Language and Culture Chapter uri icon

Book Title

  • Oxford Handbook of Language and Social Psychology


  • This chapter argues that language and culture have a bidirectional causal link: linguistic practices emphasizing context (contextualizing practices) may encourage people to process a visual stimulus as a bounded figure-ground configuration (field dependent), whereas linguistic practices emphasizing the separation of an object from its context (decontextualizing practices) may encourage people to abstract figure from ground (field independent). Once a certain cognitive style is in place, people are likely to use their language in the way congruent with their cognition. Linguistic practices thus act as an important medium through which culture is transmitted and maintained. In support of this analysis, the authors show that the geographical distribution of linguistic practices overlaps with that of cognitive style, with contextualizing linguistic practices/field-dependent style in East Asia and decontextualizing linguistic practices/field-independent style in Western European-derived cultures. Bilinguals show default cultural accommodation, exhibiting a cultural pattern congruent with the norm of the linguistic community/language they are using.

publication date

  • 2014