How do you say … Words as catalyst

Capturing, capturing a culture.

Capturing, capturing a culture.

“How do you say ‘apricot?’”

It always happens when people come together, this comparison of speech. Our different accents, languages identify us culturally, geographically. We can wear it like a name tag, calling card, can brandish it like a sword, wrap ourselves in its blanket. We are our speech, as soon as we open our mouths.

Language as a vehicle to move us together, away. We all live in a yellow babel submarine, all grappling for linguistic controls we can’t find.

(Look ma, no brakes).

“How do you say ‘syrup?’ ‘Coupon?’”

We exclaim at the familiarities, the differences. As we discover the myriad ways we speak, we find ourselves in them, connect our souls with that gossamer thread, words. Syllables wrap themselves around our wrists, a verbal bonding ceremony.

When traveling, I try to learn a few words. To show I’m trying to bridge the gap, both geographical and cultural, that naturally rends us apart. Even as I butcher unfamiliar languages, my conversation partners–fellow learners–smile as I try, as I acknowledge our similarity through our difference.

Parakelo
παρακαλώ
Per favor
Piacere
S’il vous plait
bitte
Qing
من فضلك

Please.

Because we’re all made of the same thing, underneath our skins. Our vocal chords all start out with the same sound. Our souls all scream with the same guttural, visceral sound. When they prick us, do we not bleed?

Language is not the first way we communicate, but society tells us it is. Use this one to see yourself. Sentences as mirrors to the soul. Use these words to explore your own anatomy, search out your spirit with letter fingers.

How do you say anything, unless you open your ears?

I watch my students learn each other like maps, explore the places we go with their own cultures strapped to their chests like Kevlar. They stumble through Italian, through Greek, their tongues tripping over unfamiliar sounds as their toes stub cobblestones. The evolution is beautiful, the level of connection a minuscule journey we take together. Toward understanding, toward realizing a new culture on a different, more intimate level.

Words are barriers to be broken down. Books can be tinder, as well as fuel. Let’s use language that way, as a catalyst. As a means to an end.

 

––

As an end itself.

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