The DNA of Culture, Article Writing Example
Words: 5421Article Writing
There is much debate concerning the process of language acquisition and the use of culturally derived terminologies within groups of differing ethnic origins. While there are numerous theories concerning linguistic acquisition, many of the major accepted theories have differing views regarding whether language is inherently contained in human DNA or if it is learned through various environmental influences. This paper examines these theories and uses a unique survey to determine how culturally specific language, such as slang terms and cultural jargon, are learned and disseminated to others outside the parent culture. The results of the survey indicate that slang terms and cultural jargon are learned through various sources outside the parent culture and can be acquired through various environmental sources rather than inherited through DNA. These determinations provide a new direction for further exploration into the origins of culturally derived language since a small sample size was used in this study.
Identifying the Concepts of Language, Culture, and DNA
Culture and language are two dichotomies that are frequently linked since both influence self-expressions. Succinctly stated, culture is defined as “an organized system of living and thinking that contains shared attitudes, values, goals, and behaviors that are present in individuals, groups, organizations, or regions of the world” (Vissing, 2011, p. 24). The brief definition of language is “a system of conventional spoken, manual, or written symbols by means of which human beings, as members of a social group and participants in its culture, express themselves,” but also indicates that language serves numerous functions, which includes “communication, the expression of identity, play, imaginative expression, and emotional release” (Crystal, 2015).
DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is considered to be the building blocks of life and has been linked to many elements thought to be culturally derived, such as physical attributes and certain behaviors, but has also been associated with the development of linguistic aptitudes. Many theories that postulate how people develop their linguistic abilities insinuate that language is an inherent ability, meaning that humans are born with the aptitude to communicate linguistically despite language and dialect diversity (Berk, 2008). The perspective that language is an inherently fixed attribute of human construct implies that linguistic paradigms may be programmed into our DNA, the same as other attributes like hair and eye color.
However, other theories state that language is a culturally derived facet of human development that is learned through exposure to the parent culture (Berk, 2008). This perspective stipulates that language derivation has nothing to do with DNA and everything to do with the culture each individual is exposed to during the stages of linguistic development and even thereafter since people have the ability to learn new dialects and speaking patterns as they become exposed to new circumstances, such as the adaptation of slang and cultural jargon (Metcalf, 2012). This conflict amongst the most popular linguistic theories acts as the foundational basis for this research.
The objective of this research is to determine whether slang and cultural jargon can be transmitted without direct exposure to the parent culture. The lack of definitive consensus amongst leading linguistic theorists regarding the mode of linguistic acquisition makes the implications for this research quite significant.
Research Questions and Hypotheses
The following research question will act as the guiding factor in the progression of this study: Can slang terminologies and cultural jargon be transmitted without direct interaction with the parent culture?
Since this question can be interpreted in a broad context, the following sub-question will help keep the research focused on the specifics of this investigation: Are slang terminologies and cultural jargon inherently imbedded in DNA?
Based on these research questions, this investigation will attempt to prove or disprove the main hypothesis, which is:
- Slang terminologies and cultural jargon can be transmitted without direct interaction with the parent culture.
The hypothesis based on the sub-question is:
- Slang terminologies and cultural jargon are not inherently imbedded in DNA.
The purpose of this literature review is to examine the specific aspects relative to culture, language, and how they each relate to inherent attributes according to the paradigms outlined in the research questions and hypotheses. The first section will expound upon the concept of culture, followed by an in-depth descriptive definition of language acquisition theories to illustrate the framework for this research. The final section will discuss how language relates to cultural expression.
Complex Definition of Culture and Cultural Jargon
Culture is a system of collectively held values and cultural differences that are reflected in several dimensions, as shown below in Figure 1. Cultures develop numerous jargon terms for things that have a strong significant value according to their traditions (Zimmermann, 2015).
