As soon as you start to hear new words, you assimilate. Kitne baje? What time? Obama James Bond se zyada prasidh he. Obama is more famous than James Bond. Maybe I like Hindi because it isn’t all that different from my mother tongue of English.
I first heard ek, do, teen, char , panch in a children’s book. Topsy and Tim went to the local farm and counted pints of milk for their Indian neighbour. These Hindi numbers came out of the blue into my nursery school reading material, but I hoped one day that I might use them in the right setting. These five numbers have been invaluable as a grown up navigating a Hindi world: getting into the lift and asking for a lower floor, requesting one meal, a drink or a handful of bananas and mangoes.
But language in general isn’t that different if you break it down into communication with a purpose, audience and an intention. Books are written weekly about communicating without words. If we can make our intention clear through non-verbal communication: gestures, pointing, smiling are all expressionism and with the additional capacity of words, language becomes a limitless medium. So powerful, that censorship also dominates certain regions of the world with people restricted about what they can read, hear and speak. The pen is mightier than the sword, and the mouth is mightier than all.
Mark Pagel (Ted Talks) suggested that ‘Speech is Neuro audio technology for re wiring people’s minds.’ Changing people’s minds and thinking patterns is exactly where language links and fractures; there will always be words we don’t understand, are not allowed to use and words we don’t know how to use. The traditional Hindi greeting ‘Namaste’ is imbibed with the respectful nama– to bow and ste-to you. If we start to understand the meaning behind our words, language can revitalize purpose.
My friend Rachel is in touch with a family we met in Northern India last year and said: ‘I’ve told them next time you visit you’ll speak Hindi with them.’ Now in the future there is a conversation hanging in the balance that I might be able to participate in. Wittgenstein once said: The limits of my language mean the limits of my world. I couldn’t agree more. Are you accessing all the messages you should be? My relationship with this family was possible through non-verbal communication, and their kindness, chai and laughter creating a language link, but this time I want to do more than take. Lena– is to take and dena is to give, one letter apart, but brimming with the potential for better communications.
In the office, business speak is the same. Once you understand what your customer wants, the next step is to figure out how you can deliver this. There is no doubt that if you’re on the same page, you will get a better bargain. Natives give us tips on this, to say ‘batomese’ for bargain, and to ask how much, ‘kitne paise hue’ as soon as you walk towards your chosen item, and then ‘chota chota’ a little as you rearrange your rupees, making sure never to carry one thousands. The big notes aren’t usually accepted in markets, because vendors can’t make change. The thousand-rupee note proves to be a useless currency. But sometimes carrying the big notes is important, to show your purpose and that your aim is sky high, potentially. Language links start with the smallness of counting out change, and continue when you begin to understand the value of the coins in your hand.