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Here's a sentence I find confusing:

The job of a family therapist is to understand the family culture of which the larger culture, with its many layered meanings, is a part.

Which interpretation is right, 1 or 2?

  1. the family culture is a part of the larger culture
  2. the larger culture is a part of the family culture

To me, 1 makes more sense than 2. But the structure appears to say 2 is correct. Could someone explain this, please?

And could you tell me why the prepositional phrase "with its many layered meanings” has been placed between commas?

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user43947: You might find our sister site for English Language Learners of interest: ell.stackexchange.com – Jim May 9 '13 at 3:24
@Jim Thank you a lot. I went there and I see it is great just like here:) – Juya Dec 24 '13 at 5:38
@John M. Landsberg truly thx. My text after your good edition is now far clearer:) – Juya Dec 24 '13 at 5:45
@Jim My text after your good edition is now far clearer:) cheers! – Juya Dec 24 '13 at 5:46
up vote 1 down vote accepted

Interpretation number 2 is correct, syntactically speaking.

As for what it means, here is my guess: Any family's "culture" (set of shared values, preferred interests, typical behaviors, etc.) is not so much a part of the "larger" culture as it is a result of choosing parts of the larger culture to be included in what the family's particular unique culture is. (By "choosing" I mean both conscious, intentionally made choices, and involuntary choices resulting from cultural influences that are absorbed more unconsciously.) Families do not necessarily adopt every aspect of the larger culture, so the mere fact that they exist geographically within the larger culture does not necessarily mean they are functionally "a part" of it. ("The larger culture" refers to the more expansive cultural context provided by the entire region, whether it be as small as the neighborhood, as large as the entire world, or anything in between.)

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Thanks for your useful comment, John. I think normally, it is the society culture that rules a family not vice versa. Based on this i found this confusing. however, while it doen not make sense to me, it is possible that the writer wants to say exactly what he has, that is he thinks the larger culture is a part of the family culture. – Juya May 9 '13 at 17:30

Indeed, 1 would make more sense, but the syntax is clear: it has to be 2. What the author means I do not know; it is rather the content than the structure of the sentence that makes it confusing.

The commas would indicate that the phrase between them is to be taken as an afterthought of sorts. The commas are optional anyway, because they do not change the meaning (of course this is different in other sentences and with other commas).

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Thanks for your useful comment – Juya May 9 '13 at 17:29

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