Cultural dissemination is a unique conceptual global phenomenon in which members of communities work collaboratively in a perpetual effort to not only preserve their culturally distinctive customs but also to make certain that historic traditions can be maintained through verbal transmission (Kluckhohn, 1951). The broadest interpretation of cultural jargon describes this as language used that is specific to certain professional contexts, such as terms like BP (blood pressure), JT (joint), FX (bone fracture), TD (temporary duty), AWOL (absent without leave), left wing, right wing, BTW (by the way), HTH (Hope this helps), FAQ (frequently asked questions), TTYL (talk to you later), BFF (best friends forever), LOL (laugh out loud), and many other common terms. The cultural jargon concept constructs these paradigms using definitive elements to represent the legacy associated with the tangible and intangible connotative meanings indicated by these terminologies, which can represent a specific person, group, or community (Changing Minds, 2013). In identifying the dimensions indicative of cultural jargon, research includes manifestations of the human condition that represent specific life impressions or witness the history and validity of that interpretation (Griswold, 2008). These attributes can include language, buildings, and other attributes that are representative of a past generation and that are being preserved for a future generation by the current one.
Theoretical Framework using Language Acquisition Theories
There are numerous factors that affect language acquisition in early childhood, such as the characteristics of the learner, the social setting, and the quantity and quality of the linguistic input the child receives, all of which can have drastic effects on the child’s ability to assimilate the target language (Otto, 2010). The three major theories of language development are: The Behaviorist Perspective, The Nativist Perspective, and The Interactionist Perspective (Berk, 2008).
According to B. F. Skinner’s behaviorist theory on language development, language is acquired through operant conditioning (Berk, 2008). Through this process, correct linguistic imitation from a child is received by positive reinforcement from the adult (Berk, 2008). This theory is comparable to the interactionist perspective in that it postulates that language is developed through human interactions (Berk, 2008).
The nativist perspective was first introduced by linguist Naom Chomsky, who postulated that a child’s ability to incorporate language is due to a universal grammar innate in every child, or a language acquisition device (LAD) (Otto, 2010). The theory dictates that it is unnecessary for parents to linguistically coach their children because their linguistic abilities are biologically inherent, which is in direct contrast to the behaviorist theory (Otto, 2010). However, Chomsky’s theory does not specify the parameters of the biological linguistic capabilities or explain why children are able to make grammatical distinctions in one circumstance and not another if grammar is universal (Otto, 2010).
The interactionist perspective emphasizes the importance of interactions between inner capacities and environmental influences (Berk, 2008). The information-processing perspective and the social interaction perspective are the two types of interactionist perspectives (Berk, 2008). This perspective, as well as the behaviorist theory, focuses on the development made within the Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas of the brain as well as environmental and external stimuli while the nativist perspective focuses mainly on biological aspects (Berk, 2008).
According to Whorfian theory, our words are coded in language and so are our thoughts and this linguistic pattern dictates more than just the language we speak (Skotko, 1997). This pattern also dictates our sense of reason, how we view nature, our relationship views, and every other aspect of our conscious and unconscious mind (Skotko, 1997). This phenomenon is known as linguistic determinism and is based on Whorf’s theory that every language utilizes a unique set of semantic representations (Skotko, 1997). These semantics determine aspects of our conceptual representations which is why how linguistics influences habitual thought (Skotko, 1997). When analyzed, Whorf’s theory has proven to bear significant merit. Franz Boas’ linguistic analysis revealed that many languages exclude specification of gender, tenses, location, and a vast array of descriptive terms present within the English language (Skotko, 1997).
Many linguistic theories, such as interactionist and behaviorist, believe that lexical development is contingent upon the life experiences of those speaking the language, meaning that a culture where the people live in thatch-roofed huts would not be able to conceptualize a building, thus could not fathom a skyscraper (Skotko, 1997). However, slang is a lexical innovation created by individuals and often incorporates words and phrases from various languages, as well as variations of standard words (Metcalf, 2012). Originally considered to be the lowest form of communication, slang is now commonly used in the highest social circles and is perpetuated based upon its usefulness and applicability (Metcalf, 2012).
Language and Cultural DNA Interpreted through Slang and Cultural Jargon
Despite having a standard language with a standard lexicon, all cultures have some form of slang and cultural jargon terminology within their dialect representing different stylistic levels of vocabulary linked to various kinds of social interaction (Metcalf, 2012). The technical definition of slang is: Any informal, nonstandard word or phrase that originates within subcultures within a society and often embodies the attitudes and values of members of that subculture (Bullard, Johnson, Morris, Fox, & Howell, 2010). The more common definition of slang is: A relaxed, informal way of speaking that is not a separate dialect, a catch phrase, cultural jargon, a slogan, colloquialism, or solecism (Bullard, et al., 2010). Slang is a lexical innovation, created by individuals and perpetuated based upon its usefulness and applicability. It often incorporates words and phrases from various languages, as well as variations of standard words.
