Tuesday, 1 January 2008

On cultur(e/ally)-related

An L2 correspondent writes to ask about the difference between culturally-related and culture-related. He used Google to count the number of hits, getting 8,810 for culturally-related and 20,100 for culture-related, and adds: 'This lets me feel at ease with culture-related. However, I found culturally-related used in an academic document. Are both constructions equally possible - although they aren't in terms of frequency of usage?'

Both constructions are possible, indeed - but the devil lies in the word 'equally'. There is a great deal of collocational variation between the two usages. Using the Google technique, I tried a few searches, and got these results:

A culture related courses: 2310
B culturally related courses: 96
A/B = 4%

A culture related factors: 1450
B culturally related factors: 385
A/B = 26%

A culture related differences: 1210
B culturally related differences: 397
A/B = 33%

A culture related issues: 3640
B culturally related issues: 1490
A/B = 41%

A culture related activities: 3330
B culturally related activities: 1460
A/B = 44%

Culture is the dominant usage each time, as my correspondent found, but there are huge differences in the extent of the dominance, as the percentages illustrate. On the other hand, we also find this:

A culture related anxiety: 3
B culturally related anxiety: 125

So the matter is not straightforward.

Are these differences just collocational preferences or is there any difference in meaning? It's possible to get a feel for this if we reduce the constructions to a basic contrast:

(1) This is a culture issue.
(2) This is a cultural issue.

I can think of several contexts where they would mean exactly the same thing. But I can also imagine a context, where I have a specific culture or cultures in mind, where I would prefer (1) because it is somewhat more focused, more specific. By contrast, I can imagine a context where I would prefer (2) because the implication is more general, related to some broader notion that transcends individual cultures.

There is also a stylistic point: culture is more succinct. And there is a phonaesthetic point in relation to my correspondent's query: culture-related has a rhythm of strong-weak-weak-strong-weak whereas culturally related has strong-weak-weak-weak-weak-strong-weak. The first rhythm falls well within English rhythmical norms (a dactyl), whereas a sequence of four unstressed syllables does not. Many users will avoid culturally for that reason alone.


Emad Nawfal said...

One problem with the Googling methodology is that maybe the majority of the internet English writers are not native speakers of English, which could lead to lots of problems for learners. I suggest that you find a better way that takes this into consideration. Maybe you can google only the urls originating in Britain, the US, Canada, and Australia.

DC said...

Yes, results using this methodology can only be suggestive - indicative of interesting hypotheses. But given the size of the corpus available to Google, I don't think the kinds of individual difference which might arise as a result of non-native variation are going to affect the general trends that this method brings to light. Googling per country wouldn't solve the problem, as there is no way of knowing what the language background is of someone from the (increasingly multi-ethnic) countries you mention. If someone can think of a better way, I'd like to know of it. In the meantime, a very useful article related to this question is by Peter Gerrand in the last issue of the online Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication.

Anonymous said...

Shouldn’t we study the artistic side of grammar and grammatical forms? For example, instead of explaining that prepositional phrases have an adverbial relationship with verbs or an adjectival relationship with nouns; we can show that these expressions set the scene or context of a thought, which relates the surrounding objects, circumstances and conditions of the thought. The context simply answers any questions about the thought - who, what, where, when, why, how, whose and which. Here's an example, partially taken from the Parker Brothers' game of Clue, which sets the scene of a crime:

Mr. Boddy was murdered [Thought]
by Professor Plum [Who?]
by strangulation [How?]
with a rope [What weapon?]
after dinner [When?]
for fun [Why?]
in the library [Where?]
next to the bedroom [Which library?]
of Mrs. Peacock [Whose bedroom?].

These phrases set the scene of the crime for the thought ‘Mr. Boddy was murdered’. Without them, the reader cannot see the big picture of the crime committed. Shouldn’t it be told that these phrases represent the context of a thought, not just modifiers of nouns and verbs?

We can also explain the relevance of these phrases, for detectives know that they need to uncover evidence and clues that will reveal the answers to the eight context questions for every crime they investigate. Also, news reporters know that they need to report the facts for these eight questions for every story they cover. And movie producers and playwrights know that they need to address these questions for every scene or set that they produce. By demonstrating the usefulness of English expressions through practical everyday examples, we can realize the importance and relevance of these phrases.

It is nice to know how prepositional phrases function in a sentence, but isn’t it more important to know what their artistic purpose and usefulness is in the art of expression? It is good to be able to identify these phrases in a sentence, but isn’t it just as important to know the relevance of these phrases in everyday life? And shouldn’t we study the power, beauty and versatility of these phrases not only in games such as Clue, but also in songs, poetry, jokes and such?

We have this wonderfully expressive language that we can explore in many artistic ways. Shouldn’t we make the connection between grammar and art?


DC said...

Yes, of course. Anyone who sees grammar as just a set of constructions is missing out all the best bits. The exciting part of grammar is when you explore what the grammatical constructions are for - which means adding a semantic and a pragmatic perspective (the latter dealing with the point about purpose, which you mention). These perspectives provide the bridge between grammar and the arts. You can read up on my approach to all this in my Making Sense of Grammar (Longman, 2004).

Anonymous said...

Dear professor,

Culturally-related and culture-related are compound adjectives (right?), which is the subject-theme of my question. Is it possible to say "well-behaving children"? If so, what's the difference between 'well-behaved" and "well-behaving"?

DC said...

If I say 'John's dog is well-behaved', I mean it is characteristically so (based on evidence from the past - hence the -ed form). It would be unusual to see it behaving badly. But if I say - for example, seeing it in a supermarket - 'John's dog is well-behaving', I would mean that it is being good today (based on ongoing evidence - hence the -ing form), with the implication that it normally isn't. It's not a very usual expression: you'd be more likely to hear 'John's dog is behaving well'. But you'll find examples on the Internet, such as 'I've got a well-behaving computer now'. Indeed, the usage is quite common in computing, where one encounters such expressions as 'well-behaving nodes'.