Western Culture

Learning Materials for Students

Cultural Identity

Language, Bilingualism, Cultural Identity, Ethnocentrism, Stereotype, Cultural and Linguistic Imperialism



Who is a Native Speaker?


Native speakers of English are people whose first language is English. They learned English when they were children. They think in English. They use it naturally. Usually native speakers of English are people from English-speaking countries like the USA, Great Britain, Australia, Canada, Ireland, etc. Talking to native speakers is a great way of improving your spoken English. Native speakers often don't realize that things they consider "simple" may be very difficult for English learners.


First language (native language, mother tongue, vernacular) is the language a person learns first. Correspondingly, the person is called a native speaker of the language. Usually a child learns the basics of their first language from their family.

Good skills in native language are essential for further learning, as native language is thought to be a base of thinking. Incomplete first language skills often make learning other languages difficult. Native language has therefore a central role in education.

The term "mother tongue" could be misleading. In some paternal societies, mothers are from different places and speak different dialects or languages. Yet their children usually only speak their local language. Only a few will learn to speak his/her mother's language like a native. Actually, mother in this context probably originated from the definition of mother as source, or origin.

One can have two (or more) native languages, thus being a native bilingual. The order in which these languages are learnt is not necessarily the order of proficiency. For instance, a French-speaking couple might have a daughter who learned French first, then English; but if she grew up in the United States, she is likely to become more proficient in English.

Native speakers have traditionally enjoyed a natural prestige as language teachers, because they are seen as not only embodying the “authentic” use of the language, but as representing its original cultural context as well. In recent times, the identity as well as the authority of the native speaker have been put into question. The “native speaker” of linguists and language teachers is in fact an abstraction based on arbitrarily selected features of pronunciation, grammar and lexicon, as well as on stereotypical features of appearance and demeanor. For example, children of Turkish parents and bearing a Turkish surname, but born, raised, and educated in Germany may have some difficulty being perceived as native speakers of German when applying for a language teaching job abroad.

It is not clear whether one is a native speaker by birth, or by education, or by virtue of being recognized and accepted as a member of a like-minded cultural group. Cultural identity is closely related to the term “ethnocentrism”.

What is Ethnocentrism?

Ethnocentrism (Greek ethnos nation + -centrism) is the tendency to look at the world primarily from the perspective of one's own culture. Many claim that ethnocentrism occurs in every society; ironically, ethnocentrism may be something that all cultures have in common.

Ethnocentrism is the feeling that one’s group has a mode of living, values, and patterns of adaptation that are superior to those of other groups. It is coupled with a generalized contempt for members of other groups. Ethnocentrism may manifest itself in attitudes of superiority or sometimes hostility. Violence, discrimination, and verbal aggressiveness are other means whereby ethnocentrism may be expressed. It is an attitude that one's own culture, society, or group is inherently superior to all others. Judging other cultures by your own cultural standards and since, of course, other cultures are different, they are therefore inferior. Ethnocentrism means an inability to appreciate others whose culture may include a different racial group, ethnic group, religion, morality, language, political system, economic system, etc. It also means an inability to see a common humanity and human condition facing all women and men in all cultures and societies beneath the surface variations in social and cultural traditions.

This term was coined by William Graham Sumner, a social evolutionist and professor of Political and Social Science at Yale University. He defined it as the viewpoint that “one’s own group is the center of everything,” against which all other groups are judged. Ethnocentrism often entails the belief that one's own race or ethnic group is the most important and/or that some or all aspects of its culture are superior to those of other groups. Within this ideology, individuals will judge other groups in relation to their own particular ethnic group or culture, especially with concern to language, behaviour, customs, and religion. These ethnic distinctions and sub-divisions serve to define each ethnicity's unique cultural identity.

Ethnocentrism is common among people belonging to large empires. Toynbee notes that Ancient Persia regarded itself the center of the world and viewed other nations as increasingly barbaric in degree that they were farther away. China's very name is composed of ideographs meaning "center" and "country" respectively, and traditional Chinese world maps show China in the center.

