Do I really need to communicate?

Since the time I have landed in Bangalore, I have been haunted by a strange faceless apparition. It constantly tells me that I am an alien, and can truly never belong here. Whenever I tell him about this being my country, my home-land, my India; or whenever I try to go a step further and talk of the global world, the shrinking boundaries; it scoffs at me with all its canines and molars full in display. When I refuse to buy its stand and ask for proof, it quietly holds my hand and takes me to the homes of one of the few great friends, I have found after coming to Bangalore. So I ride along bracing myself to prove it incorrect and illogical.

On a similar one excursion, I visited a dear friend for lunch on a fine Bangalore afternoon. With a little kid running around squealing incomprehensible monosyllables, I expected the day to be a juxtaposition of a lot of amusement and game. It sadly turned out to be just the opposite. The Tamil Friend's wife did not speak English or Hindi, the only two languages I am remotely intimate with; and the husband had to use Tamil to converse with her almost all the while. The other friend accompanying me knew the language well enough to write a novel, and she gelled in like Irish cream on piping hot mocha.

The entire day I sat there, looking at the faces/lips/hand movements of the people trying to make some head or tail of the conversations. In between they took pity on my once in a while and translated some bits of the talking; and I laughed stupidly pretending to enjoy. It was repeated another time when I paid a visit to another friend; and I was alarmed at how helpless and defenseless I felt when a congregation of people around me emoted in a tongue so alien. Back in Delhi, the thing I almost always never thought about, now seemed as the most crucial thing in the world.

Since i found myself so engrossed at engulfed in this post, I thought of making it more worthwhile by putting in some useful information and interesting trivia. Now, let me first elaborate on human speech and language. Human speech is commonly recognized as the dividing line between ourselves and the rest of the animal world. The reason why the ability to speak is such a sharply defined boundary goes deeper than the mere existence of a method of communication, it is what we have done with language that counts. Language paved the way for all the special human abilities that we so value- self-awareness, higher emotion and personal memories (McCrone 48).

Communication, on the other hand, is far more than speech and writing. Most of us are unaware that we are communicating in many different ways even when we are not speaking. The same goes for other social animal species. We rarely learn about this mostly non-verbal human communication in school even though it is very important for effective interaction with others. Growing up in a society, we learn how to use gestures, glances, slight changes in tone of voice, and other auxiliary communication devices to alter or emphasize what we say and do. We learn these highly culture bound techniques over years largely by observing others and imitating them.

Linguists refer to all of these auxiliary communication devices as paralanguage
. It is part of the redundancy in communication that helps prevent ineffective communication. It can prevent the wrong message from inadvertently being passed on, as often is the case in a telephone call and even more so in a letter. The paralanguage messages that can be observed through face to face contact also makes it more difficult to lie or to hide emotions. Paralanguage is often more important in communication than what is actually being said orally. It has been suggested that as much as 70% of what we communicate when talking directly with others is through paralanguage.

The most obvious form of paralanguage is body language or kinesics
. This is the language of gestures, expressions, and postures. In North America, for instance, people commonly use their arms and hands to say good-bye, point, count, express excitement, beckon, warn away, threaten, etc. In fact, they learn many subtle variations of each of these gestures and use them situationally.

When we speak to another individual or group, the distance our bodies are physically apart also communicates a message. Proxemics
is the study of such interaction distances and other culturally defined uses of space. Most of us are unaware of the importance of space in communication until we are confronted with someone who uses it differently. For instance, we all have a sense of what is a comfortable interaction distance to a person with whom we are speaking. If that person gets closer than the distance at which we are comfortable, we usually automatically back up to reestablish our comfort zone. Similarly, if we feel that we are too far away from the person we are talking to, we are likely to close the distance between us. If two speakers have different comfortable interaction distances, a ballet of shifting positions usually occurs until one of the individuals is backed into a corner and feels threatened by what may be perceived as hostile or sexual overtures. As a result, the verbal message may not be listened to or understood as it was intended.

Now here's some interesting trivia. A US business team was in recent negotiations with a Japanese group in Tokyo. Things seemed to be going well. Then there was a pause, the Japanese apologized, and began speaking to each other in Japanese. The US businessmen suddenly felt isolated and frustrated, whereas moments before they had been an integral part of the action. The advantage was with the Japanese because they had two languages and the Americans but one.

In another significant instance, the Japanese word, mokusatsu, changed all our lives. It has two meanings: (1) to ignore, (2) to refrain from comment. The release of a press statement using the second meaning, in july, 1945 might have ended the war (World War 11) then. The Emperor was ready to end it, and had the power to do so. The cabinet was ready to accede to the Potsdam ultimatum of the Allies-surrender or be crushed-but wanted a little more time to discuss the terms. A press release was prepared announcing the policy of mokusatsu, with the no comment interpretation. But it got on the foreign wires with the ignores interpretation through a mix-up in translation: The cabinet ignores the demand to surrender. To recall the release would have entailed an unthinkable loss of face. Had the intended meaning been publicized, the cabinet might have backed up the Emperor's decision to surrender. In which event, there might have been no atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Tens and thousands of Japanese might have been saved. One word, misinterpreted.



