Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Long's Compelling Relationship between Language and Culture

While reading Long's "Theology and Culture," I found myself getting distracted by many things he mentions as well as fails to mention. I was focused on how big of a connection he draws between culture and language and how he never actually offers his own explicit definition of language. I also thought his description of the relationship between culture and theology falls short and does not do either of the concepts justice. With that said, in this post I will focus on the way he portrays culture mostly in terms of language and how that does nothing but limit culture in its definition.
"When we speak about God, we do not use some private language that God gives us. We use everyday language; the language that allows us to communicate the most mundane things as well as the most sublime. For this reason, theology cannot be done without culture..." is what Long says in the beginning of his article. He does not explain the difference between culture and language here, but makes them equivalent--and continues to do so throughout this specific work. At first he attempts to illustrate the idea of culture with the nature of language in that one needs to fully experience each in order to make sense of them. He claims that humans do not invent culture or language but inherit them throughout their lives. I found this type of comparison to be convincing and agree that both language and culture greatly influence an individual's worldview and, in turn, possibly partially prevent them from be able to see through different lenses, so to speak. However, I believe that Long goes too far with this comparison and confuses the two concepts, and therefore limits their separate potentials. Long uses Mary’s fiat, the spoken consent given to the angel Gabriel, and the idea of a “linguistic turn” in philosophy as testaments to the importance of language to our culture and as a distant connection between culture and theology. “Culture matters because our knowledge is inseparable from our language," is a bold statement that Long makes that I would argue is somewhat false. This statement led me to the question of bilingualism. If knowledge is inseparable from language, then can I know the same things in English that I do in Spanish? And if this is the case and culture is defined by language, is it possible to immerse yourself in more that one culture? Defining culture as language makes it difficult for the nature of anything to be known for sure. When one draws such a connection between language and culture, as Long does, he or she runs the risk of making both of them a sort of prison. A prison that confines one to the language they grow up and prevents that person from fully experiencing multiple languages or cultures. 
The relationship between language and culture is not all that Long talks about in his work, but I found the way he juxtaposed the two super compelling. In conclusion, I do not agree with Long’s definition of culture but I find the topics that he touches on a great source for debate. 

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