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Considering Language, Culture, and Identity

Paying attention to how we communicate, gather information, form what we believe and how we perceive others is a critical task. There are a number of voices that influence us throughout our lives, shaping who we are and what we believe — our identity. Nowhere is this more important to consider than how it relates to Christian identity formation within American consumer culture.

cultural_linguistics_illusOver the most recent years, cultural linguistics has drawn on many disciplines and areas. Its applications have enabled fruitful investigation of the cultural grounding of language in several applied domains, like World Englishes, intercultural communication, and political discourse analysis. Such investigation helps us understand the deep dialogic layers of culture and identity formation. Cultural linguistics maintains a close connection to semiotics, cognitive linguistics, and its exploration of the role of culture as a source of conceptualizing personal and communal experience.

The attention given to the intersection of language and culture helps guide critical awareness of the dialogic formation of Christian identity in our American consumer context. Language — in all the many ways we communicate — is a map. Using this map effectively is essential to accomplishing our theological task, which assists in the discernment of Christian truth in ever-shifting cultural contexts. Cultural competence involves understanding and responding, appropriately, to the distinct combination of cultural variables, which include: age, ethnicity, experience, gender, gender identity, tradition, beliefs, national origin, sexual orientation, race, religion, socioeconomic status, and geographic affinity.

This work is not about becoming culture. On the contrary, it is about discovering the streams and channels that allow you to successfully intersect culture in order to elevate the gospel message above the noise of society. Pay attention to how people communicate, gather information, form what they believe, and perceive others. This may first involve some serious self-reflection. But, no matter what, discover your contextual map and use it, as Paul described in his letter to the Corinthians, “to find common ground with everyone…” (1 Cor. 9:22b, NLT), doing whatever it takes to help others experience faith, hope, and love.

NOTE: For an expanded essay on “Considering Language, Culture, and Identity” (by William Gibson), which includes additional information, please see the Appendix.