While I was just absentmindedly packing some stuff, this issue came to my mind. Can you know a language without knowing its culture? Or the other way round. Can you know a culture without knowing the language?
To a certain extent, I think yes. It’s possible for you to read up a book on say.. Japanese culture and pick up some knowledge. BUT language is intricately tied in with culture, it’s hard to separate the 2. Some cultural points are deeply embedded in the language. Language reflects and perhaps emphasizes the culture.
Before I learn Korean, I know vaguely that politeness and respect for the elders is a big part of the culture. When I first got interested in Korean, I know there is a complicated honorific system in the language. That’s one step forward. But it’s only when I really started to learn more and more about the language that I finally get a deeper insight into Korean culture. The culture of respect for superiors/elders is woven so tightly into the language : verb endings, special nouns, indirect speech etc.
The idea of 겸손 seems to be embedded in the language and ways of use. 겸손 (謙遜) refers to humility and modesty. When praised, you shouldn’t say things like 네~ but rather, you are supposed to say for example: 아니에요, 잘하기는요 to ‘deflect’ the praise.
Seen from the other way, you can’t learn a language without knowing the culture. If so, you are probably using the wrong words in the wrong situations and probably making loads of social mistakes.
There’s still so much about Korean culture that I’ve yet to discover. As I’ve been saying for the past 2.5 years, I can’t wait to go to Korea to experience the culture first hand (: