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"Language, Race and Culture" by Edward Sapir

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In the article “Language, Race and Culture” Edward Sapir discusses the interrelation of the three domains that form a standard threefold model of anthropological perspective. They are race, culture, and language. In particular, the author contemplates on how each of them forms the other two, and how strong the influence of each domain might be, if there is any at all. Thus, E. Sapir starts his discussion with a statement that every individual is defined through his or her racial and cultural background. Language is another criterion that helps a person to attribute to a certain group. Being equally important in the identification of a person, those three factors must be mutually reliant and dependent on one another. However, as suggested by Sapir, that is not the case. The author draws the reader’s attention to plentiful evidence from different spheres that refute the above statement rather than support it. It is possible to say that Sapir sticks to the following differentiation of the three matters in question: racial affinity is a person’s belonging to a certain ethnic group; culture is a behavior that an individual gains from his experience and historical background; language is a linguistic means to verbalize the inner and outer world. Those three aspects do not condition one another, each of them being fully independent. To prove that, the author brings forward the example of the English language spoken by the representatives of different races. English is a native tongue in the United Kingdom and the United States, where the considerable part of the population is constituted of Afro-Americans. Thus, two quite distinct nations use the same language, and it does not cause any racial assimilation. When dwelling on the matter of the relationship between language and culture, Edward Sapir illustrates this “lack of interdependence” with the help of the Athabaskan languages and aboriginal tribes of North America. One group of languages, unlike the other, is used by four tribes that have completely different cultures, traditions, and history. English is also a demonstrative instance here with Great Britain and America being cultural opposites of one another but still speaking the same language. The author also states that language in no way forms culture: this idea may appear when one confuses terms “language” and “dictionary”.

The strong side of the chapter is the fact that the author provides many examples that serve as a proof of his idea. Moreover, it is possible to say that the evidence is rather extensive and is not limited to a certain geographical location. It embraces a vast area and presents evidence on a global scale. Therefore, it shows that the theory of Edward Sapir is universal and not restricted to a particular territory. Thus, he draws examples of culture and language interrelation in Asia, as well as Africa and Europe. He also illustrates his ideas with the detailed information about tribal cultures from North America. It makes the data in the article reliable and convincing. At the same time, the author provides proofs for the facts that seem logical to him. However, some aspects that do not fall in line with the author’s position are explained in a rather superficial manner. It becomes obvious that Sapir fails to address counter-arguments and refute them. For instance, while trying to disprove the connection between the language and culture or language and race, the author does not provide any evidence. He states that he is only able to express his opinion on the matter. Being suggested without sufficient proofs, the information does not look credible and gives the impression of the subjectivity of the presented material.

Every individual while trying to identify him or herself considers such aspects as race, culture, and language. However, those aspects are rarely viewed as completely independent but rather as a mixture of combined factors. The chapter “Language, race and culture” gives an opportunity to look at this issue from a different perspective. In fact, racial affinity, cultural background, and language form a set of “input data” that creates “the output”, which are the person’s qualities and characteristics. It might seem strange how this “input data” mingles together, but it can still exist separately. One may say that language is rather susceptible to influence. Being used by different nations and in different cultures, it undergoes significant changes, absorbs cultural and racial peculiarities, and in such a way becomes yet another thing that differentiates cultures from one another. Even though the author states that language is independent of culture and race, it still reflects the people’s mentality and worldview through vocabulary, intonation, morphological and phonological systems. Moreover, language can have an impact on culture too by defining it and directing its development. Having gained all these features, language loses its status of a separate domain and becomes a part of the cultural wealth of the nation.

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