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The Importance and Power of Language

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“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

-Nelson Mandela


There are two definitions to language, one is for lenguaje and the other is for idioma. One is the branch of communication, whether it is verbal, visual, or gestural. The other branch stretches out to dialect, tongue, accents, and our way of oral speech. Regardless of each definition, we ultimately use it all for the same objective, to communicate. We use language as means of connection, to convey and diffuse our experiences as close as we can get to sharing and describing without the other person actually being there. We give language the power of translating our experiences into words.

In The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh, language patches the cracks and builds the bridge for humans, of all backgrounds, to bond and connect. Piya, Kanai, and Fokir each spoke and preferred a different language, a dialect that represented their identity, status, personality, and story. Piya is an American marine biologist of Indian decent; she’s never had exposure to her culture nor can she speak the language her skin, reflects. As Kanai is rather unimpressed that she could never learn from her parents the language of her flesh, he flaunts his multi-lingual skills and prides himself of his fortune to posses good ear and good memory. Yet, his knowledge and dexterity in language impedes him to have meaningful relationships with individuals, both platonic and romantic. While Fokir manages to connect and help Piya with her dolphin research in the sea more than anyone else can without having to speak the same language. Fokir and Piya have a muted relationship; no language involved and yet they share a unique platonic connection, a pure human bond without speaking the same dialect. They don’t share the same dialect, Bangla, but they share the same and seek the same interests. What both Fokir and Piya experience in the sea is understandable to both without words, because they’re sharing the same experience, the same perspective; they share a connection to which Kanai can’t quite understand regardless of his superb multi-language skills.

If everything is through language, can our experiences mean something without language? In order to share experiences with one another, to build connections, to allow empathy, to translate our experiences, we use the power of language. It’s all we have to be the closest to sharing our intimacy, and exposure to our experiences with one another. We need and use translation to inhabit a new environment, to feel at ease and comfortable.

But no matter how close to perfection the translation of one language to another might be, translation can never account for emotion, it can never fulfill the same experience one encounters, “she knew too that a river of words would not be able to tell her exactly what made the song sound as it did right then, in that place.” (Ghosh, 83)Throughout the novel, the characters each have their own story to tell, their own experiences that shape who they are as individuals which makes it difficult for all three to connect in the beginning until they embark together on Piya’s research on the sea. Only then do they begin to communicate effectively and create a stronger bond, in which they all gain empiricism, knowledge through their sense experiences. After all, “words are just air.” (214)

Translations aren’t entirely failures; we can gain knowledge through our failed experiences and make one of two choices. One, we can accept our mistake and continue learning by immersing ourselves as much into the culture and ways of a community’s language and dialect. Or two, we can suffer from failure of assumptions and be in denial and arrogant and limit our personal growth, like Kanai.

“In what way could I ever do justice to this place? What could I write of it that would equal the power of their longing and their dreams?” (180) Language is the closest thing we have to bringing our experiences to life. Language is powerful and a virtue to self-reflection because we use it to communicate in writing, speaking, and even visually. Language is valuable to express and share how we feel, as close as we can put into words.

We praise the influence and value of language so much that we encourage individuals to be multilingual. The more languages one knows the better we think they can communicate with others by being one step closer to sharing what we hope one day to achieve, complete emotional connection of an experience, to be able to walk in the shame shoes as another individual and see things in their perspective. We do it all the time with professions: translators, journalists, newscasters, sellers, customer service, and even lawyers. They all make a living through language, through words trying to reach, help or even defend a group of people. We want to make information so accessible and the most powerful way, other than by an emotional connection, is through our words, language. 

The power of language is unlike any other. Voices unite to spread the word, sprinkle as much knowledge as possible to other communities and in order to reach as many individuals as possible, being multilingual is useful. Being bilingual gives you a privilege unlike any other. I believe it’s far more powerful and valuable than money or status. In my experience, I wasn’t raised economically privileged and in society, my skin, my identity, reflects minority. Yet, my voice, my words, and my ability to speak and understand both languages took me beyond what my flesh could. I have the privilege of being in two worlds; two cultures at once, an American and Mexican. I have the power to share my experiences through lenguaje y idioma, and take individuals from both worlds into a world of my own, viewing my experience through my perspective because of the words I choose to use to describe my empiricism. I have the power to build a human bond to relate to individuals on both sides of the spectrum. I have the ability to choose from a vast majority of words to translate what my mind is putting together in order to connect emotionally.

“But he knew also that fear was not- contrary to what was often said- and instinct. It was something learned, something that accumulated in the mind through knowledge, experience, and upbringing. Nothing was harder than to share another person’s fear.”(266) Through out the novel, Ghosh tries to make us see things from the perspective of each character. But the closest we can ever get to imagine what each character feels and sees in their perspective is through words. Ghosh uses language to describe what he wants the readers to imagine in their minds. He incorporates different cultures, different languages and demonstrates that regardless of how powerful and multilingual you may be, your experience and the ability to share that with others is far more powerful because you’re able to build a human bond. Language is the closest we can be to translating experiences into words. 

Works Cited

Ghosh, Amitav. The hungry tide. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005. Print.