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This paper discusses the article “Language, Race and Culture” from Edward Sapir’s book Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech. In Chapter X, the author tells about the interconnection between language, race, and culture and their influence on each other. He says they are not interdependent because people of one race can move to other places without changing their cultures and languages. For example, conquered tribes begin to use other languages and get used to new cultures (Sapir, 1921). Edward Sapir also talks about the so-called race “temperament” level (1921). In his point of view, race, culture, and language do not distribute in parallel fashion, but they still influence each other to a certain extent. These phenomena are casually related, especially culture and language. The first one expresses what a certain society thinks about, and the second one defines how it does that. It is difficult to know what kind of relations to expect from people without knowing their culture and mentality. Sapir says the process of thought cannot be an index of racial difference because it will be a paradox (1921). It is only an intuitive science of experience, the content of the language, and nothing more as a collective art of thought inherited from ancestors.
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Sapir’s article has both convincing and problematic aspects. At the beginning, the author denies the correlation between race, culture, and language (Sapir, 1021). For example, he says that the speakers of Athabaskan languages, who live in aboriginal America and belong to four areas – Loucheux, Chipewyan, Sarcee, and Navaho, have their own culture, Hupa (Sapir, 1921). These representatives have the same religious traditions but different languages, so there is no connection between the two notions. On the other hand, Sapir states that two different communities – Great Britain and the United States – speak the same language but have different cultures and races living within them. People of different races even speak English on different continents. The idea appears to be clear and logical, and the examples confirm his point of view. However, a contradiction arises – not every tribe has moved to other places. Many peoples stayed on the same territories and developed their languages and cultures in integration. Thus, these elements influenced each other, but they could also develop independently. Moreover, the author is sure that the drift of cultures is just another way of explaining changes in history (Sapir, 1921). According to Sapir (1921), the growth of language does not concern it all, but only the changes of formal expressions. It is possible to change sounds, words, and a concept of a language, but it will not modify the inner actuality of a language at all. Such an explanation does not make the reader believe the author because it is contradictory. From one point of view, such an idea shows that language changes, but from another, the whole idea seems questionable. If a new culture made people use new formal expressions, then it changed something in their subconscious. Sapir agrees with this idea and, at the same time, refuses it. Besides culture and language, there is a third element in his article – race. The author does not explain this topic in-depth but only mentions it when he explains why culture and language are not interconnected. Therefore, some of his ideas are problematic.
In “Language, Race and Culture”, Edward Sapir shows that languages and cultures can move and penetrate one another. This may bring new traditions, customs, change the way of expressing thoughts, and expand peoples’ vocabulary on the occupied territories. When new cultures or languages appear, they become a part of everyday life and even standards. It is impossible to omit them, and that is why the scientist started investigating this topic. Since language, race, and culture are massive platforms for research, it is impossible to cover them by one article and one scientist. Sapir started to work on a new important topic in this sphere – the connection between the three elements. He gave his successors a long list of questions they need to answer. With reading his work comes the understanding of how massive language, culture, and race are. They cannot exist separately, but they also do not influence each other if one of the components changes completely.
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