Linguists have shown their interest in understanding the linkage between language and culture for long. Comparative literature is a branch of linguistics that correlates, compares and contrasts the themes and ideas used in literary works across various languages. The scope of comparative literature doesn’t end just by comparing the similarities between/among the literary works in various languages, but in a way its findings certainly provide us with tools with which we could study the respective culture.
Though we all learn and use languages in our everyday life most of us do not show interest in understanding the intricacies of the language we use. We reserve it perhaps to those who study languages – so called linguists. In the common view while we are asked about what shapes up the culture our answers might probably be social norms in an era, value system that a society holds and the general behavior of an individual. Besides if anything- an individual or a group of individuals- goes out of track the rules and laws formulated in that society is enforced to keep things in order.
Nowhere in these points or reasons identified does language find a place.
But linguists and sociologists say that language is a very important tool to understand the culture belonging to a particular time. Yes, culture can never be considered a constant for its dynamic; more dynamic than we think it would be. The changes that any culture undergoes can be traced by the way the language is used by the people at the respective periods of time. Now we naturally stand before a question, ‘Does language shape up the culture of a society or is it vice versa?’ Well, the answer is, both.
Language is a tool of communication widely used by majority in day-to-day life. Though other means of communication like art/paintings and music, which doesn’t use language as its mode of communication at the first place are available, they are used by very few and few are, relatively, capacious to connect with it. (Here I have deliberately left out literature of any form since they primarily use language as their tool of communication.) Any change in the culture would reflect directly in the way a language is used and change it. Literary works in any form are the best available documents of a language to analyze the linkage between the way a language changes and the cultural change that is behind it.
The common link between culture and language is human though process. Any change that a society undergoes in a particular period affects the thought process and way of living of an individual and he reacts to it. These changes go unrecorded yet the writer, through his literary works, records it subconsciously. Any literary work belonging to a period stands as testimony of the course headed by a culture, collectively.
The tonality, themes focused, the choice of the words used, all will have something in common, which would extend way beyond the personal literary touches of writers. This could be analyzed in any work, in any language, belonging to any time, however personalized the tonality or language used by the author are.
This scope of this small piece of writing is to tell what literature has in store to offer, just beyond the reading pleasure and why preserving a literary work of any form of an era is important.