Chinese Whispers…


Once upon a time, many many years ago, there was one language that the people of the world spoke. Of course the world was not as big back then, and people were few, but it was still a world in its own rights. They first got together & made words, then slowly made conjunction & prepositions to convert them into intelligible sentences. The many people of the small world once decided to play a game which everyone could participate in at the same time. All the people of the world held hands and made a circle of sorts & decided to play Chinese whispers…and then that happened…

Why the message didn’t get delivered? Was it just the case of the Chinese whisper? Did the language morph over the distance?

 Indeed it was the game at play. In the story, when the people of the world got together to share a sentence, each of them understood it in a different way, so where A understood B perfectly and shared with C what he understood, the underlying fact was that what happened between A & B was clear to them both, but was clear in some different way between B & C who shared a different understand & set of words between them which was different from A. This brings us to the theory of Language contact saying, “Languages in contact with each other begin to show similarities”, it explains a number of shard words & features among the world’s languages (case in point, Latin & Sanskrit being the mother languages of quite a handful of languages in the world)

 The loss of homogeneity in language is caused due to geographical divisions & resultant social understanding. Also important to note is that adjacent areas and regions pick & share customs & words from each other as well. This is called as Language borrowing & is very common whenever cultures come into contact with one another. Some of one rubs on to the other & vice versa. Languages are somehow highly infectious!

Languages also follow Charles Darwin theory of survival of the fittest. When any two come together, the dominant language survives in most cases. The others live as borrowed words in the main language. There are other reasons why languages in use, i.e. at the prime of their life cycle, morph into something that is very apart from the ideal usage. One of the primarily factors at play is usage of slangs. It is noteworthy that slangs are usually used to depict words that are not socially accepted in the course of general discussions. Sometimes they enrich language & understanding & forge deeper connect between exchanging parties. But at the same time, they also create a bridge tough to fill between generations & tend to ruin a beauitiful language for unsuspecting souls.

Some linguists very aptly defined slang as below: [Quote]

• It lowers, if temporarily, “the dignity of formal or serious speech or writing”; Its use implies that the user is familiar with whatever is referred to, or with a group of people who are familiar with it and use the term.

• “It is a taboo term in ordinary discourse with people of a higher social status or greater responsibility.”

• It replaces “a well-known conventional synonym”. This is done primarily to avoid the discomfort caused by the conventional item or by further elaboration.”

• Slang is a part of the change process (in languages) over the decades and centuries. It is part of the change often through “coinage” of new words out of thin air, and of other methods.

I know a family where the kids talk to each other fluently in words that are phonetically opposites of what they are actually spoken as. They would speak “something” like this “g-thin-ma-sa” and understand each other perfectly! Imagine a situation where all the people of the household, extended family, colony, city, region, state, country took a fancy to this ‘fad’ & started to speak just in it. Would words of language previously spoken be just archived? Like Sanskrit…understood with some glossary of sorts for the first 5 years of one’s life when it is compulsory in school?

Insane aint it? 🙂

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