Slang, or cant, was originally considered the language of the ignorant, criminal element and beneath anyone of culture or breeding. Dating as far back as the 15th -16th century, slang started out as a dialect contrived in gambling halls and saloons by criminals or cheats, and scholars believed that it undermined the dignity of verbal exchange with an unrefined and often aggressive informality, which made it considered taboo (Bullard, et al., 2010). Although slang terminology develops in communities to deliver messages faster, it can originate from cultural biases (Metcalf, 2012). The distinct deviation of slang from social ambiance, use, and style from those of the standard lexicon is deliberate and without the contrast of a recognized standard vocabulary, any basis for distinguishing slang from something else disappears.
Americans have an extensive range of slangs that are exclusive to specific groups, but the vast majority of slangs are used cross-culturally. There are numerous slang words used to describe various thing, assorted actions, a variety of qualities or personal attributes, and a mixture of other things. Most American slang can be heard within the context of daily conversation, such as the use of words like ‘threads’ or ‘duds’ to describe clothing, or ‘dog’ when referring to a friend.
The consistent encroachment of slang into the spoken and written language caused scholars to push for a standard prescriptive form of English to be established (Bullard, et al., 2010). ‘Proper’ English, as taught in scholastic settings, is considered for use in atmospheres such as professional venues, scholarly settings, the production of professional literature, and other such circumstances. Most slang words completely deviate from the denotative meaning of the word and rely completely on the connotative meaning, which can be infinite since it is completely reliant upon the cultural associations. Slang terms and cultural jargon are now commonly used by cultured, sophisticated, linguistically rich individuals that regard slang as an intelligent and insightful variation to the blandness of standard language (Bullard, et al., 2010).
Similar to slang, cultural jargon developed in professional settings, such as medical or military, but has also expanded through the use of modern technologies like cell phones and the Internet. Within these forums, the development of cultural jargon has served to help convey messages more quickly. The use of slang terms or cultural jargon is not always limited by social boundaries, so it can exist in all languages, cultures, and classes of society (Bullard, et al., 2010). It is also used to help express ideas, actions, or similar experiences or things not typically found in a dictionary (Bullard, et al., 2010). The recognition of slang or cultural jargon words, phrases, or gestures as a legitimate linguistic element stems entirely from the native speaker’s perception of shared social and stylistic custom (Metcalf, 2012). The slang or cultural jargon expressions specifically linked with entertainment fads, media scandals, idioms of high school cliques and other small, localized groups are usually prevalent for only a short time and then diminish while the life of a slang term that has gained recognition in popular speech is likely to be longer.
Cultural jargon exists in literate cultures that have a recognized, standard usage of oral and written languages. The use of slang and cultural jargon in social settings almost always automatically assumes an interpersonal relationship exists between both the sender of the message and the receiver. Within our culturally diverse society, the mixing of cultures, customs, colloquialisms, and slang terminologies is inevitable and helps establish a basis of sharing and understanding that may not otherwise exist between distinct ethnicities.
As the various sub-cultures that make up our nation interact from day to day, words are exchanged through natural interactions, and, with them, ideas. While formal speech is primarily used within business settings, professionals often coin slang terminology to reference common items more quickly, such as when a chef instructs a member of his culinary crew to “86” an item and it is understood that the item is to be thrown away or when a lawyer refers to another lawyer as a ‘dump truck,’ it is usually understood that the indicated person tends to plea bargain the majority of their cases. Professional sub-groups, from airplane pilots to factory workers, all have their own slang that they use within professional contexts. While common terms are used cross-culturally, these slangs are only used and understood by those specific to that industry.
For this study, a quantitative empirical research method was employed to gather the relevant statistical data that would enable the methodical comparison of the variables influencing whether slang and cultural jargon can be transmitted without direct exposure to the parent culture. This research consisted of a convenience sample size of 100 participants. This sample was fairly well distributed among various cultural and ethnic demographics, as shown in Figure 2, which illustrates the diversity in the nationalities participants identified themselves as.
