Cultural emphasis

Cultural emphasis

Cultural emphasis is defined as an important aspect of a culture which is often reflected though language and, more specifically, vocabulary (Ottenheimer, 2006, p. 266). This means that the vocabulary people use in a culture indicates what is to that group of people. If there are a lot of words to describe a certain topic in a specific culture, then there is a good chance that that topic is considered important to that culture.


The idea of cultural emphasis is rooted form the work of Franz Boas, who is considered to be one of the founders of American Anthropology (Ottenheimer, 2006, p. 15). Franz Boas developed and taught concepts such as cultural relativism and the "cultural unconscious", which allowed anthropologists who studied under him, like Edward Sapir and Ruth Benedict, to further study and develop ideas on language and culture (Hart, 2005, p. 179).


One way in which cultural emphasis shows is talking about the weather. For example, if you live in a place where it is cold and it snows a lot, you might have several words to describe the snow:

For example: whiteout, blizzarding, sleeting, snowdrift, powder, packed snow, fresh snow, etc.

Or if you live in a place where it is how, you have words to describe that whether as well

For example: dry heat, muggy, humid, sticky, monsoon season, sweltering, etc.
The fact that we have and use all these words to describe one thing tells us that it is important to us. Furthermore, if you are not from the area, or that culture, you might not have experienced or know the difference between, for example, a dry heat or a humid heat.


  • Hart, W. B. (2005). Franz Boas and the roots of intercultural communication research. International and Intercultural Communication Annual, 28, 176-193.
  • Ottenheimer, H. J. (2006). The anthropology of language: An introduction to linguistic anthropology. Belmont: Thomson Higher Education.
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