Saturday, February 18, 2006

You are young/ You are old

It cannot be said when and if linguists will deliver on this, but at least there is a smaller but perhaps no less important bridge built by Dr. Tannen to gap the mother-daughter divide. Built in part with memories of her personal experience, her book in an insight in to a classical conflict (I see 6, you 9 – no puns!) in an everyday household situation.

Personally, my second thought is that I don’t know if this kind of curative approach to language and relationship does achieve anything useful for everyday life. As in, does one need academic knowledge or a “study” of linguistics to solve everyday life issues?

I think in a situation with a pure point-of-view conflict, nothing works best than praise, openness to listen to another, and validating their situation. Change can follow. Change is a process, no matter how fast.

Yet these are techniques remain conflict-specific. And I sense there is a bit of reactivity (I prefer “reactiveness”) to applying techniques to appease someone. But it comes down to this: the only one who we can truly motivate to be “active” is ourselves.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Will Robert Langdons of linguistics save the world?

I believe that in coming times, it will be linguists, and especially experts on semantics and syntax – in this order – who will change the world for better. As the world conflict increases because of misunderstandings of language, and the purpose behind language, linguists will be spurred into action. They will examine human language more closely; and during this study they will discover amazing similarity of patterns, tones, and themes in the language of humans.

Not only will pure language (?) reveal interesting relations among world languages, but the themes in global stories and folklore will also appear to have amazing commonalities.

This knowledge will travel down from the academic world to the general public. For the first time, the population of the world will be surprised – and shocked – that they all may have been saying the same thing, differently.

Which way to Hellfire? Gehinom, and Jahannum

For me, the realization was accidental. Thanks to the company of learned family, educators and friends, I have known for a long time about the etymology (origins) of many Urdu words, and have had some idea about the derivation of the language Urdu itself. But I had no idea of similar concepts…sounding alike…in Urdu and… Hebrew!

While reading up on Jewish eschatology (beliefs about the end of world), I saw the term “Hibbut ha-kever, the pains of the grave.” I like new languages, so I said the word out loud. It sounded familiar. Urdu readers who try this out will not miss. Soon, they will hear something that sounds like, “haibat e-qabar.” Meaning? “The horror/s of the grave.” Then there’s Gehinom (“purgatory” in Hebrew) and Jahannum (“hellfire” in Urdu). With slight difference, the concepts largely refer to the same things. Eureka! *

Robert Langdon: an Intercultural De-mystifier

No, I do not think Dan Brown is a literary genius, only a phenomenon. Both The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons were “putdownable” half way down. But I like character Robert Langdon’s career interests: he is a (religious) symbologist connecting the dots and revealing the hidden links between religious symbols and their history. The most important contribution of the Code, indeed, might be to spark an interest in (religious) art history.

Just as Robert traces links between symbols and weaves a thread across cultures and thus beliefs, the linguists of the near (near, I hope) future will present for the people of the world links between their words, and concepts and constructs. A little help from philosophers, of course, will be needed.

The Talk of Civilizations

While there has been much work on conflict resolution and language already, the issue is making that knowledge a part of the social construct of the societies around the globe. Besides, knowledge alone is often worth not much in itself, but its application is.

Knowledge is like fire; it is the application that makes the difference. Which is why the use of knowledge by the untrained or ill-willed can make knowledge useless or dangerous.

The knowledge is out there, mostly already worked out by the left-brained. With the rise of the creative class and the right-brained, there is higher hope that the connections between bits of knowledge will be made to lead to a wider understanding approaching the universal.

Yours Literally

The most heart-breaking (at first) and heart-warming (later) realization will be that much we each took for “literal” was actually symbolic or analogical. The folklore of the world has been hiding layers of meanings. Most recently, Harry Potter fans, critics, and “analysts” have dedicated sites and written books to discover the layers of meanings in the series. Know what the horrific Dementors personify? I like the one that says they personify Depression. They suck energy out when they’re around, and a dose of chocolate helps after they paid a visit. I tested this one on many die-hard Potter fans. None knew.

Interestingly, we may be missing similar meanings in ancient, older, and foreign texts and taking them too literally.

Grapes or Angoor?

Or we may realize that in many instances, it was merely a difference in our language, which is a form of concepts, that we differed over in substance. A Sufi story saw that a long time ago. In the story, men of various nationalities fought over what they will buy for food. The Pakistani wanted, “angoor.” The Englishmen insisted upon buying “grapes.” The German wanted “trauben.” And the Spaniard demanded, “uvas,” instead.

I have modernized the nationalities, but the story remains the same. For how long will it? We don’t know. For the sake of humanity, it’s hopefully a short period before realization dawns.

* Most references are from Wikipedia, as of February 11, 2006. Wikipedia will provide an excellent starting point for more research on the topic. In itself, Wikipedia is a melting pot – a phenomenon of multi-cultural and multi-linguistic interaction, and the many differences that arise naturally.

- This article has just been edited because I couldn't read it myself.
Hey, I do feel language must get simpler! I promise no more late-night writing. I channel some old spirit when I write late night. Happy reading!

Image credits: Logoi for the Chinese alphabet; and
andrea_j for the letter A. Alphabet "Alif" is a painting by Ali Omer Ermes.