Language separate from culture?

Hullo everybody,

I’m new to LingQ, so this might be a previous post, seeing as how I only looked at the posts from the past month or so. I’m currently working on a presentation about language, and I have run into some interesting opinions about language as it relates to culture. I was wondering what everyone here thinks. This can be a tough subject, because you have languages like Latin or Tasmanian, which are “dead” now in terms of native speakers. I had a professor one semester, who was insistent that you cannot separate language from culture, but what if a language no longer has its culture? It will be interesting to see what your responses are considering slang, dialects, national identities and the like. I look forward to your input.

I do not see how you can separate language from culture. Language is part of culture, and in many cases one of the defining features of a culture. When Latin or Tasmanian were live languages they were very much a part of the culture of those people. The Latin language in its various forms helped to shape the culture of the people who were conquered by the Romans. Latin was and is an integral part of the culture of Rome.

There is no language that has no culture. There is no language without a culture.

Variations in usage, such as slang, or even regional pronunciation, or dialects also reflect cultural differences.

That is not to say that there are not other components of culture that can cut across language lines, or people of different languages sharing certain cultural attributes, such as interests, or religions or whatever, but language without culture is something I cannot see.

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What about constructed languages, such as Esperanto and Ido, how would their culture be described?

I do not know what Ido is, but the Esperantists have a culture, an artificial culture perhaps, but a culture. Cultures do intersect and overlap. Someone who commits to learn Esperanto has certain values and outlooks in common with other Esperantists, IMHO.

Right, but those who learn Esperanto certainly don’t have their own concrete set of opinions that make them a whole. In my humble opinion, language is a part of culture, but culture is not a part of language, because languages can function independently from culture. That doesn’t mean any language will be able to fulfill all the functions that another language has, but that languages are able to replace or adapt to other languages to meet the immediate needs of people making use of them.

I am not implying that direct translation is always possible. I am simply saying that language does not necessarily need a culture to function. Culture just provides a context for the language to be used.

Language doesn’t necessarily need to have a culture, however it essentially lack practicality without culture. In the case of Esperanto, if it were to lack a concrete set of ideas, cultural references, and trending much like more natural languages then the question of how are new words or phrases formed must be asked. In order for it to thrive in a community, regardless of region, there has to be a set of concrete ideas. The only two conclusions (considering the number of Esperanto speakers) is that Esperanto becomes tied to the culture of that language community, or to the culture of the individuals’ primary language community. In either case, there has to be some semblance of culture present in order for Esperanto to function like a true language as opposed to a simple, short list of stock words and phrases.

Language is a system of symbols, and each symbol refers to something important in the world where we live. Mathematicians may be using a special style of language, which is very abstract and free from social or cultural context, but mathematics itself constitutes the culture of human beings. (I think this is a very interesting topic.)

I think we can’t to separate language and culture. My opinion is language and culture to walk together. Coz several language uses can be explaned how culture factor, and the culture and environment determine the language of place. For example: i live in Brazil, and Brazilian portuguese (my langage tong) is a mix to many culture. Brazilian portuguese is a interefence to indigens people, portuguese people, other country of Europa and africa. The brazilian culture can be represencted to this mix too. Every people to imigration to Brazil have been influencied this country. Brazilian portuguese has french and japanese worlds, and various cultural elements by others nacionality. So we can to separate language and culture. I think to we can hate the culture and love the language, or to hate the language and to love the culture, but we can to separate this two things.

It is possible to separate language and culture. The Dutch are completely different from Afrikaners although their language is almost the same.

If a language no longer has its culture, then no one’s speaking it-- that would be the case with Latin. It’s kind of like a something preserved in a microscope slide… you can examine it, you can even copy it, but if no one’s using it beyond a study context, then that’s not really a language to me, it’s a code, it’s a frozen microscope slide. It’s an academic exercise.

In the case of a resurrected language, though, like Hebrew, the language was adopted by a culture, which began to bend it and twist it again, repurpose its old meanings. Without the culture, it wouldn’t have been a living language.

I guess to me a language is something that changes.

If you could separate language from culture, you could also separate culture from language. But, you cannot imagine a human society with a distinct culture without any language, although I assume that there were preliterate societies in human history.

Flanders and The Netherlands: same language, totally different culture!

Ik weet het goed genoeg want in Antwerpen zit het stampvol met Hollanders!! Als ik ze om te beginnen al eens zou verstaan…

I think that if two peoples speak the same language, they share the most important part of culture.

That is not true, at least in Belgium. Culturally Dutch speaking Belgians are more like French speaking Belgians, than like Dutch speaking people from The Netherlands (hence we are one country: Belgium - I don’t deny that there are problems).

