Hudson’s Sociolinguistics: Culture and thought

Culture

Hudson argues that culture is shared knowledge among people of a community acquired through a social means; it is something that everybody has. To an African, especially in the Nigerian community, culture is more than just knowledge; it is a life style which is highly respected and conserved from generation to generation. Culture is captured in religion, dressing, food, dance, agriculture and all other aspect of human activity. Many of the properties of language are properties of culture in general and meaning is best studied in relation to culture. Hudson says that different anthropologists use the term differently but it always refers to some characteristics sheared by a community.

Does culture exist inside or outside people?

This is a question that needs to be answered in order to get a more acceptable definition of culture. Hudson says that if culture is knowledge, it must exist inside peoples head so studying it will be a problem as one cannot know the cultural knowledge of a person easily. In trying to know the culture of people, one can observe the people’s natural behaviour, arrange interviews and ask people questions that pertain to their knowledge, use one’s selves as informants, and conduct psychological experiments of one kind or another. Problems of generalization may always still be faced – to what extent can it be assumed that the people studied are representatives of the community as a whole? So, generalizations are hard to make. Is it sensible to say that culture exists in the head but manifest outside?

Thought

Thought is a mental activity. Hudson shows the relation between thought and culture. As culture is socially acquired knowledge, it is part of memory. He observes that some concepts are cultural and others are not, in that some knowledge can be gathered from history and others are not. For instance, I had sausage for lunch today is knowledge got from personal experience but Columbus discovered America belongs to culture as is acquired from other people who talk about it. He distinguishes knowledge into three parts: cultural knowledge, which is learned from other people; shared non-cultural knowledge, which is shared by people within the same community or the world over; and non-shared non-cultural knowledge; which is unique to the individual.

He points out the difficulty in knowing what concept of items people share. For instance, what concept actually defines what bird is? Birds are identified by certain characteristics but there are features that are sheared between birds and other things like if one says that birds have wings, do one say butterflies are birds?

Language, culture and thought

Hudson identifies that language, culture and thought are related. He has defined culture as the kind of knowledge which one learns from other people, either by direct instruction or by watching their behaviour. So it is assumed that knowledge is shared between the learner and the people the person is learning from. He breaks down knowledge into ‘concept’ and ‘proposition’. Concept is important to language because most words express concept. Sentences express proposition, like Columbus discovered America. So, shared knowledge consists of concept and proposition.

There are three points at which language makes contact with knowledge;

  1. Language consists of concepts and propositions
  2. Meanings are concepts and propositions
  3. Understanding and using speech involves the whole of knowledge.
  4. Linguistically relevant social categories are concepts

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