Vidhi's Leisure Space

Languages are Tiny Universes


I have a weird relationship with languages. I guess everyone else does too.

I grew up with Hindi as my first language, English as a very close first-second language because of the elitist chokehold it has on the Indian society, and Assamese as the third language. (To be honest, my first langauge is supposed to be something different, but I fail to understand how evolution of these things work). I don’t remember a time I had to make an explicit effort to learn any of these languages. Now that I look back, it feels like it was imbued in me as I went through life.

Sure, I learned about subjects, objects, particles, and the technicalities that the school required, but it was still never an active part of understanding the language - that always came with practice, either listening or speaking or reading.

So when in high school, I went: “let me try learning Spanish because it sounds so cool!”, I fell back from a high-rise architecture flat onto the ground. I realised I have zero motivation and skill to keep up with a goal that required dedication.

Fast forward to today. I am giving it another try. This time to Korean.

When I say learn the language, I do not mean to be fluent in it. (Because I don’t think I can be, let’s be honest). But rather, to understand it to some extent. Even the basics work for me. Because I don’t remember a time I had to really put in effort and sweat into learning a human language (as compared to computer languages, which are a whole lot easier, by the way), I want to give this a proper self-learning shot and determine once and for all if learning languages is a thing for me or neh.

The journey’s a bit wobbly at the moment. I can read Hangul and have only touched the sentence structuring, but it’s incredibly difficult to adjust your viewpoint from one language to another. And this is where I realised - it’s a multiverse of languages!. (-awkwardly points to the recently released movie reference-)

There is a considerable amount of change in context when it comes to a language, its slangs, exclamations and emotions. When I’m speaking Hindi, I have a different setting in my mind from when I’m speaking English.

Translations exist but they will never truly be able to capture the essence of a language and the way it’s spoken. And in that way, we’re all living in our own separate universes - speaking langauges, that from a bird’s eye view, can have the same meaning; but from a zoomed in view, is massively different.

I am an active feedback-giver. When somebody is speaking to me and I have a long listening role to play in the conversation, I frequently nod and hum in acknowledgement. Although the way I do this in different langauges has now begun to merge, but the natural instinct is not the same for each of them.

In Hindi, I go: “haa..u-haa..achha…achaa”

In English, I go: “hmm..hmm..oh..”

In Assamese, I go” “o..o..o” (o =/= u)

The way we laugh in a language, the way we joke, tease, show discomfort, show affirmation in a language - all of it differs. Even when it’s merely one-syllable sound or a blow of air coming out of the mouth.

Each language and each dialect claims a territory of individualism and identity. You step into a new world when you’re using a language. You step into its traditions, their ethics, their values, their norms, their conventions. You step into the very origins that shaped each syllable, tone, and stroke of the language.

Living in tiny, pocket universes you can step in and out of anytime is a beautiful thing to get to do honestly. To try and express your emotions in multiple ways seems like a miraculous thing.

We have this idea that there are multiple parallel universes that co-exist with subtle differences - the idea of a multiverse existing. We are looking for it in the outer space and extended dimensions, but perhaps, we do not have to. We have a multiverse right here with us.

We have multiple parallel universes of languages. Anything you can say in one, can more-or-less be expressed in the other as well. Albeit with subtle differences. You speak the same thing, you write the same thing, you understand the same thing - and yet, the experiences that come with it are different. And if this is not the closest to a multiverse we have gotten, I don’t know what it is.