Interrelation of culture and language (on the basis of English proverbs and sayings)

Interrelation of development of a civilization and language as way of communication between people. History of formation and development of English. Importance of proverbs and sayings as cleverest representatives of culture and heritage of a civilization.

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  • Introduction
  • 1. Why should we be aware of the culture during learning its language?
  • 2. How was English language changing by the time?
  • 3. Why can we call proverbs and sayings as one of the brightest representatives of the culture?
  • 4. What are one of the most popular proverbs and sayings; their meanings and origins?
  • 5. What is students' opinion about this matter?
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Application


The person principally lives with things like his tongue presents them to him. Each language describes the nation to which it belongs; the circle, which a person is able to leave only because he becomes a member of a circle of another language.

In modern society approximately 750 million people speak English as their foreign language, according to the British Council, and more than billion people are learning this language, which consists of more than 600 thousand words, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Meanwhile, approximately 20 million people know German and 110 million are learning this language, which consists of 400,000 words.

However, just being aware of lexis, grammar, phonetics, spelling, morphology, syntax, punctuation of the language, you learn, is not enough. You also should know the culture of the nation, which created that language, as qualified successful linguist knows both how speech is being made and why speech is being made in such way.

That knowledge provides us with an opportunity to totally understand foreign language, which we learn, as sometimes it is very complicated for us to do that.

I have already mentioned that English language officially has 600 thousand words and German 400 thousand, and almost all of them have more than one meaning, therefore, for its learners it is like no one means all he says, and yet very few say all they mean, for words are slippery and thought is viscous.

It happens in such way due to the fact, that culture and, consequently, language is constantly developing. During this process the word may get or even loose one of its meanings. It makes education procedure extremely complicated; that's why, unfortunately, we deprived of opportunities to become qualified linguists.

From my point of view, to solve this issue we should study culture. In this case, we will be on familiar terms with developing of language; consequently, we will easily get used to innovations and will start using them earlier than other learners. I am sure, that it will help us to become multilingual people.

The relevance of my work consists in insufficient knowledge of the matter as a whole, since culture of nation, which language people learn, does not receive a proper attention in the science of our country. Consequently, there is a strong necessity in comprehensive of the issue.

The aim of this work is to prove on the basis of proverbs and sayings, as one of the brightest representative of philosophy, of English and German languages, that it is very important to be aware of this aspect; to find out what amount of attention is paid to this matter.

Objectives of the study

- reveal the significance of knowledge about civilization, which created the language you gain knowledge of, in education process;

- study the history of English language;

- set up the importance of proverbs and sayings in civilization;

- on the basis of the most popular proverbs conduct the research, which will reveal the level of students' awareness of this matter;

- make conclusion, based on the theoretical and practical parts of the work, about the significance/poor significance of the knowledge about culture in learning its language.

The practical significance of this research consists in the fact that the materials and the results of a study can be useful for further deepening and expanding for the topic. Moreover, the proposed theme is perspective in terms of working out the educational strategies.

The theoretical value of my work is connected with the definition of proverbs and sayings as cultural representatives as a whole.

1. Why should we be aware of the culture during learning its language?

The mental individuality of a people and the shape of its language are so intimately fused with one another, that if one were given, the other would have to be completely derivable from it.

There are no doubts that the humanity appeared earlier than the language itself and that the language was created by the humanity. Meanwhile, the humanity principally lives with things like his tongue presents them to him. It is like a circle, the circle which will never end. It means that the language always was developing as well as the society did, consequently, the worldview of its native speaker also changed. Nevertheless, the language was being developed by changing of the worldview of its speakers. It is very tangled, is not it?

Now for us it goes not matter what appeared earlier: egg or hen. The main point is that they are inseparably connected. In other words, for qualified linguist it is necessary to know the language and the culture, traditions and customs of the nation, which created it.

We must look upon language, not as a dead product, but far more as a producing. In itself it is no product, but an activity.

I have already proved that the language is inseparably connected with the culture and that the language was always developing by it.

However, who said that now it is not expanding? Of course, it is.

