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Relationship Language and Culture: Generic and Differential

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    To conclude the discussion on the different views of how language relates to culture, I have argued there is a close relationship between language and culture; not as a direct link between a national language and a national culture, but rather through the ideas, values, knowledge and power structures of discursive formations which are expressed through language. Risager has theorized this distinction (2006: 2-5) as the generic and differential levels at which language and culture relate. Language and culture in the generic sense are ‘phenomena shared by all humanity’; phenomena which are part of social life. In this sense, language and culture cannot be separated. At the differential level, on the other hand, we talk about different ‘languages’, whether national, e.g. Dutch, French, German, or language varieties. At the generic level, language and culture are inseparable, Risager argues; at the differential level, however, they can be seen as separate, as ‘a’ culture does not necessarily conform to ‘a’ language.

    This duality helps to conceptualize the complexity of the language and culture relationship. Pedagogically, I believe, the language class should address both these levels. On the one hand, we should address the critical understanding of discursive formations in culture and society as reflected in and constructed through discourses – this is the generic level. On the other hand, the main task of the modern language class is still to teach students to speak, write and understand ‘a’ language – in other words, to teach, in my case, Dutch at the differential level. Whilst this would include teaching the standard variety of grammar, it should also include different language varieties, genres, and voices. Teaching at the differential level does not necessarily mean teaching a stylized, standardized, and sterile form of the language. But the complexity lies at the generic level, where I interpret the pedagogic activities to involve more awareness-raising exercises and critiquing rather than actually teaching ‘discourses’, although, as I will discuss in chapter 4, part of my pedagogy is to get students to write for different purposes drawing on different discourses.

    Discourses transcend the differential and national levels. In the contemporary world, many discourses are global, or at least extend across wide geographical areas. Examples are the discourses of ‘terrorism’, or ‘environmentalism’, or ‘multiculturalism’. But, sometimes these discourses have a national accentuation. With this, I mean that due to social or cultural histories and experiences of nations, as part of their nationhood, discourses may be ‘articulated’ differently in different places and contexts. One of these contexts is a national one. With this, I do not suggest the existence of essentialized national discourse, but instead, I argue there may be, in my case, a Dutch, articulation in texts, as one of the layers of meaning.

    This page titled Relationship Language and Culture: Generic and Differential is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Gerdi Quist (Ubiquity Press) .

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