"Words not only reflect the culture which uses them, they teach and perpetuate the attitudes which created them." When we first hear the words spoken by a person, an impression of that person is created by us. Whether they speak fluently, with a stutter, with some grammatical error, or accent, our view and overall judgement of them as people, are affected. What is a word then? How can this trivial collection of syllables, a mechanism of communication play such an important role on a person's perception of another person? People come from many places all over the world and each place has their own heritage, and system of words; their own language. Culture is an important factor concerning the way words are spoken and interpreted by people in general. People who converse with each other and have the same culture understand what each other means by their expressions whereas cross-culture conversation leads to many misinterpretations and implications for both participants. Words have value attached to them, and it is this value, this underlying meaning that is conveyed to people in conversation, depending on their diction; and who it is spoken to.
It is these meanings attached to words that cause them to change meaning over time, perpetuating the teachings of the attitude that created them in the first place. To properly justify this, with references to Deborah Tannen's 'You just Don't Understand', Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night' and Dale Spender's 'Man Made Language', an exploration of how words function in society and language follows. Words and gender have many things in common; there are two genders, each with their own word: Masculine for males and Feminine for females. On this basis of gender are other words formed, solely to serve the purpose of distinguished between the sexes, but how closely has this system served its purpose? Could it be that the main attitude in creating this division was to segregate male from female? The word female suggests that the thing, being, object associated with that word is something deviant from male, noting the negating prefix 'fe-', so the male gender, or more so the masculine gender already gets a positive light, an image of approval - all interpreted through the way the word is written and pronounced. So, in conjunction with the earlier musing, the stigma attached to the words 'male' and 'masculinity' already carried meaning and commands some sort of reaction from a person. Up until now, words and language were only created and at the disposal of men, women were not allowed to handle language or influence it in any way.
So it would be correct to state that words were created by men, and the meanings associated with these words were also determined by men. Hence, a possible reason for the differing implications or perceptions the word 'male' as opposed to 'female' commands. Another example can also be seen by the words 'men' and 'women', as if a woman is something deviant, something negative, to a man. These words were created by men, with the attitude that men were normal, and women were a derivative of a lower male.
This attitude is still prevalent today, as with jobs, in the home, at school, in public; whenever people hear about other people, the key issue, the main concern is whether the person was 'male' or 'female'. In an independent investigation, the same story was told to a group of people, with both men and women present. The story followed the life of 'a person' who had several close relationships at a time with other 'people', this being fun way of experimenting for the subject. The first question was regarding the person's sex, but not in such a direct manner, it was more along the lines of 'who was the person?' , 'what was their name?' , remembering that the sex of a person can be determined by their name. Two observations were made, one looking at their reaction if the person was female, and the other if the person was male.
There was some variation in the results, due to modern day attitudes towards relationships, but still, the prevailing reaction was predictable: The women in the group reacted to the 'female's ubject with shock and disbelief, they were dismayed that a 'girl's would have more than one boyfriend. Their reasons were that females, or women, are supposed to be loyal to one man, because they are girls, or because they are female. The fact that the 'person' is female and the cause of her multiple relationships are 'just for fun' labels her a slut, with loose morale and no respect for herself. The men plainly responded that she was base, and there should be no justice for her. When told that the subject was 'male', the men responded claiming that it is normal for men, and alright, because they need to find the right girl and to do that, they need to experiment with a variety. The women responded by saying that it was alright for a man because he is a man.
Men have that right, sure he was cheating, but the response was not as exhilarating as the previous one. Basically, the response to the 'male's ubject was a murmur, compared to the outcry regarding the female subject. Everyone agrees with that, why? Because it is the male ideal that is instilled in us to judge female behaviour. Feminine behaviour is described and judged against the male standard, the male teachings. The meanings attached to the word 'female' immediately sparks a response which is affected by the teachings of a male dominated society. So, relating back to the initial question, the words that were created and given meaning by men, still teach and perpetuate their attitude towards women today.