And for us the most interesting is the fact that it is also building up by the same nation, by its culture!

So to be on the top you have to constantly update your knowledge, but, unfortunately, it will be difficult unless you know how and why it is changing in such way, in other words, again and again you should be aware of its civilization.

For in the scattered chaos of words and rules that we are, indeed, accustomed to call a language, there is present only the particular brought forth by this speaking and this never completely, and first calling for new work, so as to detect from it the nature of the living speech and to provide a true image of the living language.

Now I am going to integrate previous two statements. The language is created by the nation and is constantly being developed by it; consequently, they are intimately fused with one another, therefore, for multilingual person it is very important to be aware of not only the language itself, but also its culture.

I suppose that that statement totally prove the significance of the knowledge about the culture.

To exemplify my hypothesis I will turn to an English idiom. Turn a blind eye.

For us this expression makes no sense, as it will probably be translated into Russian as . If I personally hear in a casual situation, I will be confused, indeed.

However, now I will tell you about the history of this idiom. Interestingly, this expression is said to have arisen as a result of the famous English naval hero Admiral Horatio Nelson, who, during the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801, is alleged to have deliberately raised his telescope to his blind eye, thus ensuring that he would not see any signal from his superior giving him discretion to withdraw from the battle and it means that to pretend not to have noticed it.

2. How was English language changing by the time?

As it has already been proved that language depends on culture of its nation, I will try to tell you about the history of English language and similarities between its old variants and a modern one.

First of all, there were three stages of language's development: Old English (from the mid-5th century to the mid-11th century); Middle English (from the late 11th to the late 15th century); Modern English (from the late 17th century to the present).

The Old English started with the arrival of West Germanic settlers (Angles, Saxons and Jutes) in southern Britain. They brought with them dialects closely related to the continental language varieties which would produce modern German, Dutch and Frisian.

This Germanic basis for English can be seen in much of our everyday vocabulary, for instance, heart (in Old English heorte), come (in Old English cuman) and old (in Old English eald').

Many grammatical features also date back to this time: irregular verbs such as drink > drank > drunk (in Old English drincan > dranc > (ge)druncen). Similarly, many Old English pronunciations are preserved in modern spellings, for example, knight (in Old English cniht), in which k would have been pronounced and gh sounded like ch in Scots loch.

Old English, also called Anglo-Saxon, was not heavily influenced by the Celtic languages spoken by the native inhabitants of the British Isles, borrowing only a few words (e.g. brock, tor) associated with local wildlife and geography (but many place and river names e.g. Dover, Avon). However, Latin, introduced to Britain by the Romans, and reinforced in its influence by the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity during the 7th century, had a significant impact, providing both vocabulary (e.g. master, mass, school) and the basis for the writing system.

Old English was mostly written using the Latin alphabet, supplemented by a few Germanic runic letters to represent sounds not found in Latin, e.g. , which represented the th sounds in thin or this.

The later Viking settlements in many parts of the British Isles also resulted in substantial borrowing of basic vocabulary: sky, get.

Norse influence may also have contributed to an important grammatical change, which mainly occurred in English between the 11th and 14th centuries, and which marked the transition to Middle English (conventionally dated c.1100-1500). Old English had indicated many grammatical categories and relationships by attaching inflections (endings) to word roots, in a similar way to Latin or German.

Thus, in the Old English clause wolde guman findan > he wanted to find the man, the -e on wolde indicates a 3rd person singular subject: he wanted; the -n on guman indicates that the man is the object, not the subject of the verb; and the -an on findan indicates an infinitive: to find.

The end of Anglo-Saxon rule did not of course change the language immediately. Although the most senior offices in the church were filled by Normans, Old English continued in use in chronicles such as the Peterborough Chronicle until the middle of the 12th century. The non-literate would have spoken the same dialects as before the Conquest; though these changed slowly until written records of them became available for study, which varies in different regions. Once the writing of Old English comes to an end, Middle English has no standard language, only dialects that derives from the dialects of the same regions in the Anglo-Saxon period.

