Last week my hubby and I went to see the movie “The Arrival”, based on the short story “Story Of My Life” by Ted Chiang. What a fascinating story!
There were many interesting and thought-provoking themes, but what intrigued me the most was the idea that the language we speak determines the way we think – and therefore the way we perceive the world. Basically, if you have a large vocabulary and are able to build complex sentences, you can understand and express complex and abstract matters. If your language is very basic and simple on the other hand, you perceive life in a very straight forward, black-and-white way.
I think this is so fascinating! Imagine you only had words for things you can see, smell, touch, taste and hear: You would have very a simple view on abstract issues such as truth, purpose and justice (if you were even able to consider them at all!). It wouldn’t even occur to you to think about anything other than what’s right in front of you, what you can perceive in the present moment. I imagine it’d be similar to how animals operate: in the moment, based on sensual perception and instincts.
Somehow our amazing brains came up with incredibly complex languages. We are able to reflect about the past and imagine the future, come up with complicated theories and think abstract thoughts. But even we are limited to what we can think of: If we don’t know a certain word or expression, we have to paraphrase with other words what we are experiencing. There are many different ways of describing something, and they all carry a slightly different vibration – that’s how the words we use actually shape our perception.
Speaking both German and English fluently, I can definitely sense a difference in the way I think in each language: I’ve always liked the mellow, relaxed vibe English has to it. Everything you say sounds cool and smooth, so when I speak and think in English, I tend to feel a little more like I’m one of the cool kids 😀
German on the other hand is a pretty complex language with long words and hard-sounding consonants. Speaking German makes me feel more sophisticated and intellectual…
I’ve also noticed that certain words simply can’t be translated without changing their meaning, their energy. Sometimes the differences are very subtle, but they’re still there. The German word “Baum” feels a lot more grounded and mighty than the English “tree”, for example.
Then there are cultural differences: For example, in English it’s very common to say “I love you” not only to your romantic partner, but also to friends and family members. You can “love” all kinds of things and express that, too. In German, you pretty much say the literal translation “Ich liebe dich” to your romantic partner only, and perhaps to your children/parents…but even that can feel like crossing a line. Instead, you can say “Ich hab dich lieb” to friends and family members, which is stronger than “I like you”, but not as strong as the romantic “I love you”. In my own experience, “Ich liebe dich” feels a hundred times more vulnerable than “I love you” – even though the dictionary tells you it’s the same sentence.
The movie “The Arrival” brings this idea of our language shaping our reality to a whole new, awesome level (I’m not going to say more because I don’t want to spoil the story for you). But it got me thinking: Do we gain more understanding, tolerance, awareness and consciousness the more languages we speak? Could we gain enlightenment and oneness if we were able to speak every language on the planet, since that would mean we would be able to understand the universe and each other completely without ever getting “lost in translation”? Is that what the biblical story of Babel is all about? Are different languages what separates humankind and throws us out of heavenly interconnectedness? Is the key to a connected, peaceful world as simple as learning and teaching our children as many languages as possible?
My kids are certainly going to grow up bi-lingual – it’s not going to reverse the tower of Babel, but it certainly is a start!
How about you? Do you speak more than one language? Do different languages “feel” different to you? Have you watched “The Arrival” yet?
Much love and “alles Liebe”! 😉
*English hugs and German knuddel*