Language and Culture – Language

Which came first, language or culture? The answer to this question must be found in the Creator’s book itself, the Bible. First and foremost, of itself, the Bible says All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped in every good work. (2Tim3:16,17) In the Bible book of John 1:1 we read that In the beginning was the word, the word was with God and the word was God. In the story of creation in Genesis 1, we also read that Then God said, “Let there be light.” This is the Word in action. That was use of language before men came to begin to form culture. God used His Word to create all things including Adam, the first man.

Later, Eve was formed out of Adam. Out of the ground God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. Gen 2:19-20. But for Adam, there was not found a helper comparable for him. And the Lord caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the rib which the lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man. And Adam said; This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called woman because she was taken out of man. This is how the first family started.

The word started it all. God communicated using word and a language. Men began to communicate with words and in a language. We read further that the whole world of those days spoke one language and with this language they began to share knowledge and values as a society. The attitudes and behavior that are characteristic of a particular social group or organization is referred to as the culture of that group. Now the whole earth had one language and one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there. Then they said to one another Come, let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly. They had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar. And they said, come let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens, let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth (Gen 11:1-5)

Though it may appear that the language is the foundation on which a culture is formed, the language must be limited in scope and in use without subsequent development through the cultural norms and ethics. To enable good communication, language is further developed and refined by the culture to promote a better and unique culture identified also by the language among other factors. Mode of dressing, communal interaction, rules of the land, religious beliefs, mythology and others must be communicated with the use of language.

In the final analysis, the relationship between language and culture is like that between the egg and the chicken. God made the chicken with the potential to lay egg in it for the reproduction of other chickens. Language came first and from it culture is formed.