Part II: Culture Shock

Picking up on Gladstone’s story in Part I of this column, we can now see that as much debate as it incited, it was spot on, but dead wrong at the same time.

According to the Lamarckian evolutionary model that Gladstone based his color theory on, “the acquired aptitudes of one generation may become the inherited and inborn aptitudes of another.”

Gladstone’s assertion that the developments in the vocabulary of color involved the “progressive education” of mankind turned out to be, in fact, entirely correct. He just didn’t realize which human faculty needed to be trained -- the eye or the speech. In spite of the intense fight over the ability of ancient humans to perceive or name the colors of the rainbow, the insights that have emerged can be applied with equal benefit to other areas of language and to culture in general.



So, “primitive” cultures throughout history have adopted, borrowed and adapted words from other languages to describe objects and/or concepts they previously didn’t need.

The usage of the term “primitive,” from the French term “primitif” and from the Latin term “primitivus” (first or earliest of its kind), is interesting. Was Homer primitive because he didn’t elaborate on the blueness of the sky at the shores of Troy, the yellowness of the sand or, the grayness of the walls? I highly doubt that Homer could be viewed as a “primitive” man.


When we are confronted with making ourselves understood in a language over which we don’t have absolute command, we may say things like “yo dormir aqui?” or the equivalent of “me sleep here?” Instead of our usually eloquent, grammatically sophisticated “would you be so kind as to tell me whether there might be anywhere in this village where I could find a room for the night?” In fact, we just used a pared down, ungrammatical, rudimentary, inarticulate—in short, “primitive”—version of the language.

Now think of the emerging Hispanic culture in the U.S. We have learned that the majority of the Hispanic population growth is due to new births. This means that the future of Hispanics in this country is now progressively farther from their original cultural roots. A large portion of them is not even fluent in Spanish regardless of whether they are exposed to the language that their parents speak at home.

Let’s now make things a bit more complex. These same young Latinos are interacting virtually with other people, not just Hispanics, but of many nationalities and cultural backgrounds. When they communicate, they use a sort of shorthand language that is, in a way, a Cyber-Esperanto.

It is very interesting to see what people in Latin America/U.S./Spain are writing on Facebook, in Spanish/English/Spanglish. Included in their conversations are acronyms like OMG, LOL, WTF, etc. They derive from English, but somehow have been adopted and integrated into their quotidian jargon in a seamless way. I would even venture to say that they know how to apply them because as foreign as the origins of those “short words” may be to some of them, they understand their meaning.

It would seem that we are witnessing a shift, an evolution in culture in general. We are no longer identified as Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Colombian, American, etc. We are in fact, a “primitive” culture; one that through adoption of new words, concepts and ways of understanding, transcends all pre-established knowledge and is developing at a very rapid pace.

So, what about the question I posed in my prior column? “Should advertising be multicultural? Or multilingual? Or perhaps something else?”

I think that a sensible position for anyone trying to address this evolving group, would be one of an interested observer.

1 comment about "Part II: Culture Shock ".
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  1. Louie Chow from Freedman, November 23, 2011 at 11:30 a.m.

    Interesting topics and one that's close to my heart, not to mention a topic I keep discussing on a day-to-day basis. I think advertising, or marketing messages in general, should actually be increasingly 'individual' and not defined only by geographic location. We simply cannot generalise consumers anymore and the cultural mapping technique is increasingly relevant (and forever evolving).

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