Culture hidden in vocabularies — June 8, 2018

Culture hidden in vocabularies

Every language belongs to a certain culture. This is an indisputable fact which we can notice studying a new language. Sometimes we may feel surprised by the number of words the mother tongues use in different countries to name apparently the same concept.

A common example which shows the situation when the language mirrors the culture is the one of Inuits. They are the native inhabitants of the Arctic regions of Greenland, Canada and Alaska. Researchers have studied the language of this ethnic group and have discovered that their vocabulary is distinguished from others by the use of terms meaning “snow”. In fact, Inuits keep the notion of snow straight in their minds and name it in plentiful ways. As they live where the snow doesn’t lack, they are used to it and they notice the differences between its kinds, its way of melting, and other phenomena related to it. The research on the language has shown that the Inuit glossary contains more than 400 expressions while English, and other languages, presents a significantly lower number.

The way snow is comprehended by some cultures illustrates how languages work, which means how they adapt to the reality they belong to. Every culture has its own view of the world and it can be easily seen in language. The point is that if a society meets something on the everyday basis, it gives the concept many names making a distinction between its multiple sorts. At the same time, if the same notion doesn’t occur or is a rarity in other societies, the names for it are few. That is why, Hawaiians have 65 terms for fishing nets, 108 for sweet potato, 42 for sugarcane and 47 for bananas. Similarly, Scots describes rainy weather, Somalis camels and the Baniwa tribe living in Brazil uses 29 words to name ants.

As we have seen, languages are inherent to cultures. By studying a new language, you assume a new perspective and you get to know things you were unaware of. Obviously, more the culture is distant from yours, more surprises wait for you.

snow

By Kaja Brąz

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