The key to culture is not language

I just got an offer of tutoring a kid in Latin. It’s for pay and the kid lives just down the street so I’m sure I’ll do it. So besides wondering what textbook he’s using I wondered what school he goes to; it’s got to be either a Catholic school or a Charter. The latter offer Latin as an inducement, promising a “classical education,” read ‘conservative’, ‘Christian’, ‘traditional’, ‘superior’, etc.
The intriguing part of a classical education concept is that somehow the language is a key to the culture and, often, something bigger. I recognize the feeling. Right now I am reading a Russian novel about the traditional Soviet agricultural village and I am deep into Korean study and watching Korean stories on Netflix. Only the text reveals anything, not the language.
The fact is, language is a key to culture only in that certain vocabulary items open up cultural considerations, like kimchi in Korean, raisonable in French, caudillo in Spanish, dacha in Russian, kharam in Urdu, and deus in Latin. Exploring those words and their place in the culture is fascinating and revealing, but the formation of the subjunctive or reflexive reveals nothing despite some lame attempts to label some cultures as fostering irresponsibility because they use pronouns in ‘slippery’ ways.

For those interested, this was taken to the extreme in the 1940s in the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. John McWhorter does a good job of debunking it in The Language Hoax. 

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