Where does one begin to find the words? (Part Two) ... by Rachel Borg

Friday, July 21, 2017

Quite often when it comes to making ourselves understood to others we human beings really come unstuck – even when we profess to speak the same language and share the same cultural background.  Where, for example, does one begin to find the words to tell someone that you love them.  What is this word ‘love’?  Does this abstract thing call ‘love’ exist in all languages and cultures, does it hold the same weight and relevance?  How do you explain what love is and what love means to you?  Go tell it to the moon perhaps for I suspect only the moon might understands this thing called love.  Many might argue that love is in fact the only universal language; luckily for us love is an action word.  If she throws the wild daisies you picked for her back in your face, clearly she loves you not.  It is the non-verbal cues, that which is unspoken, which speaks louder than any empty meaningless words ever might.

When there is no easily verbalised and mutually intelligible word, particularly for such abstract concepts, trying to make oneself understood can be an embarrassing, painful, confusing, frustrating and confounding experience – it takes time, patience, perseverance, a liberal dose of good humour, and optimism to reach a point of true and complete understanding.  With the best of intentions it can still all blow up in your face.

Imagine an Inuit Indian trying to explain to a New York businessman why his wife won’t let him go fishing on Friday’s.  It might sound simple but it isn’t – unless he is very good at charades.  Imagine the Tahitian foremothers trying to explain to the mutineers the complex and vastly differing rituals and beliefs they held regarding death and dying; let alone any interior decorating workshops which might have been on the cards.  Not easy.

Certainly because the Bounty has been so long in Tahiti in the course of collecting and establishing the breadfruit plants for the onward journey to the West Indies, almost six months, many of her crew would have perhaps got up a working Tahitian vocabulary, certainly the narrative of boatswain’s mate James Morrison and the missing Tahitian vocabulary taken by midshipman Peter Hayward suggests they were very much interested in Tahitian life on any number of levels.  Following the mutiny just how much English the Polynesians on board the Bounty may, or may not, have spoken by the time the ship left Tahiti’s shores for the last time can only be second-guessed.

Once the Bounty dropped anchor at Pitcairn’s Island and was burnt to the water line and dropped away into the deep the little community of twenty-seven adults and one new born girl-child were committed to a shared future and to combining language, culture, gender and personality differences in such a way that they had a workable and reasonably cohesive society.  Bound together by circumstance they would now need to work through the hierarchy of needs and wants in order to survive – to do this they would require a certain level of mutual comprehension.  In the very early period given the language and cultural barriers which existed it was bound to be a very simple, accessible and workable solution; very much akin to natural selection – this one works, this one doesn’t, yes we understand that; we can say that, that’s too hard; that one’s good, it works for us if it works for you and so on and so forth.

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