Language and culture always influences human behavior
Behavior is the way one acts. Human behavior is the collection of behaviors exhibited by human beings. It is shaped in many ways. Genetic factors influence human behavior since birth. Whereas other factors such as attitudes, culture, language and emotion affect it in later stages of life, after they are learnt and developed. Among the factors that contribute the most toward shaping human behavior are language and culture. The more a language is learnt and cultural values practiced, the more the human behavior is affected.
Behavior itself has two broad categories. One is the type of behavior that is exhibited universally and transcends national and cultural boundaries. Another is behavior that is specific to some culture and may be interpreted in a different-possibly offensive way in some other culture.
Behavior such as crying when in pain and laughing when amused are universal and well understood across different cultures. On the contrary, behavior such as approaches toward gender, modesty, aspects of family life and even the way people are greeted represent situation where behavior differs widely across different cultures. For instance, on gender issues Middle Eastern cultures have quite an opposing view as compared to the culture in the west. In Arab culture, women are expected to look after the kids and do most of the household chores. Workplace behavior toward women is usually negative and women have considerably less chances of success in organizations as compared to men.
Culture also shapes human behavior by influencing various variables that in turn influence human behavior. For instance, some cultures promote individualism where personal achievements and individual rights are highly endorsed (Lesikar and Pettit, 2005). People are expected to look after themselves. The families are usually less extended. Consequently, the roles and responsibilities of individuals toward their family are less rigid than in a collectivistic culture. Similarly, other variables such as masculinity, future orientation and risk avoidance are also influenced by culture. For example, a culture where risk taking is highly avoided, people may prefer routine and standard tasks and would rarely do something out of the ordinary.
Differences in behavior across different cultures also arise due to differences in the degree of Power Distance Index (PDI). PDI represents the degree to which a culture accepts the unequal distribution of power in the society (Geert Hofstede cultural dimensions). Cultures which score high on the PDI scale tend to have a hierarchical system, where the leaders as well as the followers endorse the inequality in the society. Consequently, people in power are much respected and obeyed by those below them. Usually their leaders tend to behave condescendingly while followers show humility (Geert Hofstede cultural dimensions).
The context of culture also influences human behavior. In high context cultures, words are less important and meanings are usually drawn from cultural cues. Relationships of the sender and receiver play significant role in the communication process (Geert Hofstede cultural dimensions). The content is usually more personal and less objective. People in high context cultures prefer the group over the individual. Thus a person is judged more on the basis of the group to which he or she belongs rather than on the actual content of the message. As a result, communication becomes less important to prove one’s identity.
On the other hand, people in low context culture consider communication as a means to prove their identity. Words are important and what the speaker says becomes more important than the background or group to which the speaker belongs.
Language also greatly influences human behavior. The richness of vocabulary of a language provides a variety in expressions (Lesikar and Pettit, 2005). Variety in expressions brings with it more ways to express feelings such as joy, depression, and angriness. Thus a language with more ways of expression is more likely to produce feelings of empathy in others due to transfer of emotion through words. Similarly, languages may also induce specific kinds of behaviors in its speakers. Such as, a language may be short of expressions of words that denote diplomacy. The speakers of such language may exhibit aggressive behavior in times of disagreements and may fail to act diplomatically (Lesikar and Pettit, 2005).
Language impacts even more important dimensions of human behavior such as respect for others, modesty, aggressiveness and even agreeableness. For instance, in some eastern languages such as Hindi and Urdu two different words are used to address a person depending upon the respect of the person which may be derived either from their age or from position. The word ‘aap’ is used when addressing someone very respectfully and ‘tum’ is used in normal talk, such as in conversations between friends. While in English, a single word ‘you’ is used to address a person regardless of the age and position of the person. This greatly influences how much people respect different members in the society.
Both language and culture shape human behavior. In fact the two also influence each other. Cultural impacts on human behavior are widespread and powerful and influence important aspects of human behavior. In comparison, influence of language on human behavior is subtle but still significant.
Geert Hofstede cultural dimensions. Retrieved August 16, 2008, from clearlycultural.com Web site: http://www.clearlycultural.com/geert-hofstede-cultural-dimensions
Lesikar, Raymond, Pettit, John (2005). Business Communication. Chicago: Irwin.