The Introvert said…
can understand ur situation.. even different english accents are tough to undertand.. cud never understand what that french guy in one of my class tries to speak.

but looks like u made good use of time: thinking about paralang and kinesics :D all this was somewhat new and interesting knowledge for me.

world war 2 incident is very interesting!
amit said…
try to go in interior karnataka... u mite hv to rely on sign language if u know only hindi n english..

'With a little kid running around squealing incomprehensible monosyllables, I expected the day to be a juxtaposition of a lot of amusement and game'

n if u keep writin in such a way, gimme a dctionary at least to comprehend it :)
Unknown!!! said…
wow nice post...a lot informative....the mokusatsu one is too good...never knew this before...
Abhinav said…
totally understand ur situation .. thats what i have been facing for the last 9 years ... well then the obvious answer is if ur in that region learn the language .. man if this wud have been true i wud have mastered Tamil, Malyalam, Assamese, Begngali and even Nepali :P but then i found a way .. ask ppl to translate or i am off :D (selffish i know) but then now i regeret i had lost the opportunity to learn so many languages.

Those details certainly made ur post much more interesting .. did u attend some communication workshop ;)
Canary said…
Ya !! english accents can be tough ! :p I remember rewinding the movie tapes 3 times before I got the English movies in school ! :D

I'd suggest you buy a dictionary! :) :p

Ya, even I dint know.. found it during a research.. its awesome.. :)

No communication workshop.. just gathered this gyaan during colleg lectures.. :)
arvindiyer said…
Literature and language classes in schools and colleges are always loaded with information. This post is an example of that..
What can I say, Am a tamil speaking iyer in bangalore for the last two years.This city comes with it a palette of cultures, races, people and languages.. That is the best part of this city i think!!!
A very interesting and informative post .. But its not too hard though .. you can learn enough to survive , pretty fast and you will , out of necessity.
Hirdu said…
OMG...such a long post...anyhow tried to read it full...but somehow got lost in the mayhem of long words ;) a visit to chennai and thy shall love bangalore least on accounts on language :)

In bangy, only thing which can save one is being surrounded by too many ppl and carefully mingle...doesn't if your are single ;) and whenever you mingle...mingle with ppl who donot tingle you lingual ...

With the ppl I am surrounded, I always make sure that I am using hindi or english (Well I know only those ;) and keep on pushing them to come out of regionalism... :) think global...wala funda ... :)

Anyhow...enjoy the climate and too many ppl and try to be found out at CCDs...
Canary said…
Loaded with information?? :O

Thanks.. :)

long post doesnt mean such a long comment ! :p
the Monk said…
hmmm...bangalore is better than a lot of other cities, though...real melting pot, it is...
shruti said…
after a long time my communication class has just rvised...
being a management student, we are always used to get many special lectures on how to communicate and i think communication plays a very important role...
you should able to know to read between the line phases..
Canary said…

ok, i'll help u revisit your other subjects in management as well :p
Harish said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Harish said…
Interesting post, particularly that bit about'mokusatsu'. I even searched wiki for that.
This is what wiki has to say about Mokusatsu':
PSR Chaitanya said…
Phew!! finished reading my second 'short novel' this week. [:P]
Nice post though. One of those posts you end up feeling a little more intellectual having read it.
Now i can flaunt about mokusatsu, Hiroshima and foreign wires. And she would be impressed .[:P]
LostSoul said…
interesting read ......visiting this blog more often to read more posts...nice trivia
nenlos said…
interesting info.
I was once stuck with a Kannada family that understood nothing except kannada. And I can barely understand a few words in that language. But we ended up communicating brilliantly well- I came to know where the daughters were settled after marriage!
aMyth! said…
hey.. thanx for dropping by.. been a long time, eh? u in bangalore now????
Sushma said…
Hey! Thanks for the comments on my blog..Keep viewing my blog for further updates
Coming to speak of your blog, all I can think of can be summed up in one word..."WOW"!!! You definitely have a variety of things , specially in this post. I particularly loved the part about 'mokusatsu'. Infact, there are many other events, wherein words in many other languages have been mistaken, the effects of which were way beyond what was intended!
Coming to the language problem that you have mentioned, being a hard-core Banglorean myself, I stand by it when I say people here are far more co-operative with regard to language than any other cities(South and North India). I have winessed many instances where a layman such as an auto driver has tried to converse in English, for the benefit of some people who weren't from this place!
Canary said…
@comment deleted

Hey, thanks for adding the wiki bit.. :)

foreign wires? huh?
Canary said…
@lost soul
:) okies..

wow! thats hell lot of information :p :)

yup, very much :)

ur right, even i have met many nice people here.. :) kind and helpful.. so that was not the point in the post at all.. :)
Sara said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sara said…
that was a good post and interesting trivia too :)

and i thot women communicated better than men even with a language barrier...never knew you too feel the same...kindly not quote me chauvinistic..that was meant to be a compliment :)
Anurag said…
he he....sounds so similar..i studied in kerela....the mallu's are very sweet least i feel so now....but usually rather mostly when two mallus meet....u seem to disappear into thin air...even though physically u r very much present there :o)
sometimes i feel i shld learn each n every language in the world...n then strike a conversation with everyone n anyone....but then...have more imp things to do than learn every language :o)
Canary said…
hehe.. ya, ur right.. ;)

wat r those important things? :P

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