Language and Tradition

Culture has been defined as ‘the total set of beliefs, attitudes, customs, behaviour, and social habits of the members of a particular society’. Our tradition informs us what is appropriate, what’s normal, what’s settle forable when dealing with different members of our society. Our tradition lets us know what to expect from others, what they will say in certain situations, and the manner in which they will say it. It lets us know how they will act, and how they will react. It’s the knowledge of the ages handed down to the present. We’re affected by it, and it is affected by us. Culture is in a constant state of flux, changing incrementally, changing the way we speak and the way we think, the way we act and the way we react.

That culture is indelibly linked to language is undeniable, for language is a vehicle by which it is transmitted, probably its chief vehicle. One observable way in which language acts as a vehicle for, or a transmitter of, culture is in the use of idiomatic language. Idiomaticity is arguably the most typical form of language, in terms of percentages of the whole. Idiomatic language, most frequently discovered in the form of phrases consisting of more than one word, usually does not conform to say the grammatical structure of non-idiomatic language. For example, within the phrase, ‘at large’, as used within the expression, ‘the public at large’, or within the sentence, ‘The escaped convicts have been at large for two weeks before being recaptured.’, the preposition ‘at’ seems earlier than what seems to be an adjective, ‘large’. This seems to be in direct contradiction to the ‘regular’ place such a part of speech occupies in a grammatically right sentence, viz. earlier than a noun, resembling in the following examples, ‘at residence’, ‘at work’, ‘on the office’ et al. The phrase, ‘at massive’ showing on the web page in isolation from any context that will make its that means more transparent, has an opaque quality where semantic which means is concerned, and maybe still retains some of its opacity of that means even within the context of a sentence.

To members of the community utilizing such idiomatic language, there may be tacit agreement on what these phrases mean, despite their opaque quality. Idioms are cultural entities.

To learners of a foreign language, any international language, tradition imbues language with this opacity. The word, table is well understood and realized, but what in regards to the phrase, ‘to table a motion’? That phrase carries a cultural value that isn’t readily appreciated or apparent to a learner. The which means doesn’t reside within the particular person words that make up the phrase. The verb, ‘to table’ should initially appear nonsensical to a learner. Likewise, ‘a motion’ should seem like an anachronism, having discovered that motion is a synonym for the word ‘movement’.

Every culture has its own assortment of phrases which might be peculiar to it, and whose meanings will not be readily apparent. Had been this not so, George Bernard Shaw’s adage that America and Britain are two nations separated by the same language would haven’t any ironical appeal. Ostensibly, we speak the identical language, the British and the Individuals, but each varieties use many alternative words, and have many different phrases which are often mutually unintelligible, and generally uttered very differently. Typically only the context in which a phrase or word is used serves to disentangle. Sometimes even the context isn’t quite enough. Typically we think we’ve got understood when we’ve got not.

This factors out one other function of tradition bound language; that it exists within a larger entity, that localized varieties exist. What’s comprehensible to an individual from one region could also be unintelligible to 1 from another. If this is true within the community of a particular set of customers of 1 language, how much more must it hold true to learners of that language. Many a learner of English, feeling herself proficient, has gone to England only to find the language at worst totally unintelligible, and at greatest emblematic, but still not fully comprehensible.

The ‘cultural weighting’ of any language, in the form of idiomatic phrases, is understood by members of that cultural community, or perhaps more appropriately, and more narrowly defined, by the members of that particular speech community, and conversely, shouldn’t be readily understood by those that come from another culture and even one other speech community, albeit ostensibly within the identical culture.

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