The survey question allowed participants to select multiple responses to represent individuals that were of mixed origins and so has a total greater than the actual number of participants. The eclectic mixture of cultural representation is beneficial to this research because it provides input from a diverse spectrum of ethnic and cultural backgrounds so as to provide this research with data that is indicative of the represented populace.
An electronic survey devised specifically for this research was administered, shown in Table 1, which used quantitative and qualitative questions designed to asses if there is an interrelationship between the use of slang terms and cultural jargon and whether this unique vernacular can be transmitted without direct exposure to the parent culture. The questionnaire assumed a general format and was constructed using easily interpreted coding for the closed-ended questions and matrix questions for the open-ended questions (Babbie, 2007).
The survey was brief for expeditious return, was anonymously self-administered, and enquired about the acquisition of slang as well as cultural jargon terms to determine whether use of such vernacular was inherited through DNA or taught (Patton, 2008). The e-survey focused on the use of slang terms and cultural jargon in addition to the demographic information, such as age and gender. Double-barreled questions were meticulously avoided and all the questions have direct relevance to the specifics of the study (Babbie, 2007). Negative and biased terminology was excluded from the questionnaire to avoid misinterpretations or biased results (Babbie, 2007). One potential limitation is that the narrow sampling frame will potentially limit the number of respondents and will impact the degree with which the sample group is representative of the population.
The primary research data collected from the surveys within this enquiry was critically analyzed and correlations between this and other studies were evaluated (Salkind, 2008). The basic principles of the research question were scrutinized with specific care to remain objectively non-judgmental and present only the facts as they are gathered through the research. This will allow the research to be ethically conscientious and ensure that it will not detrimentally affect any participants. All participants were included in the study under the terms that they are partaking in the exercise on the basis of voluntary informed consent without being coerced.
Quantitative research methodology uses deductive approaches following a linear path, which emphasizes explicit standardized procedures to measure variables and test hypotheses to form plausible relationships (Neuman, 2006). The responses of the surveys is charted and graphed to easily reveal indicators and dimensions that will indicate correlations between the categorical values (Babbie, 2007). This also allows the responses to be organized to create conceptual order and establish variable ranges for the factorial examination (Babbie, 2007). The key variables will be relative to indicators that denote whether slang terminologies and cultural jargon can be transmitted without direct interaction with the parent culture. Peer reviewed and scholastic studies will be reviewed to extrapolate empirical data that will support or refute the findings of this examination (Patton, 2008).
Validity and Reliability
Throughout the course of the research, steps were taken to ensure that readers can have confidence that the findings of this study are accurate, and not the product of prejudice or bias. All surveys contained the same questions worded in the same manner to maintain construct validity and ensure the methods are repeatable (Creswell, 2009). The small sample group may prevent the determinations from being generalizable in that the sample group may or may not be representative of the wider population. The size of the sample group will warrant further research. The substantive data collected through the literature review may support the initial hypothesis and present findings that can be repeated and whether there were any additional questionnaires and follow-up interviews administered.
The results of this research are based on the primary data collected from the completed surveys whereas incomplete or surveys that were incorrectly filed out were excluded. The first three questions were to collect basic demographic information from the participants. Figure 3 shows the age distribution of the participants where the majority of the sample (53%) was over 45 years old while 28% were between 18-29 years of age and 19% between 30-44 years of age.
Demographically, 55 % (N=55) of the respondents who participated in the study were female and 45% (N=45) were male, as shown in Figure 4. The illustration in Figure 2 shows the cultural distribution of the participants according to how they self-identified their nationality.
The fourth question asked about the use of slang terminologies in daily speech. As shown in Figure 4, 97% of the participants indicated that they do use slang terms in their daily speech. Although 3% of the respondents indicated they do not use slang terms, this can easily be a false negative according to the understanding held regarding what slang terms are. Many people believe that use of slang terms is an uneducated form of speech and may not be aware of the numerous terms that are currently part of mainstream language.
The fifth question, shown in Figure 6, is regarding the exposure to the slang terms used and allowed participants to select multiple answers according to their experiences. The majority of participants indicated their exposure to slang terminologies stemmed from outlets such as friends (81%), family (62%), music (91%), TV (89%), and the Internet (77%), while other sources like teachers and other adults (38%) and print publications (40%) were not frequently sources where slang was acquired.
