Jumat, 15 Maret 2013

Language and Culture


A.    What is culture?
Experts say:
1.      Gurito stated that culture indicates all aspects that members of a group share together. Children learn the ways of doing things, ways of talking, smiling, laughing, liking, and disliking things. Culture determines people actions, their social relationship and their morality.[1]
2.      Dwyer stated that culture is that which the language learner needs to know in order to understand the meaning of message in another language other than formal properties of the language code (syntax, morphology and phonology).[2]
Culture is communication and communication is culture. Culture influences perception, behavior and communication. Cultures produce different live in this world, because each country has different cultures. In short, when culture is different, communication practices is also different.
Smith pointed out that in modern society, different people communicate in different ways. As do people in different society in the world; and the way people communicate is the way they live. It is their culture. Who talks with whom? How? And about what? These are questions of communication and culture. Communication and culture are inseparable.[3]
Based on the explanation above, we get the conclusion that culture is a powerful force in how we see the world and interact in that world.
People relate culture with traditional dancing traditional ceremony and art. We can take the example from American, Western and Pariaman culture. They are Rodeo, and Tbuik in Pariaman. Halloween belongs to western, means that not only American culture but also British, Rodeo is one of American culture and Tabuik is one of celebration in Pariaman, considering as a representation of Pariaman culture. These activities are the representation of culture.
The way people speak to their friend, to their parents, teacher or even stranger represents culture. Another example is western people eat using knife and fork, Chinese use chopstick while Indonesian eat use their hand.
Related to the concept of culture, there are also cultural values and cultural norms.
a.       Cultural value
Value is about what is good and desirable or bad and undesirable. A culture's values are its ideas about what is good, right, fair, and just.[4] Example a home has many values. It is desirable in term of money or in term of the usage.
Another example is American highly value independence and self-reliance. So independence and self-reliance are important value for American.
b.      Cultural norm
Norms are standard rules and they are accepted by people in the community. Norms consist of folkways, the way of the people, when the custom is broken, there is no fatal consequence but it more concerns to the basic moral values of community.
For example, in Indonesia it is against the norms for two unmarried people, man and woman, to live together. Whereas in Western this phenomenon is common since it is not against their norms. Another example, wearing a bikini to church may be offensive (inpolite), but it is not against the law.
Another example of norm and value is the meaning of the same expression feeling, in this case smiling. It is between Balinese (obligatory smile) and American (social smile). In Balinese culture, people are constantly enjoined to forget their trouble, to not think and to become cheerful as the result of this strategy. American social smile has different function: it projects a positive image, causing people to think something good about its person who smiled. And it is an effort to get rid of bad feeling and to generate oneself genuine (real) good feelings.
Americans need to be liked. Australians are less concerned than American. They do not take other’s comment about them seriously. Therefore, they do not try as hard as American to influence other people’s opinion of them.
B.     Language and culture
Because communication is language, means that there is a real relation between them. Here is an example how a language can differentiate a country.
Ani (Indonesian)   : Wah, tasnya bagus sekali.
Nina (Indonesian) : Ah, ini tas jelek murah kok (blushing).
Susan (American) : wow, your bag is so awesome.
Marry (American) : thank you (smiling).
In Indonesia, such in the example, if Nina agrees with Ani, she will be considered as an arrogant. In contrast with American, it is ok to be agreed with sombody’s compliment.
Color terminology is also an example of relationship between language and culture. Such as, blond is one of English terminology that does not have exact translation to any of Indonesian color terminology. This color terminology is needed by American and English for their hair color which does not exist in Indonesia.
The next example is taboo and euphemism. Taboo means the prohibition or avoidance in any society but not in other society. This condition can be changed from time to time. For example the English word ‘damn’ was considered as taboo word in the past, but not anymore, well at least not as strong as before. Taboo and euphemism are usually related standards and norms in society.
The way people rejecting something have a very close relation with their culture background too. For example, Americans are straightforward in expressing their rejection. The Javanese tend to avoid expressing their rejection openly. It is related to their culture which is impolite to say no.
a.       American
A:” Can you help me taking these chairs to the classroom?”
B: “I am sorry I can’t.”
b.      Javanese
A: Ana, apakah Anda bisa menliskan surat ini?
B: Tulisan sari lebih bagus, Pak.
            American people tell “no” directly when they cannot help, but Javanese are trying hard to say no in order avoiding impoliteness. Although in fact it is clear that they are refusing.
C.    The basic function of culture
Culture makes all things become easy. So the basic function of culture is to help people in all life activities. Cultures have majored three human needs:
1.      Basic needs (food, shelter, physical protection).
2.      Derived needs (organization of work, distribution of food, defense, and social control).
3.      Integrative needs (psychological security, social harmony, purpose in life).

D.    The element of culture
Here are the elements of culture:
1.      History
Example: the Great Wall of China and America Revolution
2.      Religion
Example: silent beliefs and activities (rites, ritual, taboo and ceremonies).
3.      Values
Values are culturally defined standard of desirability, goodness, and beauty. As guideline, values help determine how people ought to behave.
4.      Social organization
Cultures sometimes are referred to as social system or social structures. The organizations such units and institution- including family, government, school and tribes- help the members of culture organize their lives.
5.      Language
Language is another way of transmission culture. For example, Indonesian, Chines, English, French and so on, its words, meanings, syntax bear (consist) the identification mark of a specific culture.

E.     Defining culture
We just try to connect whether our cultural believes or values we are holding influencing our interpretation of the world and interactions in it. For example our view about American flag, work, immigration, freedom, age, healing and health, sex, status differentiation and so on are all part of our cultural membership.

F.     The characteristic of culture
Some characteristics of culture:
1.      Culture is learned
How to learn culture?
a.       Through proverb
b.      Trough folktales, legends, and myths.
c.       Through arts
d.      Through mass media
2.      Culture is shared. It is from one member to another.
3.      Culture is transmitted from generation to generation.
4.      Culture is based on symbols
5.      Culture is dynamic.
6.      Culture is an integrated system.


Culture is the closest thing in human life because culture communicates human feeling. It is used for sending message from one self to another, one community to another or even one country to another country. People correlate culture with many aspects, such as habit, tradition, religion, art, and language. Actually, people can see the meaning of culture from so many aspects because many actions people act correlating with culture mostly. If communication is called culture, means that people will never be able separated from culture itself.
There are cultural norms and values which are different to each country. It means that culture is a powerful force in how people see the world and interact in that world.

[1] Rahayu dwi riyanti, cross cultural understanding, (Indonesia: Universitas Terbuka, 2007), p. 1.2.
[2] Ibid, p. 1.3.
[3] Larry A. Samovar, dkk, communication between culture, (Canada: THOMSON, 2007), p. 17.