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Chinese Language and Culture

Culture entails the defining elements of the lives of a given group of people. In addition, it includes such other aspects as language, arts and sciences, spirituality, thought, social activities, and interaction. There are two main elements that are explicitly identifiable from a given culture. To start with, there are the observable elements of a culture. These are widely manifested by imagined, suspected or intuited behaviors. In this case, observable behavior constitutes a very minor portion of culture. On the other hand, those elements of a culture that are seemingly invisible are thought to result in the visible cultural elements (Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute, 2001, para. 1).

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It is not easy to fully comprehend the deeper meanings of a different culture without a fully understanding the language involved because culture is normally transmitted socially through language in different forms. These include verbal and non verbal language, gestures, signs, and writing. Consequently, language is arguably the most important component of a culture. Language serves as a tool to express the thoughts, ideas and feelings of one individual to another. As a result, process culture continues to be shaped according to the ideas and thoughts of the people in that culture. Similarly, this could also lead to the creation of a new culture.

In turn, these community perceptions influence the way such a community interacts with the world (Frances, 2010, para. 1).

The existence or absence of a certain word or term from a language may limit a people’s ability to discuss a topic while the creation of new words paves the way for cultural renewal. Language is strongly associated with the creation of cultural identities that are unique in terms of geographic locations (Frances, 2010, para. 6). By using various dialects and languages, it is possible to create cultural identities. As a result, it is possible for a society to distinguish itself from others on the basis of the dialect or language that they speak in. The effect of language on differentiating and uniting groups of people not only serves to distinguish groups but also defines their culture based on the specific vocabulary or dialect spoken. Various subcultures are distinguished from others on the basis of social class, age, politics, education, occupation, and religious affiliations. Some languages also have different approaches to gender with certain words carrying a feminine or masculine connotation. Such words are often influential especially with regard to communication and interactions across social groups (Sparga, 2010 Para. 6).

The diverse views of different cultures are also reflected in the languages as evident from the Chinese kinship (Hu &Grove, 1999 p.13-21). Chinese kinship terms vary greatly when compared with the English ones. For example, whereas in the English language there are only two names used to refer to the brother or sister of one’s parents, on the other hand, the Chinese have five different terms which they use in reference to an uncle. A similar number of terms are used in reference to an aunt. The Chinese make specific distinctions on the terms they use for either a father or an elder brother, the father’s younger brother, and the mother’s brother when describing their maternal relatives (Huang & Jia, n.d., para. 4)

In relation to naming their grandparents, the Chinese also differ from the English in that they have different names that refer to their maternal and paternal grandparents. The English only use their grandmother or grandfather’s (two names) while the Chinese have four names used to describe their grandparents. On the other hand, both the English and Chinese use single names for their fathers, mothers, sons and daughters. A marked difference in naming of their grand children occur as the Chinese use four terms that help to distinguish grand children born to them either by their sons or daughters. The English use only the term grandson or granddaughter irrespective of whether their grand children were born by their sons or daughters (Huang & Jia, n.d., para. 4)

Whereas the Chinese have different terms to distinguish the elder or the younger brother the English only use the term brother. This distinction continues with two names for brother or sister-in law in English compared to four used by the Chinese. The Chinese have sixteen terms that they use to refer to their cousin (s) whereas the English use the general term cousin without making a distinction on whether they are from the mother’s or father’s side and whether they are older or younger cousins. It is clear that “cousin” carries no meaning of sex in the English language. Many Chinese kinship terms show relativity by age unlike those in English. In addition, the Chinese language has many kinship terms compared to English, a further testimony to the influence of language on culture. The Chinese kinship system coupled with the descriptive terms used in it was greatly influenced by the family-centered economy in Chinese tradition and serves to illustrate that language has great influence on culture (Huang & Jia n.d., para. 9). The kinship system as practiced in China acts as a good example of to illustrate that language has great influence on culture.

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Frances, S. (2010). How language influences culture. Web.

Huang, S., & Jia, W. (n. d.). The Cultural Connotations and Communicative functions of Chinese Kinship Terms. 2010. Web.

Hu, W., & Grove, C. L. (1999). Encountering the Chinese: a guide for Americans Series. New York: Intercultural Press

Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute. (2001). Definition of Culture. Web.

Sparga, M. (2010). How language influences culture. Web.

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