England defined the world's meridians with itself as on the center line, and to this day longitude is measured in degrees east or west of it Greenwich (a town, now part of the south eastern urban sprawl of London, on the south bank of the river Thames in the London Borough of Greenwich).They used to claim that "the sun never sets on the British Empire."

The Japanese word for foreigner ("gaijin") also means "barbarian", and Japanese do not normally use the term to describe themselves when visiting other countries. For a Japanese person in New York, New Yorkers are gaijin - not Japanese tourists.

Ethnocentrism as Selfishness

In the latter quarter of the 20th century, various forms of ethnocentrism began to be decried, largely by other groups professing either to be innocent of ethnocentrism themselves or eminently qualified to embrace it. Black Americans complained of the Eurocentrism of white America while exalting Afrocentrism. Edward Said wrote a book called Orientalism arguing that the West could not understand Arab and Islamic cultures (and should not try to).

Many wars have been fought with ethnocentricism as a major theme. World War II entailed ethnocentrism on two fronts: Nazi Germany's "master race" concept exalted the so-called "Aryan people", while Japan proposed its Greater East-Asia Co-prosperity Sphere. The Nazis succeeded in taking over much of Europe and embarked on the largest ethnic cleansing campaign. The term ethnic cleansing refers to various policies of forcibly removing people of another ethnic group.

The reasons for maintaining an ethnicity or culture are often personal, and relate to the cohesion of familiar personal and social elements. We all are born into a human culture, and it is the culture that shapes our self-awareness and understanding of other individuals. It also reflects, depending on the cultural teaching, customs or patterns of behaviour in relating to other cultures. This behaviour can range from universal acceptance or feelings of inferiority compared with other cultures, to racism, which many consider an aspect of xenophobia. Some examples of ethnocentric behaviours are represented by such social phenomena as economic isolationism, counter-cultures, anti-establishmentism, and widespread social patterns of interpersonal abusive behaviours as prejudice, and discrimination.

Xenophobia denotes fear of strangers or of the unknown and comes from the Greek words ξένος (xenos), meaning "foreigner", "stranger", and φόβος (phobos), meaning "fear".The term is typically used to describe fear or dislike of foreigners, but racism in general is sometimes described as a form of xenophobia. In science fiction, it has come to mean 'fear of extraterrestrial things.' Xenophobia implies a belief, accurate or not, that the target is in some way foreign. Prejudice against women cannot be considered xenophobic in this sense, except in the limited case of all-male clubs or institutions.

The American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition ("DSM-IV") includes in its description of a phobia an "intense anxiety" which follows exposure to the "object of the phobia, either in real life or via imagination or video..." For xenophobia there are two main objects of the phobia. The first is a population group present within a society, which is not considered part of that society. Often they are recent immigrants, but xenophobia may be directed against a group which has been present for centuries. This form of xenophobia can elicit or facilitate hostile and violent reactions, such as mass expulsion of immigrants, or in the worst case, a pogrom. A pogrom (from Russian: "погром") is a massive violent attack on people with simultaneous destruction of their environment (homes, businesses, religious centers). In English and most of other languages, historically the term has been used to denote massive acts of violence, either spontaneous or premeditated, against Jews.

The second form of xenophobia is primarily cultural, and the object of the phobia is cultural elements which are considered alien. All cultures are subject to external influences, but cultural xenophobia is often narrowly directed, for instance at foreign loan words in a national language. It rarely leads to aggression against persons, but can result in political campaigns for cultural or linguistic purification. Isolationism, a general suspicion of foreign governments and states, is not accurately described as xenophobia.

There are many different terms coined to express “phobias” and they are related to xenophobia:

Amerophobia, Columbophobia - Fear or hatred of the United States, American culture, etc.

Anglophobia - Fear or hatred of England, English culture, etc.

Australophobia, Novahollandiaphobia - Fear or hatred of Australia, Australians, Australian culture etc.

Christophobia - Fear or hatred of Christianity

Germanophobia, Teutophobia - Fear or hatred of Germany, German culture, etc.

Japanophobia, Nipponophobia - Fear or hatred of the Japanese.

