This thing called language


Some people think of language as just a code to exchange information: I’m hungry, I need help, Where is the nearest MacDonald’s etc. Some of these people do believe there are some more complex messages we exchange via language, but it’s still information about the real world that we primarily send and receive, including what we think of the TV show last night, how we feel about the way someone treated us etc.
For other people language is not so much a code, or a tool to move information around, but a profiling factor. Something like ‘I am who I speak’, or ‘if I manage to voice my thoughts accurately I do justice to my image and my ego’. Language may be a code, yes, but this is so trivial that it’s not interesting; language is more importantly a tool to project my personality, my education, my intellectual and cognitive abilities, my knowledge etc.

There is still another category of people who don’t give a single dime on language. They want to settle in other countries and realise the people there speak another language only when they need to fill in the immigration form. I saw a TV documentary soap about a German young lady who was determined to live in Spain, and do business there, and realised with stupefaction that the guys at the Immigration Office didn’t speak German. She tried to do some market research on the street, to find out how much competition she had to face for her small business, but again was struck that people there didn’t understand her German questions.

In the same documentary, however, there was another lady who had settled abroad long ago and recalled how she had crammed words and phrases with a notebook on her lap between two shifts in a restaurant kitchen. She was aware she needed that language not just to inform the authorities that she wanted to open her own cafe, to fill in forms or find a location to rent; she realised she needed the language also to convince people around that she was ready to fight, that she had resources for that, and that her business idea would work. It would also help her find friends, connections, become one of ‘them’. She now owns the most exclusive cafe on that island.

It’s not so important, I guess, what you think of language: whether it’s just a code for exchanging messages, or a tool to profile yourself; whether you worry to death about your language mistakes or just care about getting the core meanings across. The crucial thing is, you think of language at all. You can always choose, of course, to live inside your own glass bell, ‘safe’ from the outside world, but my advice is, never spend holidays abroad and don’t even think of the free-market job opportunities. O, yes, and forget about starting it all over on a paradise island across the ocean.

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