The fifth question, shown in Figure 7, asked about the use of cultural jargon terminologies in daily speech. The vast majority of participants, 95%, indicated that they did use cultural jargon terms in their daily speech. The 5% of participants that indicated they do not use cultural jargon in their daily speech can also represent a false negative response since there is an abundance of terms considered as cultural jargon that the respondents may not be aware are considered as such.
The sixth question, illustrated in Figure 8, asked where participants acquired the cultural jargon vernacular and allowed for multiple selections according to experience. Similar to the results for question four, the majority of participants indicated that they picked up cultural jargon from sources such as friends (94%), music (91%), TV (89%), and the Internet (77%), while sources like family (43%), teachers and other adults (55%), and printed publications (31%) were selected less frequently.
The last question in the survey, illustrated in Figure 9, asked whether participants used slang terms or cultural jargon that was not used by anyone in their immediate environment. The vast majority of participants, 93%, stated that they did use slang terminologies and cultural jargon that was not inherent within their immediate environment.
Overall, the survey illustrated that the overwhelming majority of participants did engage in the use of slang terminologies as well as the use of cultural jargon in their daily speech. The last question indicated that this language was not typically acquired within the immediate environment and that many participants used vernacular that was not inherent within their own culture since these terms were often foreign to their family, teachers, close friends, or coworkers.
The majority of actions are culturally relative, from the mates and careers chosen to the foods eaten and methods for rearing children. The norms and values practiced and transmitted to others are heavily based upon cultural aspects such as religious beliefs and ethnicity. Culture strongly influences people’s decision making processes (Hofstede, 1989). Some cultures encourage premarital sex, while others find it immoral (Ruggiero, 2008).
There are numerous ways in which slang is conveyed from one sub-culture to another. Originally, written media, such as books and newspapers, or word of mouth were the dominant forms of communication. However, today’s technology allows slang to be passed through popular culture via magazines, pop music, television, the Internet, social media, and other modes of communication. The popularity of Internet ‘chat rooms’ has made international communication common place, and, in this informal atmosphere, usage of slang, cultural jargon, and word abbreviations is a common method of vernacular exchange. For example, there ae numerous slang terms used to describe money, such as moolah, cash, denero, change, currency, flow, Benjamins, ducats, dollars, finances, dividends, pesos, flash, funds, revenue, capital, paper, ends, dead presidents, collateral, and any others.
While some of these terms are slang, others are words that we have imported into English vocabulary from other languages, such as Spanish and French but they all mean the same thing.
Slang terminologies and cultural jargon is also passed on through communications with members of our immediate circle. Although cultural jargon is usually only bandied about within the confines of the professional setting and among fellow members of the relevant profession, terms often bleed into other sub-cultures through the integration of our friends and family members into our professional lives. When individuals share their day with their significant others, they often use slang from the workplace, which is then translated to their mate. They, in turn, become familiar with the terminology and may use it in conversation with another non-professional, and so forth.
The slang spoken by African Americans can range from the highly sophisticated speech of New Yorkers to the raunchy street slang spoken by Houston natives (Metcalf, 2012). African American slang is so deeply rooted within the culture that, in 1973, it was given its own name: Ebonics, coined from the words ‘ebony’ and ‘phonics’ (Metcalf, 2012). This term was created by Robert L. Williams “to define black language from a black perspective”, rather than use terms that many people of color felt reflected a “white bias” towards their speech (Metcalf, 2012). The speech patterns of African Americans is so diverse that, even when speaking in a professional forum, with no use of slang, orators still have a vernacular so distinct, its style is mimicked by Americans from all walks of life (Metcalf, 2012). Slang terms like ‘jazz,’ ‘cool,’ and ‘chill out’ were all given their slang meanings by African Americans and are used by Americans from all nationalities and walks of life (Metcalf, 2012).
Although the speech accent may differ by region, African American English follows a distinctive pattern and is an idiosyncratic variation of American English (Metcalf, 2012). This modification of modern English has a unique vocabulary that utilizes verbiage that is commonly misunderstood by other races, such as ‘kitchen’ when describing the exceptionally nappy hair at the nape of the neck and ‘ashy’ to describe the whitish pallor of extremely dry skin (Metcalf, 2012). The Hip Hop culture, which is essentially a segment of the African American culture, although it encompasses members from various nationalities, has vernacular dynamic of its own.
