The role of language for studying culture and society in Area Studies

Kazimierz Musiał, Sweden, ID LLCE2016-362;       Area Studies have flourished after WW2 as a means of learning about foreign cultures in a systematic way. It has typically included multidisciplinary social research focusing on specific geographic regions or culturally defined areas. Deriving from the XIX c. German Landeskunde, the field has become dominated by the Anglo-American tradition with the prevailing use of English for investigation and communication. This situation has negative consequences, leading often to neglecting the knowledge of other languages for research and teaching area studies. 

This paper argues that due to interrelatedness of language and culture, where language expresses, embodies, and symbolizes cultural reality, conducting area studies without a command of language(s) spoken in the area under investigation is highly problematic. It is incomplete since neither culture nor society cannot be fully realized or comprehended without understanding the role of language in its genesis and development. The paper gives examples and offers solutions for renewed appreciation of foreign language proficiency as invaluable component of area studies.