No, its not just cultural, and recitation of Suttas dates from the time of the Buddha. There are different ways to use chanting.
The Buddha taught certain Protection Discourses Paritta Suttas
like the Metta Sutta as a protection from various dangers.
The Suttas were also chanted for the purpose of memorising and understanding the teachings. Not everyone had a photographic memory like the Venerable Ānanda, so other monks had to recite them to learn the teachings thoroughly. That is how the teachings were recorded for posterity and that oral tradition is still in use today. Many monks in Burma have to memorise large portions of the Canon to pass examinations, and to become qualified teachers. A Fabulous Memory
— some biographical details of the first Tipitakadhāra Sayādaw.
Then, on one occasion, when the Venerable Moggallāna was nodding, the Buddha taught him seven methods of dispelling sloth and torpor, one of which was "Reciting teachings that one had learnt by heart."
Nowadays, of course, in many Buddhist countries reciting the virtues of the Buddha, and other similar chanting, are much more for devotional purposes, and may sometimes be done without much understanding of what is being recited. In some cases it has degenerated to the level of a superstitious ritual.
If you're learning about Buddhism, do make the effort to learn some key passages in the original Pāli, and recite them by heart while reflecting on the meaning. It will be an aid to mental discipline, an introduction to the Pāli language, and a foundation for studying the teachings in more depth. Bhāvanā means "mental development", which is not just about meditation, but also includes systematic and thorough learning. Selected Discourses