Relationship between Culture and Language

Recently, I have truly enjoyed learning English since I realized again that languages are strongly connected with cultures. In the last English lesson, my English teacher, whose educational background is linguistics and Japanese language, and I talked about the relationship between language and culture.

I have learned English for so long yet sometimes I’m still confused if I need to put in “the”, “a”, “not”, or the plural form in sentences. My teacher told me English really minds what people know and what people don’t know, therefore putting in “the”, “a”, “not”, or the plural form is very important. When I heard this, I started to think about the Japanese language; what does Japanese care about? My teacher and I saw eye to eye about how the Japanese language cares about social status, social hierarchy, and age because the most special characteristic of the Japanese language is Keigo, which is honorifics. When we Japanese meet strangers, we really care about choice of words and honorifics; how much should we show respect to them? During conversations, we try to guess strangers’ social status and age and compared to ourselves and decide the corresponding behaviour. While we are guessing about each other, I feel quite uncomfortable, hence I try to find the answer as soon as possible.

My looks are much younger than my age, and many people who are much younger than me talked to me using very casual ways. However, when they find out my age, they are embarrassed by their previous conversation and behavior, and they suddenly change their behavior. It has happened to me so many times, that’s why I don’t care about their very casual behavior, yet some super younger people apologize to me about their behavior with serious faces. On those occasions, I have no idea what to say and how I can behave from that moment forward. Above all, Japanese people really care about the social rank and age.

Typically, young Japanese are said to not use honorifics enough. In my opinion, their current situation is different compared to past years and the fact that they can’t use honorifics enough is a natural consequence. Before the internet showed up, knowledge was moved person to person, which means older people are more knowledgeable than younger people. But now, young people can get the latest knowledge, technology, and everything from the internet, so it is not necessary to ask older people. Sometimes younger people have knowledge and know about new technology more than older people. Young people could become independent using the internet. The more advanced technological innovations are made the more young people don’t have many chances to use honorifics.

I guess, in the near future, Japanese don’t care very much about honorifics because of this reason. Japanese culture and the Japanese language are both changing.

Understanding languages means understanding cultures, thus I like learning languages. Also learning language is never ending; we need to learn continuously because language is changing with the times.



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