If our culture would be the same as the Dutch culture, we would be one country. Nobody would oppose to the unification (which is not the case right now - I wouldn’t want to be a part of The Netherlands, even though I speak their language).

I must admit that I was not thinking about multilingual countries. I wonder what is considered to be the common culture in a multilingual country, if you use different languages. Is it way of life or traditional customs?

@ Vinbelgium: You are right. Of course, there are probably going to be sub-cultures within Belgium based on the language one speaks, but I would figure that every person who is Belgian, regardless of language, would be culturally closer.

@Yutaka M: I think you’re right in the sense that two people speaking the language share an important aspect with each other. In the instance that Vinbelgium provided, I would take a guess that people who speak the same language tend to stick together, and thus establish a sub-culture based on their shared language, along with sharing the overall Belgian culture with all who live there.

“Is language separated from culture?”

I don’t like answering a question by another question but… What is culture?
I always come to the same problem with the word “culture”: nobody can give me a precise definition of what it is…
For language, I guess most people will agree that it is more or less the mean of communication (oral or written) between people of a group.
However, for culture, it seems to be a bit more complicated.

According to, in our case, it can either be:

  • The arts, customs, and habits that characterize a particular society or nation.
  • The beliefs, values, behavior and material objects that constitute a people’s way of life.
  • (anthropology) Any knowledge passed from one generation to the next, not necessarily with respect to human beings.

And we haven’t yet talked about the socio-economic conditions that have a huge impact of the definition of sub-cultures etc, etc…

I guess, if you see culture as the human intellectual achievement of a particular group, or the knowledge passed from one generation to the next, then yes, we could say that language is part of culture, and maybe culture could be seen as part of the language by being a support for it. However, if you define culture on behaviour, values, and socio-economic conditions like vinbelgium seems to see it, possibly that language would not be part of culture, and culture certainly not be part of language. I guess it depends on what you mean by “culture”.

Personally, I like the kind of cynical definition given by
-A term invoked by people who feel pride in accomplishments of others.
-A justification for all kinds of human rights violation.
-An outcome of evolutionary beneficial group thinking, and thus a racist generalisation.
-Also used in conjunction with ‘history’ for more pride and group thinking.
Our culture is better than yours, because we have old buildings built by despots.
Those germans in poland should belong to the german reich, because they are part of our culture and history!

Culture, a useful term used to describe certain values and customs and practices that a group shares, not totally, not exclusively but to a large extent. The definition provided above works fine for me.

According to, in our case, it can either be:

  • The arts, customs, and habits that characterize a particular society or nation.
  • The beliefs, values, behavior and material objects that constitute a people’s way of life.
  • (anthropology) Any knowledge passed from one generation to the next, not necessarily with respect to human beings.

I am sure that Vincent knows what he means when he says that Flemish people differ from Dutch people. Now, of course, these things are subjective, since to an average African or an Asian person, not only Flemish and Dutch people seem the same, but all Europeans probably do. The same is largely true in reverse.

I find the urbandictionary definition provided here above simply silly .

To follow up on the urbandictionary pseudo definition provided here

People in country A enjoy certain dishes, sports, music, eat a certain time of the day and enjoy dancing. People in country B have a different cuisine, language, eat earlier in the evening and are more inclined to stay indoors. They also enjoy different alcoholic beverages. People in country A are agricultural, and in country B are more urban, or pastoral, or belong to a different reglion. There are differences of culture between people in country A and country B. These are objectively observable facts. The differences may or not be shared or even felt by all, and may be felt particularly strongly by some citizens. But the cultures exist, in my view.

Now let’s try to apply the four points in the urbandictionary definition to this difference in culture.

Pride in the accomplishment of others?
Justification of human rights violations?
Racist generalizations?
Pride and group thinking, maybe to some extent, but I think that these characteristics are something we all live with, even people who enjoy the definitions provided by urbandictionary.

Or am I missing something?.

I agree that this pseudo definition is cynical and that’s what makes it funny in my opinion (I do have a strange sense of humour :slight_smile: ). The way “culture” was defined here is related to how people can use this word in an abusive way. Here is what I think the points were for:

Pride in the accomplishment of others:
I guess it is for those who always says “we” when they talk about war that their country are/were in, or a singer from their culture that is known internationally, or even when their favourite sport team win a game. An example of this would be people who proud to be of “x” nationality because the soldiers serving this country won a war. They were not part of action, but they fell pride because people from the same culture accomplished something.

Justification of human rights violations:
Certainly related to radical muslims who wants the imposition of the sharia law and who use culture as a mean to justify this. They are very few I agree, but they are a good example to show this point.

Racist generalizations:
I guess that the way French people are portrayed in the US could be an example of that.

I guess if you see culture as a social construction used way to often to spit people on the very little difference between them, this kind of jokes seems funnier.