So when I was in Spain, I was eating the famous churros when I heard this really catchy song playing in the background. My Spanish is slightly less atrocious than my latin and greek and I couldn’t help but get addicted to how catchy that tune was. With some difficulty, I registered one word “despacito” and when I returned to my hotel, I promptly retrieved the song on the net. As I grew increasingly addicted to the tune, I thought I should learn the meaning of the beautiful lyrics. Viola- like most pop music, the song was all about sex and rather explicit about it too. What sounded like passion and latin expression proved to be just another catering to popular culture.
Make no mistake, the song was still addictive. In Italy though, my friend and his 4 year old son were listening to yet another catchy song. While I couldn’t grasp much of the words, I could hear something that sounded like “dentalis karma”. Being the arrogant english speaker that I am, I naturally assume that all words have intended english meanings. I was entirely convinced that the song was about how an encounter with the dentist is the product of one’s bad karma. However, when I looked up the song, it was actually “occidentalis karma” and had really deep lyrics about the futility of western culture.
Clearly, my first experience as a foreigner in a country that doesn’t speak my languages ended in some rather stupid mistakes on how I understood words and expressions. But I am also amazed at the common elements of so many of these languages. “Babo” in Italian, a word used by children to call their father is remarkably similar to “Bapu”, a word commonly used in Indian languages to call for a father. “Venga, Venga, Venga”, the spanish expression for hurry up is frightfully similar to “Bega, bega, bega” which is the Kannada word for hurry up. Across the 7 seas, the common elements to human language is astounding.
The diversity and the lack of it involved in human languages is intriguing to say the least. While the human brain is anatomically rather similar across races and cultures, its understanding of the environment and how it evolved ideas and expressions never ceases to amaze. Why do we have different languages across different regions? What caused the Spaniards to develop “ola” as the sound to greet someone and why did the English developed “hello” instead?
Could it be that the diverse experiences of the human race across different regions influence the diversity in sounds and languages? Did we experience emotions differently? How did these emotions sound in our mind, so as to enable the words that express them? Why did some cultures define languages to express courtesy and restraint whereas other cultures define languages to express liberally, emotions and ideas?
If anything, I am more ignorant than ever after these experiences with foreign languages. While some master languages across cultures with ease, people like me remain flummoxed and amazed at what language can do and achieve. Hopefully one day I will find answers to the above questions.