The Gift of Language- I

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.

Picture Mine
Picture Mine

To be continued…

21 thoughts on “The Gift of Language- I”

  1. Oh how right you are! Unfortunately, the writers of today, those entrusted with the glorious task of safeguarding language, even enriching it further for the next batch of Indians, are doing an abysmal job. Such is the pity.

    1. Oh yes Rickie! The cyber world is full of people who use unimaginative vocabulary as to make one cry. Your posts are a refreshing and delightful exception!

      For the rest, one can but shake one’s head. 😀

          1. Ugh! And I thought I wasn’t doing too badly with words, either. So, you shake your head at me Dagny? 🙂

            Never mind, I still admire your and Rickie’s ability with words. 🙂

          2. You are fishing for compliments Suresh..! Confess now! You are indeed!! 😀

            Rickie and I admire your ability with words too. I think we are an MAS of three (and counting) now. The more the merrier, of course. 🙂

          3. You don’t need to fish for compliments Suresh. You are more than popular… you are a cult figure. 🙂

  2. Stropping my blade, Dagny 🙂 The richer the language, the more carefully one has to step with the multitude of synonyms available. For instance, while honing a knife removes shards of metal out of alignment with the edge of the blade, stropping does not remove any material. Stropping is done with the edge of the knife away from you while honing is done the opposite way. Both are apposite depending on the blade and whether the attempt is to align the edge or to make it keener. Honing is abrasive, stropping is not. While the devil in the detail leaps into the knife sharpening experience, it might be heartening to beat that erring anaconda over the head with a handy stone and, while narrating this amazing story to friends and family accentuate the experience with a smirk stating that the aforementioned stone has been retained for posterity as the preferred whetstone. Hope this helps in the “save dumb mate from anaconda” project. Loved the piece, Dagny. When is the next episode?

    1. Your ability for thinking on your feet has saved the day… er.. mate… once again brave Uday! Your name shall be added to the list of nominees for the hall of fame. We are much pleased. You are a good egg… except when you aren’t… which is almost all the time. Not that we mind. We approve most heartily.

      Carry on the good work therefore. We shall watch your future progress with interest. You may never be afraid of losing our interest or deep sympathy (to say nothing of resounding approbation), ever.

      The next ‘episode’ is getting polished. I hope to stick it between the eyes of my public by end of day today- inshallah! Stand by..!!

  3. I could completely connect with your thoughts. Absolutely, the experiences and emotions become richer if conveyed in the right manner with words that bring out their intensity and magnitude in resplendent detail. Alas, the emphasis on good language seems to be waning. And I hardly read or hear good Hindi even in the print medium. I believe Indian languages are more evolved. I share your interest in Dagny. Of course, I can’t write as well as you do!

    1. The art of good language is indeed a lost art. As Rickie has pointed out, people use depressingly insipid words. I never was very fond of the lukewarm. Scald me or freeze me but for God’s sake don’t make me wilt of boredom by giving me insipid and tepid. Ugh!

      You had to connect completely with my thought. I would have taken umbrage otherwise; one needs an ego massage once in a while- not that one is greedy. Oh no!

      I totally wait for your comment. 😀

    1. You have every right to disagre Pankti. Do tell me what specifically you disagree with here. Maybe I will modify my views too.

      Thank you for dropping by. 🙂

  4. Agree with you totally on importance of rich words while writing and speaking. However, in my opinion language is something which always existed, with or without proper words. There were sign languages which was used. Even kids use that language to express themselves. This is true, though, that words add a new dimension to it and it becomes very easy to express oneself. At the same time, use of correct synonym of word makes hits at the right point.

    1. For me an appropriate word lends all the richness to language that I need. Being naturally lazy, I try using one word instead of a phrase. It saves time and effort while adding color and depth to my prose.

      In your second comment you’ve mentioned grammatical errors. Actually, grammatical errors (of the kind you are talking about) are fairly common. I am okay with a mild attack but of course a virulent condition has me running for cover. 🙂

      Very pleased to see you here. 😀

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