Judeophobia - Fear or hatred of Jews.

Papaphobia - Fear or hatred of the Pope.

Polonophobia – Fear or hatred of Poles.

Russophobia – Fear or hatred of Russians.

Sinophobia - Fear of the Chinese, Chinese culture, etc.

Sociophobia - Fear of society or people in general.

Racism is closely related to xenophobia. It has historically been defined as the belief that race is the primary determinant of human capacities, that a certain race is inherently superior or inferior to others, and/or that individuals should be treated differently according to their racial designation. One view of the origins of racism emphasizes stereotypes, which psychologists generally believe are influenced by cultural factors. People generally respond to others differently based on what they know, which may include superficial characteristics often associated with race. A "white" person walking after dark in a primarily "black" neighborhood in an American city might be anxious for a combination of reasons. The same may be said for an African-American walking in a white neighborhood.

Why is Ethnocentrism Bad?

Ethnocentrism leads us to make false assumptions about other peoples. We are ethnocentric when we use our cultural norms to make generalizations about other peoples' cultures and customs. Such generalizations -- often made without a conscious awareness that we've used our culture as a universal yardstick -- can be way off base. Ethnocentrism also influences communication between human beings.

Ethnocentric thinking causes us to make wrong assumptions about other people because:

"They" may not be very good at what we are best at.

By evaluating "them" by what we are best at, we miss the many other aspects of life that they often handle more competently than we do.

Some very simple examples of ethnocentric thinking:

We often talk about British drivers driving "on the wrong side" of the road. Why not just say "opposite side" or even "left hand side"?

We talk about written Hebrew as reading "backwards." Why not just say "from right to left" or "in the opposite direction from English."

How to Avoid Ethnocentrism?

One must be careful, of course, not to throw around charges of "ethnocentrism" to try to discredit people with whose views we disagree. The best use of an understanding of ethnocentrism is to use it to correct our own ethnocentric attitudes and behavior rather than that of others.

We would do well to keep in mind the 2,000-year-old admonition of Jesus of Nazareth when he asked, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" (Matthew 7:3)

What is Stereotype?

Stereotype is a simplified mental picture of an individual or group of people who share certain characteristic (or stereotypical) qualities. The term is often used in a negative sense, and stereotypes are seen by many as undesirable beliefs which can be altered through education and/or familiarisation.

Common stereotypes include a variety of allegations about various racial groups, predictions of behavior based on social status and wealth, and allegations based on sex, e.g., French chic, German know-how, American casualness, etc.

Social stereotypes are cases of metonymy, where a subcategory has a socially recognized status as standing for the category as a whole, usually for the purpose of making quick judgements about people, such as office girl.

An ethnic stereotype may be either an overly-simplified representation of the typical characteristics of members of an ethnic group or a falsehood that has been repeated so many times that is accepted by many people as generally true. The use of stereotypes often leads to misunderstanding and hurt feelings.

Some stereotypes, based on unbiased observations of actual behavior, can be accurate and useful, e.g.

All Asian people are intelligent

All Arabs are good cooks.

All Jews are good at handling money.

All blacks are good at singing or sports, especially basketball and football.

Many stereotypes are used in negative sense, e.g. greedy Russians, cruel Japanese, etc.

Listed below are American stereotypes about different types of Americans collected by and included in: Rathus, Spencer A, & Nevid, Jeffrey S., (2003). Psychology and the Challenges of Life, 8th edition, Wiley&Sons, Inc, New York.

African Americans • Physically powerful and well-coordinated • Unclean • Unintelligent and superstitious • Musically talented • Excellent as lovers • Lazy • Emotional and aggressive • Flashy (gaudy clothes and big cars).

Chinese Americans • Deceitful • Inscrutable • Wise • Cruel • Polite, quiet, and deferential • Possessing strong family ties • Law-abiding.

Latino and Latina Americans • Macho • Unwilling to learn English • Disinterested in education • Not concerned about being on welfare • Warm, expressive • Lazy • Hot-tempered and violent.