In Middle English, changes in the pronunciation of unstressed syllables, mainly occurring at the ends of words, caused most inflections to merge indistinguishably, or be dropped altogether. This inflectional breakdown could have created ambiguity (e.g. wanted man find), but speakers compensated by using more rigid word order (subject - verb - object, usually), among other strategies.

Another important feature of the early Middle English period was the influence of Norman (and later, central) French, following the Norman conquest of 1066. French dominance and prestige in such contexts as the royal court, law, the church and education encouraged extensive borrowing of vocabulary, for instance, French words for farmed animals pork, beef and mutton were adopted alongside native words swine, cow and sheep.

The borrowed words came to signify only the meat of these animals, mainly eaten by wealthier French speakers, whereas the words inherited from Old English came to refer only to the living animals. Norman scribes also influenced the way English was written, respelling words using conventions from French; thus Old English s became ice, cwn became queen. However, by the 14th and 15th centuries, French influence in Britain had begun to wane, being replaced for many purposes by English.

Modern English can be regarded externally as starting with the introduction of printing. Caxton's selection of an East Midlands/London variety of English for the first printed books at the end of the 15th century contributed to the development of a standardized variety of the language, with fixed spelling and punctuation conventions and accepted vocabulary and grammatical forms.

The perception of this standard variety as correct, `good' English was also supported by attempts at codification, notably Johnson's dictionary and many prescriptive grammars of the 18th century. The vocabulary of English was consciously elaborated as it came to be used for an increasing variety of purposes, including translations of classical works rediscovered in the Renaissance, a burgeoning creative literature, and the description of new scientific activities. Thousands of words were borrowed from Latin and Greek in this period, for example, education, metamorphosis, critic, conscious.

An internal feature which characterized the movement towards Modern English was the Great Vowel Shift - an important series of linked pronunciation changes which mainly took place between the 15th and 17th centuries. In Middle English, the sound system had contained broadly corresponding series of long and short vowels, represented in writing by the same letters.

For instance, the vowel in caas > case was simply a longer version of the vowel in blak > black; similarly mete > meat (long vowel) and hell (short vowel), or fine (long) and pit (short). In early Modern English, people began to pronounce the long vowels differently from the corresponding short vowels: long e ended up sounding like long I, leaving a gap in the sound system; this was filled by shifting the pronunciation of long a to sound like long e, and so on.

These changes were not reflected in Modern English spelling, already largely fixed by standardization, adding to the disparity between pronunciation and writing which differentiates English today from most other European languages.

In the present day, English is used in many parts of the world, as a first, second or foreign language, having been carried from its country of origin by former colonial and imperial activity, the slave trade, and recently, economic, cultural and educational prestige.

It continues to change at all linguistic levels, in both standard and non-standard varieties, in response to external influences (for example, modern communications technologies; contact with other world languages) and pressures internal to the language system (for example, the continuing impulse towards an efficient, symmetrical sound-system; the avoidance of grammatical ambiguity).

We need not fear or resist such change, though many people do, since the processes operating now are comparable to those which have operated throughout the observable and reconstructable history of English, and indeed of all other languages.

3. Why can we call proverbs and sayings as one of the brightest representatives of the culture?

A proverb is a simple and concrete saying, popularly known and repeated, that expresses a truth based on common sense or the practical experience of humanity. They are often metaphorical. A proverb that describes a basic rule of conduct may also be known as a maxim.

A saying is any concisely written or spoken linguistic expression that is especially memorable because of its meaning or structure.

Obviously, both of them were created during the process of society development. They express nation's ideas, feelings or dreams of that historic period of time.

The word culture came to refer more frequently to the common reference points of whole peoples, and discussion of the term was often connected to national aspirations or ideals.

According to these three definitions we can definitely claim that proverbs and sayings are the representatives of the culture.

4. What are one of the most popular proverbs and sayings; their meanings and origins?

Before I will conduct my research I should prepare it. As it will be on the basis of the most popular proverbs and sayings initially we should look through them to be sure that the research will be made correctly and we are aware of its subjects. Jack of all trades

Meaning: A man who can turn his hand to many things.

