Language as Culture

Language as Culture

More than a Communication Tool

People often talk and write about language as being more than just a means of expression. Often language allows the idea to exist in the first place.

One of the most vivid illustrations of this was in George Orwell’s 1984. In the book, the totalitarian government was creating a new language. Called Newspeak, it eliminated many words, like “freedom,” with the idea that if the word didn’t exist, then the concept wouldn’t exist.

To give real-world examples, let me use the concept of love. In Spanish, “I love you” can be expressed in many ways. If you love something, like a food or a sport, you say “Me encanta…” For a person, there are two main ways to say it – “te quiero” and “te amo.” They both translate to “I love you” in English, but have subtle differences that can be hard for English speakers to grasp.

My other example comes from Korean. There is a word in Korean called “chung,” which is somewhat like love but definitely not the same. It’s more like the connection between people, like an old married couple who hate each other but don’t split up. That’s chung. Like the differences between “te amo” and “te quiro,” it can be hard for English speakers to understand because the word, and therefore the concept, doesn’t exist in our language.

Maybe you’ve heard the cliché that there are twenty words for snow in some Inuit language. I read somewhere that it is actually a myth but, true or not, it illustrates my point; different languages reflect different ways of thinking about the world around us.