How often do we mean exactly what we say and say exactly what we mean?
Living abroad has meant a number of things for my spoken word- from stripping my sentences down to the bare necessities, to finding words that describe my feelings in the local language quicker than in my mother tongue, to deliberately expending my already limited capacity for communication with the outside world on people and thoughts that truly matter to me. I often wonder how my dialect has been affected by this severe upturning in usage and comfort- how the words that swirl about in my head and those that leave my lips speak operatic ballads of who I have become today.
In the English language, we pepper our words with such frill and pomp that the meaning of a sentence itself can be entirely lost in the hullabaloo. Our intentions and our true meaning are often so disparate that we leave conversations wondering why we said what we said and how it could have been interpreted by the receiver- perhaps he thought I meant wrong, maybe she thinks something more of it, did I just say that to them? Albeit, much of our received meaning resides in intonations, body language, facial expressions. Often we hide behind our masked meanings and exterior appearances to shield us from the blow of pain we may endure from being wrongly understood- wrongly judged.
How severely, then, does this affect our ability to communicate and express ourselves truly, freely, nakedly, lacking all façades and concerns?
In learning another language at an intimate level, rather than just learning how each word translates to and from English, but truly understanding what the speaker’s intentions are in saying each specific word, one comes to wonder if the complexity of the English language roots in a sophisticated refinement of Latin or simply an ornate piece of jewelry used to determine status, worth, and authority. In the unadorned beauty of the Khmer people, however, each word has purpose, each phrase direction, and each sentence finality. There is no- “I would like” and “It would be great if” and “If you don’t mind.” It’s “Khnyom tov nyam bai” (“I go eat rice,”) “Pookyung chup tee nee” (“We stop here now,”) “At banya ha, at aiy te.” (“Do not worry, it is nothing.”) The words passing between each Khmer are stripped of ambivalence, washed down with bluntness, and fed to one another on a plate of tenacious honesty. It leaves no room for superfluities and round-aboutness- it is naked and absolute.
Having a limited knowledge of six languages, and having lived amongst natives of each language, I’ve been given the opportunity to experience the raw passion that makes each unique, pure, special. In each language, a whole culture resides just centimeters behind the cloak of words its natives wrap themselves in each day- colored and adorned with the intangible beauty of a nation. Are the most ornately decorated, colorfully painted, embellished weavings those of the most refined cultures, or have we shed our charms and adornments, abandoned our harsh threads, and removed our kitschy tassels in attempt of attaining a refined opulence of a cultured society with no culture at all.