‘Agricula, agriculae’: ‘farmer’, ‘of the farmer’ in Latin. A language taught for over 2,000 years. It was the genesis of many words used in the Americas and Europe today. Of course most of us are unaware of how our language evolved. It just ‘is’. For our use much like the wheel or pulley. We take it for granted and it serves us well. And probably it matters little to know precisely where a word originated. But it can be helpful having a working knowledge of ‘roots’ that have had a certain connation for centuries. Many languages have used the same roots. Therefore one could have some understanding of other languages. Might make communication a little easier.
And of course, isn’t that what language is all about? Communicating as clearly as possible? You could easily be embarrassed mispronouncing dim sung in a Japanese restaurant and receiving sushi which is a culinary mystery you wish not to explore. But you do want to be adventurous: travel and experience different cultures, sample foods from around the world? No? Not interested, then skip this… it’s not for you.
Back to adventure. You live in a fascinating world. You owe it to yourself to experience as much of it as possible. You can read National Geographic and glimpse some of it. But there is no substitute for spending time with other human beings that express themselves differently. Travel to India and you can hear some 300 dialects. You wonder how they all get along. And speaking of ‘getting along’, people around the globe share a drive to live harmoniously within their group. How do they accomplish this? Foremost is the pervasive use of certain phrases and expressions, both verbal and physical. Cordial greetings, queries about well-being and the weather, displays of gratitude, sincere ‘goodbyes’: these are universal catalysts that encourage feelings of togetherness. Essential for maintaining the peace. With a bow, a handshake, a smile with words of cordiality, even strangers can be welcomed. As long as they are perceived as presenting no threat.
And it is in misperceptions that people often find themselves at odds with one another. An untimely smirk, arching eyebrows, even hand gestures… these can be misconstrued. They may be part of someone’s repertoire of expressions borne out of habit, but with someone unfamiliar with them, they may be insulting. And once emotions flair civil conversation often disappears.
Language is a fickle mistress. One moment you are comfortable with your repartee. You feel confident that you are being appreciated even understood. Then something you say, a witty riposte perhaps, provokes a reaction that surprises you. You discern a change in someone’s eyes or even their posture. They become guarded. The ‘conversation’ is over. And maybe a little rancor begins. How many times have you thought you were making a ‘good impression’ on someone only to find out this was not the case? Maybe you could bellow loudly: “This is what I am thinking. I am only trying to get along and be friendly. I am a nice person with good intentions. Cut me a little slack.” But unfortunately people often jump to conclusions. What you said might have reminded them of someone despicable: A thief, a lecher or just a plain ol’ self-centered asshole. Not much you can do about that. You could let lose an arsenal of verbiage that might assuage someone’s angst. You could ask help from someone who can vouch for your character. There is always recourse. There are always more words to be said.
Language though inadequate at times can reveal character. Patience helps on both sides of a conversation. Isn’t it always worth a little extra time and effort to understand someone: their values, intentions, even their strengths and weaknesses? Friendliness is necessary to keep the peace and even forge new alliances. How else can the world progress?