Skip to main content
Social Sci LibreTexts

1.1: Culture Defined

  • Page ID
    75145
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    Learning Objectives

    After completing this module, students will be able to:

    1. Define language and identify common misconceptions regarding language

    2. Define communication and differentiate it from language

    3. Understand and define culture, by . . .

    4. Designing your own Iceberg of Culture metaphor with your own examples, after E.T. Hall’s metaphor of culture as an iceberg

    5. Differentiate a sociological approach to language and culture from an ethnographic one

    6. Understand and explain the notion that language and thought mutually influence each other (linguistic relativity)

    1.1 Culture Defined

    A common anthropological definition of culture is that of pioneer English anthropologist Edward B. Tylor (Primitive Culture, 1871):

    Culture “is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.”

    Book on Archive.org (Tylor, 1871)

    1.1.1 What Does it Entail?

    • “Culture” encompasses objects and symbols, the meaning given to those objects and symbols, and the norms, values, and beliefs that pervade social life.
    • Values reflect an individual’s or society’s sense of right and wrong or what “ought” to be.
    • Humans also have biological drives—hunger, thirst, need for sleep—whose unfulfillment can result in death.
    • Because of our biology and genetics, we have a particular form and we have certain abilities. These set essential limits on the variety of activities that humans can express culture, but there is still enormous diversity in this expression.
    • Culture refers to the way we understand ourselves as individuals and as members of society, including stories, religion, media, rituals, and even language itself.
    • Social Darwinism was the belief that the closer a cultural group was to the normative Western European standards of behavior and appearance, the more evolved they were.
    • Culture is the non-biological or social aspects of human life.
    • Culture refers to the way we understand ourselves as individuals and as members of society, including stories, religion, media, rituals, and even language itself.
    • Social Darwinism hinged on the belief that the closer cultural groups were to the normative Western European standards of behavior and appearance, the more evolved they were.

    Language is a defining aspect of culture. Our beliefs about language—as in, the language we speak, not language in general—both define and reflect our beliefs about our identity as part of a group. The way we speak reflects and reinforces our cultural beliefs, and our identity as members of a social group. To make this a little bit less abstract, let’s look into three new terms: linguistic community, speech community, and language ideologies.

    1.1.1 Adapted from Cultural Universals (LibreTexts, 2019)


    1.1: Culture Defined is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Manon Allard-Kropp via source content that was edited to conform to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.