Origin: With any phrase that includes a name, it's natural to consider whether its the name of a real person. In this case, as was the case with many other literary Jacks - Jack the Lad, Jack Robinson, Jack Sprat, Jack Horner, Jack Frost, etc. Jack of all trades was a generic term rather than a living and breathing individual. In fact, the very long list of terms that include 'Jack' exceeds that of any other name in English and this reflects the fact that, as a derivative of the common name 'John', 'Jack' has been used just to mean 'the common man'. This usage dates back to the 14th century and an example is found in John Gower's Middle English poem Confessio Amantis, 1390:

Therwhile he hath his fulle packe,

They seie, 'A good felawe is Jacke'.

We now use 'Jack of all trades, master of none' in a derogatory way. Originally, this wasn't the case and the label 'Jack of all trades' carried no negative connotation, the 'master of none' part being added later. Nevertheless, mediaeval Jacks were pretty much at the bottom of the social tree.

If 16th century commentators wanted to imply that a person was stretching their talents too thinly they resorted to the disparaging Latin term Johannes factotum ('Johnny do-it-all'). In 1592, the English writer and member of the literary establishment Robert Greene wrote a pamphlet titled Groats-worth of Witte.

There can't have been any trades in the Middle Ages that didn't make use of a jack of some sort. 'Jack of all trades' entered the language in 1612 when Geffray Minshull wrote of his experiences in prison in Essayes and characters of a prison and prisoners:

Some broken Cittizen, who hath plaid Jack of all trades.

The 'master of none' addition began to be added in the late 18th century.

Don't look a gift horse in the mouth.

Meaning: don't be ungrateful when you receive a gift.

Origin: don't look a gift horse in the mouth, as horses develop they grow more teeth and their existing teeth begin to change shape and project further forward. Determining a horse's age from its teeth is a specialist task, but it can be done. This incidentally is also the source of another teeth/age related phrase - long in the tooth.

As with most proverbs the origin is ancient and unknown. We have some clues with this one however. The phrase appears in print in English in 1546, as "don't look a given horse in the mouth", in John Heywood's A dialogue containing the number in effect of all the proverbs in the English tongue, where he gives it as:

"No man ought to looke a geuen hors in the mouth."

It is probable that Heywood obtained the phrase from a Latin text of St. Jerome, The Letter to the Ephesians, circa AD 400, which contains the text 'Noli equi dentes inspicere donati' (Never inspect the teeth of a given horse). Where St Jerome got it from we aren't eve likely to know.

These were expressed in the literary language of the day, as in "would yee both eat your cake, and have your cake?", but the modern versions are their obvious descendents.

We can't attribute these to Heywood himself; he collected them from the literary works of the day and from common parlance. He can certainly be given the credit for introducing many proverbs to a wide and continuing audience, including one that Shakespeare later borrowed - All's well that ends well.

Why does bread always fall buttered side down?

Meaning: An expression of a pessimistic view of life.

Origin: The BBC broadcast a short programme based on this question in 2007. Instead of what might have been an interesting investigation into why some people are pessimistic glass-half-empty people and others take an optimistic glass-half-full approach, we were presented with a rather silly pseudo-science attempt to explain the hydro-dynamics of bread and toast, as if the question were a real one. Of course, bread and toast don't always land butter or jam side down - they sometimes do and they sometimes don't, depending on circumstances.

The question is rhetorical, adding a long-suffering pessimistic weariness to similar unanswerable queries, like 'why did the chicken cross the road?' and 'why are the cameras always on this side of the pitch?'.

The 'buttered-side down' scenario is often cited as an example of Murphy's Law, or Sod's Law, that is, 'if anything can go wrong, it will'. In fact, it is a 19th century phrase/notion and long pre-dates Murphy, who was (probably) an American aerospace engineer and is credited with coining his 'law' in the late 1940s.

The Knickerbocker; or, New York Monthly Magazine published this little ditty in 1835:

I never had a slice of bread,

Particularly large and wide,

That did not fall upon the floor,

And always on the buttered side!

