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Review of  The Routledge Handbook of Language and Culture

Reviewer: Gail AlHafidh
Book Title: The Routledge Handbook of Language and Culture
Book Author: Farzad Sharifian
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Cognitive Science
Anthropological Linguistics
Issue Number: 27.1132

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Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


''The Routledge Handbook of Language and Culture'', edited by Farzad Sharifian, is part of the Routledge Handbook series described as ‘essential reading for both advanced undergraduates and postgraduate students’. The 5 volumes are all edited by experts in the field and include contributions from a broad range of specialists across the globe. This particular volume is organised thematically and begins with Sharifian’s brief overview of the history of scholarly study into the connection between language and culture. The bulk of the volume concerns itself with contemporary issues and discussions leading into suggestions for future research at the end of the book in Part V11. The book’s publication is propitious as it serves to provide an in-depth coverage of the discussions and key themes surrounding the complex relationship between language and culture, and in doing so, provides a vital addition to the small but growing body of publications in this field.

Overview of the Chapters

In the opening section, Sharifian sets the scene for the broad range of themes included in the book by asserting that both the study of culture and the study of language are themselves subject to various schools of thought; linking the two complex notions in one handbook is an ambitious project. He defends this approach by setting out the six key aims of the book clearly on page 4, and these aims provide the framework for the development of the themes discussed. The aims are not simply to present the reader with the complexities of the multifaceted relationship between language and culture, but to encourage a critical awareness of and a deeper understanding of the range of disciplines and therefore perspectives contributing to the discourse. The introduction closes with a succinct and compelling argument by Leavitt that the broad misinterpretation of the Sapir-Whorf principle of ‘linguistic relativity’ had led to a polarization in views over the nature of language, language differences and thought processes not least in the light of Chomsky’s theory of ‘universal grammar’ (Chomsky 1986, Leavitt, 2011, Whorf 1956). Indeed, it is the renewed interest in the notion of ‘linguistic relativity’ and other interpretations of the cognitive processes related to language production that runs throughout the book and is pivotal to Sharifian’s aim of helping “readers develop a critical awareness of the strengths and limitations of different or competing theories and approaches to language and culture research” (p.4).

Chapters 3 to 5, Part II, Ethnolinguistics, cover the relationship between culture and three aspects of language: syntax, semantics and pragmatics from an anthropological perspective. These chapters familiarize the readers with the theories presented about how cultural norms are reflected in the grammatical structures, the interpretation of meaning from language and the language in use within a cultural group. Each chapter includes a contextualizing historical overview of the theories to date and the application of those in current research studies.

Chapters 6 to 15, Part III, go on to look at a variety of different studies of language and culture and their relationship with each other. Risager’s develops the concept of ‘linguaculture’ and proposes a triangular model of language in which the 3 loci are linguistic practice (oral/written), linguistic resources (of the individual) and a language system (for example, English). Linguistic practice, she argues, is dynamic and changes with different social groups and since language produces and reshapes meaning, linguistic practice through migration and language learning has an undeniable impact on elements of culture globally (p.97). Other authors in Part III discuss, for example, the linguistic construct of gender and its meaning in various cultures (Tanaka, p.100-112) and the shortcomings of using global models of politeness in applied research (Mills, p.129-140). Kecskes socio-cognitive approach focuses on the role of context, since language encodes the culture of the individual’s past and present experiences in various contexts (Kesckes, p.13 -128).

This section is of great interest to students of applied linguistics and anthropology, in particular, as it provides a detailed overview of the fundamental issues driving research and the multi-faceted nature of the complex relationship between language and culture.

Chapters 16 to 24, Part IV, zoom in on the role of thought and cognition in the construction of meaning through language, a discourse central to the editor’s own work in the field of Cultural Linguistics (p. 473-492). Sterponi and Lai (Chapter 22) focus on the relationship between culture and language acquisition, highlighting the different ways in which the concept of culture itself is used in different theoretical frameworks determined by whether culture is seen as a developmental, cognitive mechanism or as a result of interaction in a specific social context: is culture a product or a process? Concepts such as colour and time and space, are also explored in terms of the relationship between language, culture and cognition.

Chapter 25 and 26, Part V (the smallest section of the book) both refer to the influence of Communities of Practice in research in language and culture and the penultimate Part V1, Chapters 27 to 31, focuses on the application of language and culture in various fields such as language teaching, the concept of ‘World Englishes’ and its impact on and interaction with local cultures.

In the closing chapters, 32 and 33, the focus is on tying in all the threads of the book to highlight the complex nature of the debate and the range of theoretical frameworks proposed regarding the relationship between language and culture as both products and processes. Sharifian, (Chapter 32), presenting current research, argues that the field of Cultural Linguistics, using the theoretical framework of cultural cognition (schemas, categories and cultural metaphors) will facilitate an indexing system of cultural conceptualisations that will deepen our understanding of the complex language:culture relationship. Frank, (Chapter 33) concludes the volume by reiterating Sharifian’s excitement at the scope and range that the field of Cultural Linguistics (CL) may bring to the table. He refers to CL as “a bridge that brings together researchers from a variety of fields, allowing them to focus on problems of mutual concern from a new perspective and in all likelihood discover new problems (and solutions) that until now have not been visible” (p.507).


This volume is an essential addition to any collection focusing on the relationship between language and culture. It is broad in its coverage of a wide range of disciplines such as applied linguistics, anthropology, sociology, cognitive science and so on; yet each chapter is detailed, scholarly and thorough, written by recognised experts in their respective fields. The aims of the book, as set out on page 4, are fully realized.

The individual chapters follow a similar pattern, each presenting the historical context, an overview of the research, the key theoretical frameworks related to the topic and the importance of it to the whole debate regarding language and culture. Sharifian masterfully builds up the complex layers and component parts that feed into the subfield of Cultural Linguistics through the considered positioning of each chapter. The writing is clear and accessible by laymen and academics. Furthermore, the addition of a reference list for further reading is an invaluable asset, allowing scholars to expand their understanding of a particular issue with a targeted approach.

In summary, this is an exceptional collection of carefully selected chapters that shed light on a wide range of connected themes and that inspires further research into the complex interphase between culture and language: a must-read for anyone interested in this fascinating topic.


Chomsky, N. (1986) Knowledge of language: Its nature, origin and use. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Leavitt, John (2011), Linguistic Relativities: Language Diversity and Modern Thought, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press

Sharifian, F. & Jamarani, M (eds.) (2013). Language and Intercultural Communication in the New Era. New York/London: Routledge

Whorf, B.L (1956) Language Thought and Reality, edited by J.B Carroll. Cambridge: MIT Press
Gail Al Hafidh received her doctoral degree (EdD) in the field of EFL/ELF and oral language assessment from the U.K's Open University and is currently working as English faculty in the Liberal Studies program at the Higher Colleges of Technology in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. She holds a Masters in TEFL and Applied Linguistics and has previously worked in the British state school system (secondary level) as a modern languages teacher, in the business world as a management trainer and in further education. Her interests include intercultural communication, assessment of speaking skills, CALL and ESL/EFL Teacher Training.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9780415527019
Pages: 522
Prices: U.K. £ 125.00