"Culture Defined"
A recent etymology of the word "culture"
Look in an old dictionary -- say, a pre-1960 Webster's -- and you'll likely find a definition of culture that looks something like this: 1. The cultivation of soil.  2. The raising, improvement, or development of some plant, animal or product" (Friend and Guralnik 1958). This use of the word has its roots in the ancient Latin word cultura, "cultivation" or "tending." By the time the Webster's definition above was written, another definition had begun to take precedence over the old Latin denotation; culture was coming to mean "the training, development, and refinement of mind, tastes, and manners" (Oxford English Dictionary). However, if you try a more modern source, you'll find a primary definition of culture which is substantially different than either of the two given above: "The totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought." 

Over time, these new uses for the word culture have eclipsed its older meanings, into new ones. An aspect of modern culture is its fascination with the issue of culture itself -- a fascination which has brought about many changes in the way we speak and the meanings of words which we commonly use. Diversity is stimulating and enriching. People invent, refine and embellish their cultures through contact with and by borrowing from other cultures as a way of living together. A global ethic is arising to recognise the multicultural and multilingual reality of society as a totaolity.

The cornerstone in developing this global ethic is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). It attempts to  identify which universal values are best promoted by existing cultural practices and which ones require the transformation of outdated or unjust ones. Every community of people who share a language, a history or a way of life should have a right to their unique cultural identity and to the maintenance and development of cultural practices in harmony with mutual respect between all human beings. People learn culture and that is culture's essential feature. Although many qualities of human life are transmitted genetically, many cultural differences and commonalities cannot be explained genetically. Culture, as a body of learned behaviors common to a given human society, acts rather like a template, for example, it has predictable form and content, shaping behavior and consciousness within a human society from generation to generation. This primary concept of a shaping template and body of learned behaviors might be further broken down into the following categories, each of which is an important element of cultural systems:


  • systems of meaning, of which language is primary
  • Social Organization

  • ways of organizing society, from groups to states and multi-national systems
  • Values and Behaviour

  • the distinctive techniques of a group and their characteristicvalues and behaviours
  • Cultural Gallery