This essay explores the concept of’ culture’. Culture is understood as shared norms, values, and ways of doing that distinguish a person. Each society has a culture. Society is a word that can apply to the whole of the human race or groups of people distinguished by geographical boundaries and cultural differences. Culture is learned; this essay highlights the importance of language in cultural development.
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Definition of Culture & Society
Culture is a multifaceted word that has many attributes in its extension. Despite different definitions, distinct culture is characterized by given shared behaviors, attitudes, institutions, practices, art, and beliefs and given symbols. Different people, living under different conditions develop different cultures i.e. symbols, ways of understanding, or approach to learning, practices, and values. Stipulates of a given culture defines what an ideal person (Schaefer 2003, 51). In other words, cultural stipulations indicate what is expected of individuals or how individuals should approach life. Cultures differ across societies; however, the word can also apply to human ways in general.
Society as an entity results from the fact that human beings are social animals. By social is implied the fact that they interact and thus can chart ways or engage each other for mutual gain or benefit (Schaefer 2003, 18). In its usage, society refers to a group of people who are interdependent in away. Such people share a common identity given by geographical factors, economic factors but most importantly cultural norms and values.
The relation between Culture and Society
There is a close relationship between society and culture. Each society is only distinguished by its culture. Cohesion is achieved in society due to shared norms, values, beliefs, heroes, and general heritage (Schaefer 2003, 23).
Norms that are very important are adopted into laws that govern society (Schaefer 2003, 161). There is no society without a constitution. Whether written or unwritten, there are rules that prescribe who will do what, when, and how. There are also penalty prescriptions for those who do not follow societal dictates or general cultural norms.
Elements of Culture
The attributes of culture are generally known as elements of a culture. Some of the common elements traceable of cultures are artifacts, cultural stories, symbols, and symbolic practices, heroes, values, rules, norms, attitudes ceremonies, and beliefs (Campbell & Kean 1997, 7). Artifacts are items preserved and cherished due to some symbolic importance associated with them. Each cultural group has its own stories it passes on from generation to generation. The stories come in the form of ogre stories, legends, or myths explaining certain things e.g. rules. Each culture observes certain dates of significance, has certain ceremonies and has several rituals that are performed. There is no culture without rites of passage and associated rituals and ceremonies.
A cultural group is an in-group that fights for some form of supremacy. As a result, all cultures have their heroes (Campbell & Kean 1997, 11). Heroes are exceptional people known for their charisma, vision, or prowess. Apart from shared heroes, cultures also have many symbols and symbolic practices; some of which can only be understood by members of the culture. All the rituals, ceremonies, symbol, and determination of heroes is based on sets of beliefs and assumptions. Often, the beliefs and assumptions determine the cultural attitude towards given issues e.g. gay marriages. Finally, from the assumptions and beliefs thus the attitudes, each culture has rules or norms (Schaefer 2003, 18). Norms are the cultural expectations of individuals.
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Common American Norms & Values
The United States of America enjoys a diverse culture due to the influence of immigration, colonization, and indigenous originality (Campbell & Kean 1997, 3). The general culture has a great influence on European ideals. One of the greatest distinguishing facts about Americans is their strong patriotism or national pride. Americans tend to have a lot of pride and confidence in America (Campbell & Kean 1997, 71). Although several people hail from different origins, we all feel a sense of belonging to America.
The other value that is characteristic of America is the belief in liberty. We believe in individuals having the freedom to be who they want to be as long as it does not threaten the survival of others. We have along with the tradition of individuals fighting for democratic rights and civil rights or liberties. Based on the belief in personal freedom, America is largely capitalistic unlike say Asian and African cultures (Hofstede, 1967).
We are competitive people who believe in winning. As a result, Americans are generally risk-takers and have a conquering mindset. We have uniquely American sports and have a strong military tradition that many are proud of.
Acquisition of Culture
A culture develops when people depart from traditional or conventional patterns of behavior. Conventional is that which is widely accepted by society. When a group rescinds from prescribed or shared norms and begins to consistently behave differently, a new culture or subculture is in the offing.
Individuals are introduced into a culture through learning or socialization (Schaefer 2003, 52). Socialization is the process through which one is introduced to the dos and don’ts of a given group of people. For one to socialize with another, he or she has superior standing thus being able to command unquestioning attention or following. Parents and other seniors play a critical role in introducing their children to culture. At first, children question cultural dictates but due to the threat of punishment and other reinforcement techniques employed by seniors, the cultural norms become unquestioned rules in an individual’s life.
Language and Culture
Given culture is learned, language plays a critical role in advancing and entrenching cultures. Human beings can develop and advance as a species because of their advanced communication and education strategies. Persuasion is a critical capacity that all leaders have. Persuasion is made easy and possible because of language. Language has helped human beings to continuously share ideas and challenge ideas. By sharing their cognitive abilities, human beings have been able to grow their intellectual capacity awesomely. Language helps because not all have to be experienced physically. Through the proper use of language, people can gain awareness or knowledge of what they may never experience. Through creative usage of language both spoken and written, people can communicate subjective realities to others.
Language is a popular or conventionally agreed-upon symbolic representation of ideas. Apart from language being a tool through which subjective realities are communicated, language also preserves and distinguishes cultures (Schaefer 2003, 128). Each culture or subculture often has a language that is original to the group. Language is the greatest distinguisher of cultural groups. Translation efforts to say biblical texts have helped illustrate how language is a preserver of cultural characteristics. A parallel word from another culture communicates different things altogether. In an African setting, the word for man connotes a typically different entity when compared to an Indian word for man. The word goes with the subjective cultural understanding or interpretation of the given being or thing.
From this essay, it is clear that culture is constructed over time. Each society, such as the United States of America, has its common norms and values.
In dealing with people, it is important to understand their cultural values and norms to avoid conflict.
Language is a critical tool for propagating and preserving cultures. To understand another culture, it seems an individual has to endeavor to understand cultural connotations given by their language.
Campbell, N., & Kean, A., (1997). American Cultural Studies: An Introduction to American Culture. New York: Routledge.
Hofsted, G., (1967).Geert Hofstede™ Cultural Dimensions. Itim International. Web.
Schaefer, R. T., (2003). Sociology: A Brief Introduction.5th Ed, New York: McGraw-Hill.