The idea that bad luck in some way causes bread to fall buttered side down was preceded by the converse, and no less perverse, superstition that bread falling buttered side down causes bad luck. This was recorded in John Timbs' popular science journal Knowledge for the People, published in Boston, USA, in 1832:

We may here notice a remarkable Latin superstition, that if a child's slice of bread and butter be let fall with the buttered side downwards, it is an unlucky omen; if with the other side, lucky.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Meaning: It is polite, and possibly also advantageous, to abide by the customs of a society when one is a visitor.

Origin: Why should an English proverb single out Rome and Roman values as especially to be emulated? Couldn't we have had a 'when in Ipswich, do as the Ipswichians do' for example? As it turns out, it's all to do with the travel arrangements of a couple of early Christian saints.

St Augustine: Letters Volume I was translated from the Latin by Sister W. Parsons and published in 1951. Letter 54 to Januarius contains this original text, which date from circa 390AD:

When I go to Rome, I fast on Saturday, but here [Milan] I do not. Do you also follow the custom of whatever church you attend, if you do not want to give or receive scandal?

The use of the proverb in English isn't recorded until much later - well into the Middle Ages. Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy was first published in 1621. Burton makes oblique reference to the phrase, without using it explicitly: Mercury, the planet, are good with good, bad with bad. When they are at Rome, they do there as they see done, puritans with puritans, papists with papists

5. What is students' opinion about this matter?

I have already proved main statements of my issue. However, I cannot make any conclusions until I will conduct a research, which will show us what is students' level of linguistics, do we need to pay attention to it and how can we improve our education system.

Actually, before starting the research I looked through my students' books in English, I found out very interesting thing. In the student's book for eleventh form every eleventh exercise is written about English culture or by English writers. Meanwhile in my student's book for Advanced level every twelfth exercise is written also about English culture or by English writer.

So to make certain that Russian students also comprehend this importance I created a questionnaire, which consists of next questions:

- Do you think that to be successful at learning foreign languages you should be aware of its culture?

- Meanings of which proverbs do you exactly know:

1. Jack of all trades;

2. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth;

3. Why does bread always fall buttered side down;

4. When in Rome, do as Romans do?

- Do you think that you should pay more attention to this matter?

Results were unpredictable. It appeared to be that students, who are studying at college now, do not want to be aware of the culture of England and they do not think that they should pay attention to this matter. It probably happened so, as they already know everything, unfortunately, they do not.

Meanwhile, students from my school want to be aware of the culture and want to pay more attention to this matter. Moreover, most of them know all provided proverbs and sayings.

I suppose that there are several reasons for such difference:

1. various motivations;

2. excess of information at college makes them refuse from any other new knowledge;

3. there are different educational programs in different towns.


In my work I have proved that lack of cultural awareness makes an educational process very complicated. Qualified linguists know this peculiarity, however, they do not mention it so often, therefore, modern students are tend to avoid this information.

To prove it I have studied the history of England and its impact on English, learned meaning and origins of many proverbs and sayings, conducted the research between students of the college of the Foreign Office (1st grade) and in gymnasia 4 (10th and 11th grades).


1. John Simpson. Jennifer Speake. The Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs (5 ed.).- Oxford University Press. New York. 2009.

2. Henry Brooks Adams. The Education of Henry Adams.- 1907.

3. Scott Shay. The history of English. - 2008.

4. The article from Oxford Royal Academy. 20 English idioms with their meanings and origins.

5. Wilhelm von Humboldt. On Language, On the Diversity of Human Language Construction and its Influence on the Mental Development of the Human Species. Edited by Michael Losonsky.- CUP 1999.

6. Wolfgang Mieder. A Dictionary of American Proverbs. -Oxford University Press. New York. 1996.

7. Wordsworth Dictionary of Proverbs.- Ware, Hertfordshire. 2006.


Do you think that to be successful at learning foreign languages you should be aware of its culture?

Do you think that you should pay more attention to this matter?

culture language civilization

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