01 February, 2010

Language and Communication Gaps

“What is a communication gap ?” asked Pecan, his eyebrows furrowed into a “I don’t know what that means” look.

“A communication gap is when one person tells another person something and the message is not conveyed properly or understood properly” said Yours Truly. That explanation sounded totally long winded and complicated to my own ears. Thus, I was rather uncomfortably aware of how complicated it must sound to a six and a half year old.

“Why are people around the world fighting so much ?” came the next question, just as I was thinking of ways and means to simplify my explanation of a ‘communication gap’.

Hmm … this one needed to be answered very very carefully.

“There are different reasons why people fight with each other” I said.

“Do people need to fight. Can’t they talk to each other and explain things to each other and then they won’t need to fight, right ?” came the next volley

“Well, they could. But it doesn’t always work that way.” I said

“Yesterday, on the news, they showed many Presidents and Prime Ministers attending a conference” said Pecan. “They had some earphone thingy on their ears. Do people listen to songs on their IPods when they attend meetings and conferences ?”, asked Pecan, with that little twinkle lighting up his eyes and a hint of extreme mischief playing across his lips.

By now, if I was sure of one thing, it was this – these seemingly disjointed questions were leading somewhere. I did not know where, but they sure were headed in a particular direction. A direction which Pecan already seemed to have all mapped out and the compass set, inside his head.

“Hmmm … not really” I said, unable to hide a smile. A smile because within those rather innocent questions, hid the real missile. It is his own brand of logic, as we’ve realized. His logic says “follow these steps to get to your question” and he does.

“Those earphone thingies are actually translators. See, people from different parts of the world come in and participate in these conferences. Not all of them speak the same language. A language which one person might understand, ten others might not. Many of them might speak English, but not all of them. Some of them might speak French, but not all of them. So, if a person is speaking in a language that another person does not understand, then that person uses those earphone thingies which translate it into a language which he/she understands”, I said.

“Mummy – tell me something. “When someone cannot understand a language – can that make a communication gap happen ?” asked Pecan.

“Hmmm …. it could. It very well could” I said, seeing now where this whole thing was heading.

“You know something Mummy. I think animals are much better than human beings.” said Pecan.

Another twist, but again, knowing Pecan, it had to lead somewhere.

“What makes you say that ?” I queried

“See Mummy. When there is a group of hmmm … zebras. They are the same species, right ? But see Mummy – when there is a lion or a cheetah nearby stalking them to eat one of them, they talk to each other in their own language and warn each other. That way, all of them run away and don’t get eaten. If the zebras, like we human people, spoke many different languages, then all zebras would not understand the warning or they would also need those earphone thingies to understand what the other zebra is saying. So see, they all speak and understand the same language.”

“Why can’t human beings be like that ? Why do human beings have to speak many different languages ? You say God knows everything, you say God is everywhere, you say God sees everything – you say God sees it when I think of wasting a piece of food, right ? Then why could God not see that making so many different languages could make communication gaps happen ? So many people fight with each other because of communication gaps. Many people even die. Does God not see that ? If God sees that, why does He/She not do anything about it ?. ”

For once, I simply had no answer. The sheer simplicity of thought, the articulation of what was on his mind and the total, utter and complete logic behind that question had me silenced.

Like Abhay Venkitaraman says,

“If there was just one language – only one language which all human beings spoke – it would be so easy to understand each other. There will be no communication gap. No communication gap - no fights.”

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