“One way to think of language is as an ecosystem, with words like organisms pitted against one another in a fight for survival. Their fitness is how useful they are: if they help us communicate more easily, they’ll thrive”.
One word that would survive in any crowded ecological niche, as resilient as ‘rat’ or ‘rhododendron’, is the word ‘huh’. Unaccompanied by body language, as far as is possible, this word lays claim to occurring. and remaining the same, in any language on the globe - from the Amazonian rain forests to the Arctic tundra to teenage discos anywhere.
John le Carré takes this claim one step further, citing Charlemagne, he suggests that becoming proficient in another, language different from your own native tongue allows us to adopt a new personae. But then he is a confirmed Germanophile so perhaps his insight doesn’t count - grunts and growls and guttural rasping.
I’m a confirmed Francophile who doesn’t enjoy the benefit of speaking German but I can see where he is coming from. I’ve been intrigued to imagine what connection my musings can possibly have with some of the countries across the globe from apparently very different cultural backgrounds from my own who regularly look in on this blog. It’s like putting on a mask.
With a bit of advance notice to all around me I shall test out the theory, ‘Huh? Huh! Huh...’. That's all I need. 'Huh'.
• John le Carré cites Charlemagne, “To have another language is to possess a second soul”. Sunday July 2nd, 2017, The Observer