Does language shape culture or culture shape language? Discuss including examples from the readings.
Language and culture are related to a great extent and upon closer examination, it is evident that culture
shapes language. Language is merely a “systematic set of symbols and signs with learned and shared meanings”
(Cultural Anthropology, P. 326). Such symbols and signs are given meaning through culture – that is, through various
customs, beliefs, ideals, etc. Different languages incorporate different cultures within them. In other words, language
can be seen as a tool to express one’s cultural background.
It can be said that culture shapes language through the analysis of certain words or phrases. Take for
example, the concept of idioms. In our culture, we are familiar with phrases such as “it is raining cats and dogs”. We
immediately know that this expression means that it is raining very heavily. However, this may seem foreign,
moreover unusual, to an individual of a different culture, as they would interpret the phrase in direct context and
expect dogs and cats falling from the sky.
In Shakespeare in the Bush, Laura Bohannan experiences the different outlooks of Shakespeare’s Hamlet
and such outlooks result from the differences in each culture. As you know, Hamlet is famous play which is well-
known amongst the Western culture. It is a story depicting the immoral action of a widowed queen who marries her
husband’s younger brother two days after the funeral of her late husband. While visiting the Tiv in Africa, Bohannan
shares the story of Hamlet with the tribe and their chief. At first,