Imagine your life without the gift of language.
Your life experience would be reduced to the most rudimentary, single dimension. A few inarticulate sounds would limit your expressions. You would have to rely entirely on your ability to express through non-verbal means. Believe you me, your style would be severely cramped. After all, there is only so much wriggle to your eyebrows!
A world without language would take us further back in time than the stone age. I don’t know about you, but I am positive I wouldn’t have enjoyed that at all. One would have nothing better to do than gather/ cook food; then start off all over again, over and over. It would have been unbearably boring and mind- numbingly silly. One wouldn’t be able to rant or be dramatic! As for facebook/ twitter, perish the thought. How pathetically dull!
If your mate were two ticks away from being swallowed by an anaconda, the only help you would have been able to give would be to utter a hoarse cry of warning which the (dumb) mate would typically have interpreted as a cry of joy at having found some wild mushrooms. Disaster, or not… as the case maybe!
In other words, twiddling the thumbs would about sum it up in the department of strategies on saving dumb mate from anaconda project. Not frightfully cheering, is it? There is another melancholy thought. Pretty much on the top of the disaster listing would be the fact that you wouldn’t have been able to read this post! Unmitigated disaster, this one, yeah?
Let us, therefore, veer away from the possibility of that horror and tackle the possibility of a lesser evil. What if our language were much poorer in range and expression than it is?
A categorical statement hasn’t done its job if it fails to raise a few hackles. Here is one which one hopes will do its job in raising yours.
The intensity, fullness and depth of your life’s experiences are influenced and regulated by the kind of words you use in defining it. When you use rich words, the experience is rich and multi-layered. When you use simple words, your experience is meagre and simple.
Perhaps you are shaking your head (or stropping your blade), certain that human emotions and our ability to experience them, are not at the mercy of language. Perhaps you’d be saying that even without the words to identify those emotions, the intensity of the human experience would have been as vivid and vibrant. I would disagree.
Let me approach this from the opposite end, as it were.
Have you noticed how your experience becomes a lot more vivid when it is shared with someone? Don’t the sounds tinkle clearer, the colors penetrate deeper and the words acquire added meaning simply because you shared it with someone? How much more significant does it become when your listener resonates with you? Does the experience not seem fuller, more vibrant and alive?
It isn’t just the act of sharing that adds depth to an emotional moment. Humans have an innate desire (nay compulsion) to impress and stun their audience. Everything has to be as large and colorful as possible. Since we can’t change the actual event/ experience, we spice it up with our words.
When you share an emotional moment with another person, you clothe it in the most spectacular words your vocabulary holds. When your listener resonates with you, he might use another set of words to rephrase and validate your emotions, adding another nuance of meaning to your experience.
A different word describing the same emotion adds a new shade of meaning to the emotion. This is because there are no true synonyms in the English Language. No two words mean exactly the same thing. There are over three million words in the English language. Most people have anywhere from 3,000 to 50,000 words in their working vocabulary which contains the words your habitually use.
In an Indian language like Hindi, there are many synonyms for things. For example, there are nine words that mean LOTUS. (If you know Hindi, check it out HERE). However, to express emotions, there are no synonyms that mean exactly the same thing. Hindi vocabulary is more extensive than English; The total words it has are unknown.
If each of those words represented a different shade of meaning, imagine the range of emotions/ experiences we may express! To have a richer life experience, all you need is to replace the ordinary, flat words you use with deeper, more complex ones. The next time you meet a woman of uncontrollable and violent temper, don’t call her an unpleasant or angry woman.
Call her a shrew.
To be continued…