Irish Americans • Sexually repressed • Heavy drinkers • Overly religious • Political and nationalistic • Outgoing, witty, and literary • Hot-tempered (fighting Irish).

Italian Americans • Overly interested in food • Ignorant, suspicious of education • Clannish • Great singers • Great shoemakers and barbers • Hot-tempered and violent • Connected to the Mafia • Talk with their hands • Cowardly in battle.

Japanese Americans • Ambitious, hardworking, and competitive • Intelligent, well-educated • Obedient, servile women • Sneaky • Poor lovers • Possessing strong family ties • Great imitators, not originators • Law-abiding.

Jewish Americans • Cheap, shrewd in business • Clannish • Control banks, Wall Street, and the media • Wealthy and showy • Big-nosed • Pushy • Smothering mother.

Polish Americans • Unintelligent and uneducated • Overly religious • Dirty • Racist, bigoted • Boorish, uncultured.

White Angle-Saxon Protestants (WASPS) • Hardworking, ambitious, thrifty • Honorable • Wealthy, powerful • Insensitive, emotionally cold • Polite, well-mannered, genteel • Snobbish.


Here is a list of common phrases based on stereotypes. This is a list of common American and British Commonwealth words and phrases based on racial, ethnic, religious, regional or other stereotypes. Most of them are offensive.

  • Australian/Aussie Kiss - cunnilingus, because it is a kiss "down under"
  • Chinaman's chance - having no chance at all.
  • Chinese compliment - pretending to acknowledge the opinions of others, while going forward with an already made decision.
  • Chinese copy -  a duplicate that replicates something perfectly, including errors
  • Chinese whispers - the telephone game, a game often played by children at parties or in the playground in which a phrase or sentence is passed on from one player to another, but is subtly altered in transit.
  • Cry like a girl.
  • Dutch - trouble (i.e., "He got into some Dutch")
  • Dutch act - suicide
  • Dutch bargain - made when both parties are drinking
  • Dutch courage - drunken bravery
  • Dutch feast - a drinking party
  • Dutch fuck - lighting a cigarette with another lit cigarette to save the extra match
  • Dutch widow - a prostitute
  • Eskimo kiss - rubbing noses
  • Free, white and 21 - (and therefore can do what one wants)
  • French Advance - military term for a retreat
  • French kiss (not offensive -- there is a French verb frencher meaning this type of kiss)
  • French letter - condom (c.f. the French 'la capote anglaise', also meaning condom).
  • French style - oral sex
  • Greek sex - anal sex
  • Greek style - anal sex
  • Gyp - to cheat, from Gypsy
  • Japanese Agreement - term for supposed business agreements made with the Japanese that don't pan out, to appear conciliatory and polite Japanese businessmen agree to many things with Westerners during business meetings - but fail to follow through
  • Jap crap - Japanese-made motorcycles and cars, originally smaller and lighter than their American counterparts, and therefore presumably inferior.
  • Jap Slap - a sudden unexpected slap across the face
  • Jew -  someone out of something (anti-Semitic phrase which implies that Jews are cheats)
  • Kamikaze - an attack on others that ends up destroying one's self (from the Japanese practice in WWII)
  • Luck of the Irish - having no damn luck at all.
  • Mexican overdrive - coasting downhill in an automobile with the engine turned off
  • New York snowball - a snowball with a brick or chunk of something hard hidden in the middle.
  • Play the white man - is a racist term used in parts of England meaning to be decent and trustworthy in one's actions. The term is considered to be extremely derogatory against non-white people because it carries the implication that they are indecent or untrustworthy. Originating in colonial England, the term is losing popularity in common parlance because of its racist overtones.
  • polish shower - to use spray on deodorant without washing first
  • Puerto Rican blond - badly dyed hair, or a woman with the same
  • Turning Japanese - a term for excessive masturbation, based on the perception that men make a face where they squint their eyes and curl their lips to expose the upper incisors (resembling the stereotypical image of a Japanese)
  • White slavery - historical practice of Arabs kidnapping whites for sexual slavery
  • White Trash - a term of insult to uncouth Caucasians.

