by: Dr. Jaspal Singh
Source: South Asia Post: Issue 24 Vol I
CULTURE is whole of human achievement with regional variations that has come into being as a result of man’s intervention into the process of nature. The purpose behind this acquisition is to adopt and regulate natural environment in terms of human needs and urges. Historically speaking this activity has had two consequences. One is the development of material culture that has appeared in the form of civilisation taking a temporal course in history. Second is the emergence of symbolic culture appearing in the form of different communicational modes especially language.
French philosopher Michel Foucault talks about three clearly demarcated epistemological fields viz. Biology, Economics and Language. Biology according to him provides with function and norm both physical and cultural; Economics with production and distribution of material goods and commodities and language with systems of signs and communication. These three epistemological fields imply three great exchanges around which the entire warp and woof of human life is woven. The first of them is the exchange of women which according to Love-Strauss is the motive force behind any kinship system on the basis of which many cultural practices are organised. The second is the exchange of commodities involving all operations from production to consumption. Here also culture shows its presence at the end of the production cycle i.e., in the exchange of messages that involves the operation of the semiotic systems of communication usually with a very strong cultural mediation by means of which man completely organises his universe and stores his ideas and impressions, transmitting them to the other members of the community. That is why Yuri Lotman, the Russian semiotician defines culture as the whole of human activity of working out, exchanging and preserving information by means of immanently organised and interrelated semiotic systems. This third exchange dealing as it is with communication depends mainly on linguistic devices and strategies. In the semiotic scheme of culture one may include people’s customs, traditions, conventions, rites, rituals, ceremonies, myths, folk tales, proverbs, totems, taboos, abuses, riddles, folk songs, sculpture, painting, architecture, dances, theatre, manners and etiquette, ways of cooking and serving of food, utensils, dress patterns, hair styles, ornaments, modes of worship and so on. All of them are the semiotic activities of culture, being conceptualised and regulated in and through language. That is why Roland Barthes subordinates all the sign systems to language as they are realized and mediated through it.Punjabi intelligentsia and middle class today find themselves on the horns of dilemma. They have to deal with modern ideas, science, technology, media, trade and commerce financial and marketing institutions and practices at the national and international levels, where they cannot do without a good knowledge of the English language. For their cultural and creative impulses they have to depend on the Punjabi language and folk forms. Even for their spiritual and metaphysical concerns, they have to fall back on the Punjabi language and ethos. Every language has dual articulation. One for the material constructs of the empirical world and the other for the cultural and literacy urges of the community. The use of language for material and empirical purposes is referential having one to one correspondence with words their meanings and the physical reality. But for cultural and literary purposes the use of language is metaphoric and symbolic with a powerful social mediation of the speech community. Punjabi intellectual is torn apart between these two compulsions. He cannot cope with the powerful currents of the present day globalisation without his hold on to the English language. Inversely without his mastery over Punjabi, he cannot create anything worthwhile. A very large segment of Punjabi intelligentsia tends to be a part of the global community even though it may not have any significant recognition there. The creative writers of Punjabi are too localized to have any universal relevance. How to reconcile these two divergent drives is question of paramount importance confronting the Punjabi intellectuals, writers and professionals.