Brazilian Culture: An Introduction to the Study of Culture in Brazil

By Fernando de Azevedo; William Rex Crawford | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

What is meant by "culture" -- The variety of meanings given to the word -- The anthropological conception of culture -- The inclusion under this term of both material and nonmaterial elements of civilization -- The French concept of culture -- The limitation of culture to nonmaterial elements -- Nationalistic and universal concepts of culture -- Civilization and culture -- The point of view adopted by the author for the study of culture in Brazil -- The factors of culture, physical, racial, technological and economic, social and historical -- The concept of Brazilian civilization -- Education, the transmission of culture-A work of synthesis -- Diffi- culties of a work of this nature -- "An hour of synthesis presupposes years of analysis" -- Lack or insufficiency of specialized monographs -- The usefulness of a comprehensive view, as perfect as possible.

WORDS TRAVEL, too. They migrate from one people to another, and even when they do not cross the frontiers of a State or the limits of the language in which they were formed, they pass from one class or social group to another, taking on "distinct tonalities which fasten upon them and end by adhering to them," and which come either from the particular mentality of groups existing side by side within a given society, or from the genius of the people to whose language they have been transferred. Thus, while the general activity of a society tends to standardize language, shaping it in its own image, the action of subgroups tends to make for differentiation, at least in so far as the vocabulary is concerned. "Every science, art, or trade in composing its terminology marks with its character words in common use."1 The vocabulary of a science, then, is made up in part of neologisms, that is, words created especially to designate new ideas and notions, and in part of expressions introduced from the vernacular, in which their sense is more or less fixed. But, as Meillet notes, the meaning of a word in common use "is defined by the ensemble of ideas with which the word has been associated, and its associations obviously vary according to the group in which it is used";2 therefore terms such as "civilization" and "culture," both of recent creation and use, when introduced by scientists into a special vocabulary trying to give them a precise meaning, resist that effort with the wealth of ideas which they evoke and the variety of meanings which cling to them in common speech. Thence come the various more or less arbitrary meanings, some- times restricted, sometimes amplified, and the varied shades of thought with which they appear in works of a scientific nature. The word "civilization," the use of which in French would seem to go back to the year 1766, and which signified a state contrary to barbarism, establishing a distinction between peoples with orderly government and savage peoples, came to designate, in ethnological language in French, as the term "culture" does in

____________________
1
Michel Bréal, Essai de sémantique (science des significations). ( Paris: Hachette), 3rd ed., p. 285.
2
A. Meillet, "Comment les mots changent de sens", L'Année sociologique, Vol. 9 ( 1905- 1906), pp. 13-19.

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