Tag Archives: language

GET MY DRIFT?

COMMUNICATION: a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior

As previously mentioned Costa and I do a lot of talking in various combos of Greek and Albanian. He speaks a fair Greek considering he learnt as an adult when he came here from Albania in search of work.

Kids usually learn a new language so much more quickly than adults do, but it’s amazing how much can be communicated by just a few words, and the universal language of hands. Pointing, waving, gesturing help quite a bit to get a point across.

“So,” says Costa, “I cut down your oleanders. That’s upset you?”

“Well, yes, seeing they were flourishing and seemed always to be in bloom.”

“They’ll grow,” asserts Costa, “they needed it.”

“But I didn’t tell you to cut them back,” I respond.

“Well then, cut me down,” he jokes, making ghastly throat cutting actions. “I’m Albanian. We had the Ottomans. We know about that.”

“Stop! Just stop!” I say, shuddering. He’s been making these jokes for years. We used to laugh, but now in the light of recent horrors they can’t even be thought of.  I throw up my hands as we play through the familiar pantomime. “Do what you like, Costa, do what you like.”

He grins and goes off into the garden, whistling.

His cheerful whistling is another form of communication for it usually brings at least one of the cats and dogs running. No words needed. It’s probably also a very polite way of Costa pointing out that he’s won. Again!

When it comes to people trying to communicate in a foreign language it’s invariably a game of hands. Some cultures ‘speak’ with hands more than others though, and family and friends tell me they can tell what language I’m speaking just by watching my hand movements. I’m not conscious of it, I must say, but it’s interesting to know.

The hand raised in greeting is one of the most ancient forms of non-verbal communication. It’s universal, and when accompanied by smiles it’s clearly friendly. The classic STOP hand signal might however have all manner of connotations, from a warning of danger ahead to a very definite “Get the #$!* out of here!” The accompanying body language often establishes the context.

I had a wonderful conversation in Izmir with this lovely fellow and his companions. We laughed, we smiled, we made hand gestures. None of us had the faintest idea what was being said. It didn’t matter a bit. What was being said was that we were having a grand old time just being. They were all such good ambassadors for their country; it’s distressing to think of what’s happening there now.

It’s probably not escaped your notice that I love to knit. And yes, I guess I do go on about it. A bit.  Yarn and needles are a language spoken worldwide. There can’t be many countries where the language of knitting isn’t known, where yarn and its attributes and possibilities are not at the very least a dialect.

I have been fortunate to meet knitters in many countries. We have an instant connection – we communicate instinctively without any words. Non-verbal communication is more than adequate when the topic is knitting. The hands and eyes can explain whatever it is you want to know about a technique.

Diagrams and symbols, yet another form of non-verbal communication, can be jotted down and carried with you to be studied again and again, and can be passed on to others.

Those who speak knitting are often oblivious to the lack of verbal communication. The spoken language barrier is of no consequence. Demonstrations, the show-and-tell and the tactile signals translate without any effort from those participating in the discussion.

I have never failed to make an instant connection with a knitter whose language I do not speak. I have never been treated with anything but the utmost courtesy, delight and enthusiasm. I have been warmly embraced, offered refreshment and have often had a gift pressed upon me.

The hands that show me new ways to knit are the same hands that pat mine approvingly when I master some fabulous new technique. The hands that patiently guide my awkward ones are the same hands that would probably like to shake me as I blunder along.

Without my hands and eyes I am reduced. With only my voice to communicate I would be diminished. This photograph of my friend quite literally in touch with a blind man had me close to tears when I took it. They had no common language, but the gentleman could ‘see’ her, he told me, and could tell she’s a very good woman. Communication with no need for words.

The very, very young typically have enormous eyes, a feature designed to appeal to the protective instincts of adults of that species. That demon Raki is a case in point, and coupled with his pathetic little cries he had no trouble communicating his desperate need for care. We fell for it!

So did Mythos, who communicated a great deal of loving care to the infant Raki, and interesting that he recognized Raki posed no threat to his position as dominant male cat.

Non-verbal forms of communication such as signs and symbols written in some manner on a surface that can be preserved convey information of every conceivable type, in every language from the most ancient to the very latest graffiti.

Nothing new about graffiti though – we’ve been making marks where we shouldn’t for aeons.