Other distinctive American groups, such as gangs, also have their own definitive vernacular, although the inspiration for its establishment is not so noble. Many gang slangs are utilized in a criminal capacity and, are therefore constantly changing (Bullard, et al., 2010). However, there are some terms that are stationary within the language to be consistently identifiable by all members, such as terms designating a member’s group affiliation or their rank or station within the group. There are also numerous terms that would seem like ordinary words to non-members, but are instructional codes to members to perform various activities. Gangs do not confine their slang to simple words, but use clothing, tattoos, hand gestures, and even dances as part of their culture and to convey their messages.
The ramifications of the intercultural transference of slang are essentially positive. The cross-cultural understanding that has arisen through the assimilation of slang has narrowed the racial gaps in numerous communities. Newfound understandings have enabled many nationalities to abandon long-held stereotypes concerning members of other races and embrace new levels of tolerance towards those groups. The media has played a large part in demystifying much cultural slang. Linguistic assimilation, which was historically a destroyer of languages, now plays a large role in the preservation of rare, indigenous languages. Modern technologies, such as the Internet, are employed to facilitate the spread of American culture to the rest of the world and vice versa.
Based on the details gathered through the primary and secondary research, the answer to the main research question posed is ‘Yes.’ This study has determined that slang terminologies and cultural jargon can be transmitted without direct interaction with the parent culture due to the strong extraneous influences of Internet, TV, music, friends, and even family members that collect vernacular not native to their culture and disseminate it through communication interactions. This proves that the first hypothesis, which stated: Slang terminologies and cultural jargon can be transmitted without direct interaction with the parent culture, is true.
Cultural norms have a bearing on learning patterns and this has a strong effect on individual responses to various elements relative to learning that are not apparent in all learning environments (Cloke & Goldsmith, 2011). For the sub-question, based on this research, the answer is ‘No,’ slang terminologies and cultural jargon is not inherently imbedded in DNA. This is demonstrated by the ability of numerous participants to acquire slang terminologies and cultural jargon not used by anyone in their immediate environment, such as family, teachers, close friends, or coworkers. This proves the second hypothesis, which states: ‘Slang terminologies and cultural jargon are not inherently imbedded in DNA’ is also true.
Historically, many languages have become extinct, or come close to it through linguistic assimilation in various countries (Miller, 2007). This research adds new information through the primary survey data, which illustrates that the use of slang and cultural jargon is a common occurrence amongst both professional and non-professionals. The relevance of this phenomenon pertains to the dissemination of cultural vernacular through human interactions rather than it being inherited. The question of whether DNA is influential in cultural linguistics is answered using the survey to explore the origins of culturally derived vernacular and opens the door for further exploration of this topic in a larger study.
Through slang, languages are changed and renewed. As slang terms travel between cultures and races, the adaptations of these cultural terms help unite diverse peoples through the assimilation of linguistics and magnify the boundaries of interpersonal communication (Bullard, et al., 2010). The creation of new slang and cultural jargon terminologies ensure that languages are continually changed and renewed. Slang is not simply words, but gestures and body language as well and is a large part of interpersonal communication. We often use physical gestures, facial expressions and a myriad of other informal forms of body language to convey various messages to those we interact within informal settings.
Overall, this research determined that the transmission of slang terms and cultural jargon is not an inherent event that is coded into the human DNA, but is more of an environmental occurrence triggered through the cross-cultural interactions as facilitated through exchanges with various types of media as well as people. The transference of vernacular not inherent to one culture into another has become a common occurrence and people do not have to be part of the parent culture in order to gain knowledge of various slang terminologies or cultural jargon. The definitive implications of this research present a unique platform that linguistic scholars can build upon to specify not just how language is acquired, but also how it is transmitted cross-culturally. Although the small sample group presents limitations in the form of generalizability of the research findings, the survey results do provide a new direction for future research regarding the transitional nature of language. While the participant pool included individuals from numerous cultural origins, this research used a survey with only eight questions and this can also present a limitation in the conclusive findings, providing the opportunity for future studies that use a research tool that has been expanded for deeper study of whether language is transmitted through cultural assimilation or DNA.
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