Tag Archives: worldview

The Influence of Language and Culture

Read this article and more in Weve

There is a wide range of cultural, political, linguistic and socioeconomic reasons why this six word quotation may, or may not, be familiar:

To be or not to be.

Can you name the author of the play that contains these six words?  Can you identify the character who says these six words? Can you recite the monologue that begins with these six words?  What do these six words mean to you?

It makes me reflect on what exactly does it mean: to be? Is it the state of existence, and intrinsic state of being human? Does the state of being-ness mean different things to different cultures, expressed in different ways in different languages? How does the state of “being” affect our worldviews, depending on which language we express ourselves in?

In English, the verb “to be” is used in a wide variety situations. For example, I am cold, She is an astronaut, We are leaving. However, there are often a range of different verbs that are used to express the same statements in other languages. In French, there are a number of verbs used in place of the English equivalent of “to be”, including “être” (to be) or “avoir” (to have) or “faire” (to make), depending on the situation, the intent and the context of the statement.

Nuances of language and cultural context can often be some of the most difficult aspects to master when translating and working with different languages. Trying to explain colloquialisms and slang to someone who is learning another language can be funny, frustrating and confusing. Even between people whose first language is seemingly the same, regional variations can cause confusion and misunderstanding.

The simple request of “bring a plate” to a New Zealand get-together has confounded many English-speaking newcomers to New Zealand – it means to bring a plate of food, not to bring an empty plate.

How does language influence culture? 

How does culture influence language?

There can be a number of different ways to engage with your communities to discuss the intricacies and impact of language and culture, opening up the conversation opportunities across language and culture boundaries.

  • Does learning another language change the way you speak your first language?
  • What does it mean to be raised in a bilingual household?
  • Is humour culturally and linguistically specific? The humour in Outrageous Fortune feels quintessentially “Kiwi”, but this TV series has been to TV networks around the world, and local versions have been made in the UK and the USA.
  • Is there a Vietnamese equivalent of Shakespeare, and what impact did their work have on Vietnamese language and culture?
  • Why is there legislation that states that babies born in Iceland must be given forenames which do not conflict with the linguistic structure of the Icelandic language [1]?
  • What impact does choosing to publish in a language other than English have on academics and scholars in different fields of research?
  • How do Shakespearean plays “translate” into other languages? What is the same and/or different about the interpretations in each language? Do you have to understand the spoken, or signed, language to understand the dramatic sentiment being performed? How are costumes and stage design impacted by the different cultural settings?

Libraries can create events, develop programmes, curate resource lists and establish spaces where communities can explore the influence of language on culture and the influence of culture on language.

Open up your spaces to explore other worldviews.

[1] Personal Names Act (No. 45) (in English). Iceland: Ministry of the Interior. 17 May 1996


Travel to new places without leaving home.

Read this article and more in WeveJust as the Japanese fishing industry wants to change the way that customers consume their product, libraries can also play a role in changing how the community consumes information. Libraries can tailor the consumption experience for a community, giving them something new to try, to see what happens to their taste buds.

There are no guarantees that dedicating significant amounts of research, time and money towards developing a new consumption habit will result in changing anything at all. However, the opportunity to trial something new has given the Japanese fishing industry an opportunity to push the boundaries of “you are what you eat” to an unexplored level.

If we turn this lens to libraries and their communities, what opportunities await? Take a look at your community, take a look at your library, take a look at your collections, and take a look at your services.

What new information consumption experiences could there be?

Is there a way to curate a travel experience which opens up a new information for your community offering them the chance to explore another worldview, while also introducing diverse collections and services to your community? Could you invite your community to collectively explore the world without leaving the country, opening up new destinations and encouraging new experiences of different countries?

Find a world map. Put it up on the wall (physical and digital). Crowd source the “destination” of your next community engagement programme. Ask your community which country they would most like to visit. Allow your community one month to respond.

Explain that you will be putting together six events, one per month, focussed on the most popular destination. You might also want to ask what they would most like to know about this country, for example, language, literature, cuisine, travel tips, history, science, art, music, movies. However, it might be enough for the community to simply pick the country, and leave the rest of the programme as a mystery to entice people to join in.

Give yourself one month to curate a programme of six monthly topics focussed on this destination. Dig deep into your physical collection. Dig deep into your digital collection.

Connect the dots for your customers.

Allow the stories of the country to be told and shared. Encourage your community to learn to see a country through a new lens of language and stories. What does a fictional story set in that country tell us about the life and experiences of the country? How does this correlate with a recent travelogue? Compare and contrast the experiences of ex-pats with new migrants. Find the commonalities, find the differences, and reflect on the story of the country told by the people of the country.

Collate a list of twenty-five books. Publish the list two or three months before a book group evening. Ask people to join in for a discussion on those books, not expecting that everyone has read the same titles, but that they come to share their experiences of the stories they did read. Discuss the experience in the stories from the books.

You might find that you can make contact with a library in your chosen country (although, depending on the destination, the language barrier and/or resourcing for that country might preclude this). They may be able to assist in identifying popular authors, popular titles, or classic authors. It might also open up the opportunity for cross-country conversations.

One event focussed on the practicalities of travelling to this country may draw in a different audience, giving them an opportunity to explore the logistics of planning a trip to this country, from how to find information about visas online, medical and/or vaccinations needs, language, what to pack, cultural expectations (tips, appropriate clothing, religious considerations). Invite people in the community who have travelled to, or who have lived in, this country to join this discussion.

Delve into online image collections to find unusual and unknown images of people, countryside, cities, sports, famous events. You could also showcase how to access online newspapers and/or magazines from this country.

Opening up the world for your community encourages them to open up their worldviews. There are a number of other areas that you could incorporate into your programme. Explore the regional food variations. Coordinate a movie night, exploring classic films from that country. Find TED talks from or about the country. Customers with an interest in family history might benefit from a focussed session on breaking through brick walls for resources related to that country. There might be specific art forms that are “known” from that country, from silk weaving, to tapa cloths, to batik, to sand paintings. Encourage your customers to read, watch, listen, eat, play – from adults to children, there are many ways to adapt and expand the theme.

Allow your community the experience of travel without leaving home. Encourage your community to bring their own findings to each monthly discussion – whether this is a facilitated face-to-face meet-up or an online meet-up.

By setting your services against the backdrop of a “travel programme”, you can introduce people to services and resources that they might not otherwise have found, such as online newspapers, family history resources, language learning apps. Once your six month programme is finished, find a new country to explore!

If we are what we consume, then our worldview can change as we consume new and different information.

Afford your community the opportunity to travel to world, even if they don’t have the money to physically go right now, you can open up new doorways to travel without leaving the comfort of home.