Cultural and Linguistic Imperialism

Linguistic imperialism, often seen as an aspect of cultural imperialism, has since the early 1990s attracted the attention of scholars in the field of English applied linguistics.

Cultural imperialism is the practice of promoting the culture or language of one nation in another. It is usually the case that the former is a large, economically or militarily powerful nation and the latter is a smaller, less affluent one. Cultural imperialism can take the form of an active, formal policy or a general attitude.

Empires throughout history have been established using war and physical compulsion. In the long term populations have tended to be absorbed into the dominant culture, or acquire its attributes indirectly.

One of the first known examples of cultural imperialism was extinction of the Etruscan culture and language caused by the influence of the Roman Empire. Etruscan civilization (8-5 cent. BC) existed in Etruria and the Po valley in the northern part of what is now Italy, prior to the formation of the Roman Republic.

The Greek culture built gyms, theatres and public baths in places that its adherents conquered (such as ancient Judea, where Greek cultural imperialism sparked a popular revolt), with the effect that the populations became immersed in that culture. The spread of the common Greek language was another large factor in this immersion.

As exploration of the Americas increased, European nations including Great Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal all raced to claim territory in hopes of generating increased economic wealth for themselves. In these new colonies, the European conquerors imposed their language and culture.

Throughout the 18th and 19th century the dominant English establishment attempted (unsuccessfully) to eliminate all non-English languages within the British Island group (such as the Welsh language, Irish language and Scottish Gaelic language) by outlawing them. Many other languages had almost or totally been wiped out by this point including Cornish and Manx. The term “cultural imperialism” was first applied to the British Empire which had many measures, such as encouraging the game of cricket and teaching English, to further establish its grasp on countries and territories the world over.

During the late 18th, 19th and the early 20th centuries, the Swedish government continually repressed the Sami culture. Repression took numerous forms, such as banning the Sami language and by forceful removal of many cultural artifacts, such as the magic drums of the the Sami shamans. Most of the drums have not to date been returned. During the early 20th century even the Sweden-Finnish people of Torne Valley had still in the 1960s their native Finnish dialect banned from use in schools and public records.

China has, in various periods over the 20th century, pursued repressive policies towards the indigenous cultures and religions of Tibet and Xinjiang, and has encouraged Han Chinese (members of the principal ethnic group of China, constituting about 93 percent of the population), immigration into those regions, for example, through the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps. This has been widely viewed as cultural imperialism by exile and dissident groups abroad and their supporters. The nationwide promotion of a standardized Chinese language has also sparked debate, both in Mainland China and Taiwan, about whether this constitutes a form of cultural imperialism over regional dialects.

Cultural imperialism in the twentieth century was also connected with the United States and with the Soviet Union, and to a lesser extent with other countries that exert strong influence on neighboring nations. Most countries outside the US feel that the high degree of cultural export through business and popular culture--popular and academic books, films, music, and television--threatens their unique ways of life or moral values where such cultural exports are popular. Some countries, including France, have policies that actively oppose Americanization.

Americanization is the term used for the influence the United States of America has on the culture of other countries, substituting local culture with something of an American culture. It is often used in a negative context. One of the principal reasons for this is America's highly visible global brands (e.g., McDonald's, KFC) and widely distributed media output.

Representatives of al-Qaida (the terrorist organization) stated that their attacks on US interests were motivated in part by a reaction to perceived US cultural imperialism. Middle Eastern countries feel that English is aggressively imperialistic due to its ubiquitous nature in media, films and on the internet.

Canada is also grappling with the ever-potent influence of the U.S. Aside from the fact that American businesses are purchasing Canadian industries and resources, the Canadian population is continuously exposed to the American media. Canada's response has been to enact a law which requires radio stations to play a certain percentage of Canadian content. Canadians have typically embraced American culture, but have also successfully upheld their own distinctiveness.

Cultural imperialism is closely connected with media imperialism. It is a critical theory regarding the perceived effects of globalization on the world's media. As multinational media conglomerates grow larger and more powerful many believe that it will become increasingly difficult for small, local media outlets to survive. A new type of imperialism will thus occur, making many nations subsidiary to the media products of some of the most powerful countries or companies.

