups can feel excluded from society if others obstruct, or are intolerant of, their cultural practices.

Peple in different cultures hold different way to view the world. As a language teacher, I now understand that it is very important to be aware of target language culture as well as the students’, thus avoiding potential misinterpretations.


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