How has culture affected our language?

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

If we are talking about how culture has affected the English language, there are numerous examples.  Let us take one example that is historical and one that is more modern.

The historical example comes from the time of the Norman Conquest.  When the Normans conquered England, they brought the French language.  The French language and the English language as it then existed were both used in England after the Conquest.  This changed our language in many ways.  One way was through words for food and eating.  Culturally, the Normans were the elites.  Therefore, their words for food and eating came to be the more prestigious words.  That is why, for example, to “dine” sounds fancier than to “eat.”  The cultural supremacy of the Normans was reflected in the language because French words were given more prestige.

The more modern example comes from the fact that we have become a more egalitarian culture over the centuries.  For example, the word “sir” was once used only when speaking to people higher than us in the social structure.  The word came from “sire” which meant “father.”  Today, since we are no longer as conscious of social structure, calling someone “sir” does not imply that we think they are better than us.  Similarly, we no longer have different words for “you” that are used depending on how close we are to the person we are addressing.  Instead, our egalitarian society has changed our language so that we use the same word regardless of whom we are addressing.