The United States corporate media coverage of events is seen to limit the freedom of the press. Integrity can be lost among media giants. This combined with the control and flow of information reduces the fairness and accuracy of news stories. American news networks like CNN also often have large international staffs, and produce specialized regional programming for many nations.

Media imperialism is not always an international occurrence, however. When a single company, corporation or government controls all the media in a country, this too is a form of Media Imperialism. Nations such as Italy and Canada are often accused of possessing an Imperial media structure, based on the fact that much of their media is controlled by one corporation or owner.

Censorship is also related to media imperialism, as well as to cultural imperialism. Censorship is official prohibition or restriction of any type of expression believed to threaten the political, social, or moral order. It may be imposed by governmental authority, local or national, by a religious body, or occasionally by a powerful private group. It may be applied to the mails, speech, the press, the theater, dance, art, literature, photography, the cinema, radio, television, or computer networks. Censorship may be either preventive or punitive, according to whether it is exercised before or after the expression has been made public. In use since antiquity, the practice has been particularly thoroughgoing under autocratic and heavily centralized governments, from the Roman Empire to the totalitarian states of the 20th cent.

Home Assignment

Please study the following text and prepare to speak about the problems of ethnocentrism.


You will find more information about ethnocentrism here:


Case Study

For most of the tens of thousands of anti-Japanese demonstrators who took to the streets of Shanghai yesterday, it was the first public protest they had ever seen, let alone taken part in. A few over the age of 35 remembered the pro-democracy campaign of 1989. A handful had joined small anti-American rallies in 1999. But for almost an entire generation this was their first chance to march for a cause.

The result was a strongly worded Japanese protest to China, after the rampage saw the Japanese consulate attacked, restaurants shattered and at least two people severely beaten. 'I saw hundreds of people kicking and beating the two men. Police tried to intervene, but they couldn't get through the crowd,' said a businessman in his thirties who only gave his surname, Wang. 'Everyone said they had been killed.'

By noon there were at least three groups - the smallest of 5,000, the largest in the tens of thousands. With people coming and going throughout the day, it was one of the biggest displays of people power that China has seen since the protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989.


It was also one of the most violent. On Hushanguan road, a mob threw a bicycle through the windows of a Japanese okonomiyaki restaurant. In a nearby shopping district, protesters broke windows at about 10 Japanese-style noodle shops and bars - many of them Chinese-owned. Several Japanese-made cars were pelted with bottles and gravel, regardless of the nationality of the drivers.

When the largest group reached the Japanese consulate, they jostled with riot police who allowed them to throw bottles and stones at the building. The walls were splattered with black and red paint and solar panels on the roof were smashed. 'Japanese pigs get out!' they shouted in a stand-off that lasted hours. Among the participants was a group of three 11-year-old girls, carrying a banner reading: 'Boycott Japanese products.'


Elsewhere, China was on the march. In Hangzhou and Tianjin, crowds - some in the hundreds, some in the thousands - staged anti-Japanese rallies. In Nanjing, a group of more than 300 students resisted police attempts to break up their rally for more than two hours, before the organisers were arrested. More demonstrations are reportedly being planned today in Shenyang, Jinan, Hong Kong, Chengdu, Shijiazhuang, Changsha, Baoding ... the list goes on.

The spark for the latest row was Tokyo's approval of a new history textbook that whitewashes Japan's wartime atrocities, including the massacre of tens - possibly hundreds - of thousands of civilians in Nanjing in 1937; the forced recruitment of 'comfort women' who were made to work as sex slaves in Japanese army brothels; and the infamous Unit 731's deadly tests of biological weapons on entire Chinese villages. The offending books, which are published by a right-wing nationalist group, are used in fewer than 1 per cent of Japan's schools because the vast majority of teachers agree that they distort history. But their very existence is seen by the country's neighbours as proof that Japan's leaders refuse to face up to the past.

This is the third weekend of anti-Japanese protests and they have grown bigger each time.

Sunday April 17, 2005, The Observer


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