Wednesday, 26 June 2013

About Cultural Determination

What language do you find really beautiful?
The changes are high that you will say: French. Italian.
Very probably you will not go for: Finnish. Serbo-Croatian.
What is that all about? There are some 200 languages that are widely spoken, yet, when asked what language they find beautiful, people always go for the usual suspects.
Here's a thought: had the operas been written in Serbo-Croatian, wouldn't we all think it to be a beautiful language? Wouldn't we all go: "Oh, it's so musical! So eloquent, it has got so much style"!
Could it be that we all grew up in a society that taught us which language had to be considered 'beautiful'?
From the moment we were a toddler, we might have heard opera on the radio. Introduced with slightly more respect than for the average pop song. We might have seen commercials for an expensive perfume with a voice over in Italian. Watched Sophia Loren pretending to be an average woman.
Every time it's a signal to our brain: class!
Let me ask you what language you find ugly.
Ask this question to a 100 Europeans, and it is very, very likely that German will be in the Top 3.
'It's harsh'. 'It's mechanical'. 'They speak so loud'.
Did you know that in the 19th century, German was considered to be the most cultural language of Europe?  It was the language of the elite; upper classes from Russia to England wanted their children to learn German.
For it was the language of the great composers, the most refined poets, the leading philosophers and scientists.
What happened??
WW1 and WW2 is what happened. The reputation of Germany was demolished and, with it, the feel-good factor of its language. The English speaking world was the winner, 'the good guy', and in the language vacuum English could start to win hearts and minds.
It surely doesn't help that today, 70 years down the line, we still only hear German as spoken by a Nazi. Movies keep the prejudice alive. 'Give the crazy terrorist in Die Hard a German accent... that'll help to instantly recognize him as the baddie'.
It goes without saying: also English can be spoken with a Nazi schwung. Or Serbo-Croatian for that matter. All languages can be spoken softly, slowly, musically, funnily, graciously, lovely, or harsh.
But, when asking the question 'what language do you find beautiful or ugly', we prefer not to spend too much time on it, do not start an investigation, do not search online to hear how 100 languages actually sound like... we do nothing of the sort. We instantly jump to a conclusion. The conclusion that first jumps to mind. And that will cost least energy.
We rely on a pattern.
This is called cultural determination.
Our opinions are shaped not by personal experiences, but by the culture we grow up in. The more we are directed towards a certain opinion, the more we are likely to use that opinion as our lifeguard.
So we won't actually have to think: that hardest, most energy and time consuming thing there is.

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