by Lucy Ferris
A crucial element of better understanding languages, one that is perhaps not considered enough, is how intrinsically culture can affect them. The ‘Whorfians,’ named affectionately after the ‘Sapir-Whorf’ hypothesis, fundamentally believe that the language one speaks directly relates to their culture, encapsulating its identity and how one thinks, and determining what can and cannot be, based on each language’s vocabulary.
The inherently soothing nature of this concept, used by many companies such as those selling blankets and candles to effectively market their products with similar connotations, became a global fixation, with many books written on this new cultural phenomenon.
Whilst this general idea exists in other countries, there is no direct translation in English. We just simply don’t have a noun to describe this feeling, which leaves us with the question ‘why not?’. The easiest way to answer this comes from analysing the quality of Scandinavian life. Many Nordic countries establish their citizens’ basic needs such as healthcare, paid leave from work, and free university education. Comparing some of these aspects to other English-speaking countries around the world, it can be argued that it is harder to feel ‘hygge’ when these basic needs are not always met, and therefore the desire for such a word has not yet arisen. Interestingly, however, the etymology of the word can be traced back to the Norwegian word ‘hugga’, similar to the English word ‘hug’, thus suggesting that perhaps this concept is not completely distanced from our lifestyles.
Interestingly, this aspect of their culture was banned between 1756 and 1817 numerous times, according to the Local Sweden paper, due to Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist, suggesting it was merely a French ‘foreign custom’ that was ‘infecting’ those in his country.
You, like myself, might be wondering ‘that sounds bloody brilliant, where’s the British version of this?’ and whilst this could be compared to going to the pub for a pint with colleagues after work in England, ‘fika’ differs slightly, with many arguing that this encourages a more efficient workforce. The global brand IKEA, for example, declares on their website that ‘some of the best ideas and decisions happen at ‘fika’. This highlights the main cultural difference; ‘fika’ is not an excuse for a caffeine break such as in American culture, but rather a chance to come together as a collective to discuss ideas and opinions collaboratively.
So, it’s simple to see through these examples how a country’s culture and livelihood can be conveyed through their own specific vernacular, through the words that are either present or omitted. It may be interesting to ponder over news words the English language could gain in years to come, and how we will reflect on their appearance. Will we be having ‘fika’ breaks, enjoying ‘hygge’, or will we have our own set of words that define us?
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