Aug 6, 2007

Brevis Esse Laboro, Obscurus Fio

In an ever increasing globalized world often times the lines of distinction between cultures tend to become blurred. We live in a world where now where one can jet from New York to Paris to Tokyo and on to Kuala Lumpur without experiencing even the slightest bit of cultural dislocation. We imagine the world getting smaller when in fact it is only getting bigger. For the sanguine traveler today, plopping themselves down in cookie-cutter Starbucks in some exotic locale with a WiFi laptop and ordering -- in English -- a cafe latte from the local barista only seems to fuel this illusion of verisimilitude.

In recent years, America and the West seem to have imposed inadvertently perhaps a pro-linguistic bias in communications which in turn has led to a lexicon for instant communications and shared imagery around the globe. Not only has led to a growing pressure for conformity, it has also gradually created what seems to be a disturbing complacency for many who have failed to recognize that the medium is unable to transcend the limitations of linguistic communications.

Over the years whenever speaking English overseas one learns to avoid specific words or phrases that might seem ambiguous, confusing or duplicitous to the native-speaker here and you become intensely aware of how prevalent culturally specific idioms are an integral part of our language. Of course always having to speak slowly and methodically to non-English speaking foreigners can easily dull your wit but that doesn't necessarily mean your not allowed a little fun now and then. Irritated with the slow service I got in a hotel bar once in Manila I left a measly tip. As I was leaving, the Filipino dwarf waiter told me "I'm not Happy." to which I replied "Oh I'm sorry, which one are you?"

The point is that words were never intended to mean just one thing, but are employed to express any number of feelings and attitudes which recently seem to be missing the global lexicon whereas now our communication seems superficial at best. We might all be speaking the same language, but are we truly communicating?

What inspired this post I suppose is a conversation I had earlier today which I found interesting afterwards only because of my inability to translate the conversation back into English. From my observations, it seems to be an inexplicable trend that I have been experiencing more and more recently. Ironically as the world gets smaller from the advent of global communications, the cultural divergences in languages seem to be increasing. And on that note, I hope you can see what I'm saying. Absum.

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