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Culture consists of both material culture and non-material culture. Thoughts or ideas that make up a culture are called the non-material culture. In contrast to material culture, non-material culture does not include any physical objects or artifacts. Examples of non-material culture include any ideas, beliefs, values, norms that may help shape society.
Language is one way humans are able to communicate, making it possible for people to share thoughts and opinions with one another. This type of communication impacts the formation of culture.There can exist variations in one language within sub-cultural groups.
Language and culture are closely tied together and can affect one another. One example of culture shaping language is the case of the Pirahã people. Their lack of words for numbers makes it impossible for them to have complex mathematical systems in their culture. This could be a result of their cultural requirements: because they have no need for extensive mathematics, there would be no need for them to form number words. The formation of American slang can also serve as a reflection of culture and has changed as American culture developed. For example, as people began speaking out in defense of homosexuality in the 1960s, vulgar language and slang became more acceptable to use and began to be included in dictionaries.
The theory based on the works of Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf holds that language actually limits and shapes how people see the world around them. This theory of linguistic relativity would indicate that language alters and restricts the formation of language.
In his 1973 book, The Interpretation of Cultures, anthropologist Clifford Geertz refers to culture as "a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward life," expressing the importance he placed on symbols in culture. Just like language, symbols form as a culture grows. People in a particular society attribute meaning to specific objects, and that imbued meaning transforms that object into a widely recognized symbol in that society. There can be symbols that cross cultural boundaries. For example, a cross is a universal symbol of Christianity, and is so universally known due to the prevalence of Christianity in different cultures. Though the first stop sign first appeared in Michigan in the United States, the physical attributes are so well known in many different cultures due to its use in so many different countries. Some symbols meaning only to a particular cultures. In American culture, a white picket fence is a widely recognized symbol for a successful and happy suburban life.
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