The English philosopher Owen Barfield put it succinctly “Words have a soul!” During human evolution the most significant thing, which happened to human beings, was ‘language.’ Language increased the chances of survival of our ancestors; it allowed them to hunt as a team or to evade danger. We could communicate complex ideas efficiently or as Yuval Noah Harari states in his bestseller Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ the truly unique feature of our language is.….the ability to transmit information about things that do not exist at all.’ How can a mountain be wise or the wind listless!
A few weeks back I was getting my motorcycle serviced. It was there that I met a couple who had travelled all the way from Italy to India. The young rider had a way with words. The way he described all the places he had crossed gave me a feeling of fernweh: a longing to travel to a place I had never been. A German word with no equivalent found in English!
Ever done something, which leaves you with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment or a feeling that you have left a piece of yourself in your work? In Greek they have a word for it – Meraki. It means to do something with soul, creativity, or love.
My first travel outside India was to Mongolia of all the countries. To me it was like landing on an alien planet! The language, the food, the culture all left me with a feeling of depaysement – the disorientation felt in a foreign country or culture. A French word which describes the feeling of being a fish out of water so precisely.
Somya – my elder daughter was quite chubby when she was born. So every time I set my eyes on her the feeling of gigil used to take over. You know the overwhelming urge to squeeze or pinch something very cute! It’s a word from Filipino – a language spoken in Philipines. I have yet to come across a similar word in English.
Words are like the Swiss Army knife says Canadian-American cognitive scientist Steven Pinker in The Language Instinct. And rightly so. Words enrich our lives. They give meaning and form to our innermost feelings and the realities that surround us.