Magazine article UNESCO Courier

The Building Blocks of Culture

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

The Building Blocks of Culture

Article excerpt

The building blocks of culture

A people's cultural identity is related to three major factors--historical, linguistic and psychological (the last of which may include the people's specific forms of religious observance). These factors vary in importance in different historical and social situations; when they are not fully present in a people or an individual, the cultural identity is flawed.

Can these factors be classed in a hierarchy of importance, or does each one play an equal part in the constitution of the cultural personality?

Awareness of a common history is the most solid rampart a people can build against cultural or any other form of aggression from outside. Thus in contacts between civilizations-- during the colonization process, for example --the colonizer tries to weaken if not destroy the historical consciousness of the colonized people.

The exercise of national sovereignty is by far the best school for a people's mind and soul, and the only way to keep alive its greatest virtues.

It is hard to say whether or not the historical factor is more important than language. For the French philosopher Montesquieu language was the only common denominator, the supreme mark of cultural identity. "As long as a vanquished people has not lost its language,' he wrote, "it still has hope.'

But nowhere in the world does the phenomenon of linguistic unity exist on a continental scale. Fragmentation and diversity prevail until an official effort is made or a political decision is taken to extend the use of one language, if necessary by force.

This process, nevertheless, at first only affects the vocabulary of a language, not its grammar, i.e. its morphology and syntax.

The civilization with the most advanced technology usually exercises a one-way influence on the civilizations or societies with which it comes into contact.

Creolization is a linguistic process which began in a specific historical situation. …

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