I have a husband who studies philosophy, and in the household we have many interesting, somewhat philosphical discussion. It is good, and bad at the same time (because one just simply cannot discuss too much into the tiniest details and still have hopes to move forward in life). But once we had a very good discussion about just words.
For those of you who know about philosophy please forgive and excuse me, for this is truly not my area and what I’m about to ramble on is all, I’m sure, some very basic thought banters that my husband was humoring me with.
But the discussion was, how being bi/multi lingual was very interesting, as it changes the way one’s brain can perceive and think of things. I find it especially obvious having speaking languages from two very different roots, that requires very different logic and way of framing in the mind, in order to function in that language properly. To explain what I mean in the simpliest way, is that different language have a different concentrated vocabulary. Like how icelandic has multiple many different words for different types of snow, the nordic language has many different words to describe the different flows of water, and in Chinese we are very concentrated in words that carries an emotion, or a feeling.
Talking with my folks back home sometimes really baffles me. As someone who hasn’t lived there for a while and don’t use the language everyday for a long time, whenever I get home, it takes me a good two weeks to get used to being around the language and the culture. And it is not because I cannot use the language properly anymore, but it strikes me every time, how negative I find people’s use of words and phrases are.
Whenever I have discussions about the subtlety (or not so subtle really) about languages, I like to stress how we are just culturally very different in the scale of positivity and negavitity. For example we (Cantonese people) rarely ever use phrases like “fantastic, awesome, good job”. When someone’s done well, you’d say “it’s really pretty okay”. And “okay” is pretty much as high praise as people are willing to give in a casual conversation.
And then I think of the Danish people, who has a, in my opinion, pretty straight forward and condensed way of structuring sentences. And how their demeanor in the beginning to me, not understanding the background of the language, was so rude and so blunt.
That, in itself is of course a very interesting observation that I’m sure all multi-lingual people share.
But that can’t be only applied to people born with different languages. What about those who do speak the same language, but tend to choose to use different choices of words?
So instead of saying they are doing really well, they like to say they are doing ok. Instead of saying the food is good, they like to say it’s not bad.
One of my favourite sketches of all times was the Monty Python Woody and Tinny words sketch, and of course, more the actual seemingly nonsensical discussion of words session, and not the later half of this video.
As much as it seems non-sensical and it’s for giggles, I think there’s a fair share of truth to it. For every word we use every day, we hear them a lot more times than we have actively said it with our mouths. Say you were a child, trying to stick your wee finger into the electric socket, your mum said,”no”. And over the many years of growing up, the times we have heard the word “no”, must have far exceeded the times we have said it ourselves (until we got our own kids, that is). And it wouldn’t be too unimaginable, that this sound of word, has imprinted a deeper than memory sensation, almost a gut feeling to it. Versus if the word is “good job” (or in Cantonese, it’s pretty ok), it must have made some kind of positive association in your deep cells.
Much like the Pavlov’s dog experiment, the conditioning of the dog has created a quick, biological response. Is it not completely imaginable that positive, reinforcing lingo, has conditioned us to feel better over the years?
I’m sure you have experienced being in class, and your yoga teacher suddenly say something so profound to you, that it brings the tinniest smile to your face.
And what if it starts before it even leaves your mouth?
We are all aware (I think), that we think in some form of language in our heads. And who’s to say these words doesn’t create the same psychological to biological reactions when you think them, as it would when it is being told to you?
Watch your thoughts; for they become words. Watch your words; for they become actions. Watch your actions; for they become habits. Watch your habits; for they become character. Watch your character for it will become your destiny.
A little longwinded, and a little obvious. But this has been running through my head for the longest time. And I can’t help but wish that we, as people in a collective society, would be able to put in some effort to watch, and to slowly catch and perhaps modify these patterns, for I think this is the only way that could help making us happier and more fulfilled.
Illustration credit: Simon Prades