Culture is another factor that affects the meanings of words. The most obvious way culture is reflected through words is by the language that a person speaks, for example: Greek, Italian, Spanish, German. Sometimes there are words used to describe aspects of their culture that other cultures don't understand, or, because of the similar sounding words, can mean something totally different between cultures, if not offensive. An example can be seen in two dialects originating from India: Punjabi and Gujerati. In gujerati, the word 'Mota' (pron. Mor-Tar) is associated with something being older, bigger, and when attached to another word 'Motabhai' (bhai pron.
bye - like bye, but with 'h's o und, rhymes with 'Why') which means 'big brother', for example, is a sign of respect. In terms of culture, the younger sister calls her elder brother 'Motabhai' as a sign of respect. In Punjabi, however, the same word, 'Mota' is also associated with something big, but far from relating to respect. To call someone 'Mota' in Punjabi, is to call them fat - which can be offensive, depending who it is said to, and who says it. In terms of culture, it is used as a slang, derogatory, 'funny' word.
This is how the same words used in different languages can have different meanings because of their cultural backgrounds. So you can imagine the outcome if a Gujerati person calls an elderly Punjabi person 'mota' as a sign of respect. Another way culture influences the way words are interpreted is the manner in which a person speaks a second language, for example, English. The way a word is said also conveys meanings, and for people who don't speak in the same manner, this can be misleading.
This results in a reflection of the person's culture, simultaneously the progression of the attitudes which created the language (of the person's culture). The following example was taken from Tannen's book in which one man describes his fellow Jewish writer to his friend in a letter. He described him the Jewish man as being 'undependable, erratic, has bad judgement, (is) loud mouthed, (is) pushing, vulgar, thoroughly Jewish'. This man has associated all these negative attributes to the Jewish culture. Instead of seeing the Jewish man for who he is as a person, the writer has judged the Jewish man on his conversational style, relating it back to his culture. By passing the comment 'thoroughly Jewish', it gives the implication that the writer is not only judging his Jewish colleague in this manner, he is associating it with the entire Jewish culture - it carries the teachings (as interpreted by him), and perpetuates the attitudes with which the Jewish culture is seen by another culture.
This is all interpreted by the words and behaviour which the Jewish man chooses speak. If the Jewish man spoke more like an Englishman, for example, using similar diction and manner, would the perspective change? An example more objective of worldly culture, but more associated with the cultures of femininity and masculinity is taken from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. We see Olivia in the beginning, mourning the death of her brother, which is the typical behaviour expected from women in grieving. She is portrayed as fragile, docile and quiet. Her words (conveyed by Valentine) are also imbedded with sentimentality, 'eye-offending brine' and fragility. We also see Orsino, who is commanding respect and reporting on the fruits and forms of love.
Orsino may initially seem female - because of her obsession with love, but then we see how objective and factual his love is, so detached, removed. This is typically male as men are more objective rather than emotional in their discourse, they speak without any personal emotion, based on fact and hard evidence. Now the impression of Orsino, first, is of respect, because he is Duke and also he is making a serious speech on love and his forlorn heart. Olivia, however is seen as 'a cloistress', being one of her first descriptions and since we haven't met her. So our image of a nun secluded from the world is associated with negativity, as the word 'cloistress's ugg ests. Why is this so? From Dale Spender's book 'Man-Made Language', she puts forward her thesis that the society we live in is patriarchal - one dominated and thoroughly controlled by men.
This is true, as pointed out earlier that men have had control over language and the like ever since we can remember, and this has only changed within the past sixty to seventy years. But still, the system is so deeply imbedded, that it has come to the point where we don't notice how we interpret things. We don't question our thought process when we come to a conclusion, or interpretation, because the links are there ever since we were old enough to speak. Our society and language system is built with the ideal that 'male' is normal and anything deviant to that is negative or inferior (as pointed out by the words 'male' and 'female' earlier). So our interpretation of Olivia's behaviour and character in the beginning is negative because of the values instilled in us by the masculine culture on how to react to femininine culture.
We unconsciously measure Olivia up against a male standard of diction and behaviour, and thus formulate an impression of her being passive and weak. Now this is all based on a small part of the play in the first scene. Looking at Olivia's character further on in the play, she changes when she meets Cesa rio, who i.