Knowing the language of a society can become the key to understanding its culture. Language is not merely a collection of words or terms. Language expresses the thinking pattern of a culture—and to some extent even forms the thinking itself. Linguists have found that cultures with more primitive languages or a limited range of expression are more likely to be limited in their thought patterns. Some languages cannot accommodate modern technological or business concepts, forcing the cultural elite to work in a different language.
The French are particularly sensitive about their language as an embodiment of their culture and seek to protect it from outside influence. The French government has proposed legal action to limit further incursions by other languages, especially by English. For example, le airbag is called coussin gonflable de protection and fast food is restauration rapide. France persuaded the European community that 40 percent of TV programming should be produced domestically. Cinema tickets in France are taxed and the funds used to support the French film industry as protection against the U.S. film industry, which has come to dominate the European film market.
Some countries have more than one official language. When Disney released its first animated film produced in India, it was available in three languages-Hindi, Tamil, and Tel-ugu. In fact, India has 19 official languages, although the most commonly spoken language is Hindi. South Africa has 11 official languages. A very few countries, such as the United States, do not designate an official language. African countries with diverse tribal languages often adopt a colonial European language as their official language. However, the use of this official language may be restricted to elites. Similarly, Spanish is one of the official languages of Bolivia, but 2 native Indian languages are also official. Certain languages are associated with certain regions of the world, but key markets in these regions may speak a different language. For example, Arabic is associated with the Middle East, but Persian (Farsi) is spoken in Iran, and Turkish in Turkey. Spanish is associated with Latin America, but Portuguese is spoken in Brazil.
Forms of Address
The English language has one form of address: All persons are addressed with the pronoun you. This is not the case in many other languages. The Germanic, Romance, and Slavic languages always have two forms of address, the personal and the formal. Japanese has three forms. A Japanese person will use a different form of address with a superior, a colleague, or a subordinate, and there are different forms for male and female in many expressions. These differences in language represent different ways of interacting. English, particularly as it is spoken in the United States, is much less formal than Japanese. Americans often address their bosses and customers by their first names. In Japan this practice could be considered rude. Consequently, knowing the Japanese language gives a foreigner a better understanding of cultural mores regarding social status and authority.