Messages can be communicated in coded symbols by various means, as witness the tally of guillotined heads entered into the knitting of the fictional Madame Defarge. The methods of passing on info through symbols range from messages worked into textiles, from smoke signals to flags, from piled up rocks to carvings on trees and from word and number play to fires and flashing lights. Such communications are limited only by man’s imagination, and that the intended recipient must know the code.

Music and dance are modes of communication with roots almost as ancient as man himself.

Dances are often codified forms of expressing the record of a culture, as this example of traditional dance from the Pelion village of Trikeri shows.

Costumes, simple or elaborate, body painting and various markings used by countless peoples throughout recorded history contain information of importance, not only to the group, but to anthropologists and other academics who might be engaged in studying them.

The objects carried by this Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church are visual communications, as are the traditional robes, which serve to establish his standing in the hierarchy. These symbols are non-verbal communications of his authority and understood by all who are part of the particular community. So powerful are these symbols that even foreigners understand the implications.

Language and other means of communication have interested me for a long time, ever since I was a small child living in a variety of cultures. I’ve been fortunate to have written a book about language and communication so that kids might enjoy it too.

https://www.quartoknows.com/books/9781633221550/You-Talking-to-Me.html?direct=1

SPEEDING THROUGH SERBIA

My husband’s work requires that we travel to Central Europe from time to time. Occasionally we drive both ways, sometimes we take the ferry to or from Italy. The war in Kosovo made driving through the Balkans a very risky proposition, and this remained the case for some years after the conflict ended. Several years ago, after much discussion with friends who had recently braved the road trip again, we decided to drive through and judge the situation for ourselves.

Upon leaving Greece, you cross into FYROM/Macedonia (the name dispute has yet to be settled) and from there you enter Serbia. We successfully completed the various passport and customs checks at the Serbian border, and had driven a few miles into the country when we saw a tall, burly man in black uniform at the side of the road. He stepped forward, holding out his hand. My eyes were drawn to the large pistol on his belt, while my fingers flew faster over my knitting needles. Gulp!

We’d been warned to expect official roadblocks, and to be on our guard as there were likely to be organised gangs conducting holdups in that area, for we were in the vicinity of Kosovo. What hadn’t been clearly explained though was how to distinguish one from the other.

“What do you think?” my husband muttered, as he began to slow down. “If we stop, we might be ambushed, if we don’t…”

As we got closer, the man moved swiftly towards the car, coming up to my window as we stopped. I opened it halfway, clutching my needle tightly; I think I had some half-formed idea of poking his eye out as we died under a hail of bullets. He was unsmiling, but it became clear he intended no harm, and was asking for a lift to Belgrade, about three hours away. You don’t need a common language to understand “Beograd” accompanied by pointing up the highway, and a movement towards the rear door of the car.

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Once it was clear that he could ride with us, he made a hand motion to indicate that we should wait, and began walking towards some bushes. I must admit we had a brief tingle of alarm, but he was only retrieving his overnight bag. Phew!

“I’ll get in the back,” I announced, climbing out with my knitting bag and indicating to the chap to sit in front. He remonstrated at first, but I was adamant, and so we set off again. He pointed to himself, repeating a name which was quite unpronounceable and completely escapes me. The atmosphere was understandably awkward; some pleasantries were exchanged by means of broken German and English, punctuated by much hand waving and the odd Serbo-Croatian phrase from my pocket dictionary.

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Our passenger began to relax a little, becoming quite animated as he gesticulated at my knitting yarn and his head. I interpreted this as a reference to a hat, a knitted hat, which appeared to have warm memories for him, but while we gabbled incomprehensibly at each other, I dug in my knitting bag for my longest circular needle, and kept it next to me as I knitted away at my project.

This part of the highway is long and boring, quite depressing in fact, for it passes through endless miles of derelict farms and homesteads, sad reminders of a time when communities lived their lives and farmed their fields as they had for generations before the creation of Yugoslavia. Decaying buildings, long-abandoned orchards, lands now conquered by weeds stand in silent reproach of the Soviet era when families were moved off their lands and onto collective farms.

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The road is poor in parts, but stretches straight ahead. Dispiriting. The occasional car whizzed past us, as anxious as we to get away from the forlorn landscape. Unsure of the speed limit, hubby pointed to the speedometer, raising his hands and shoulders in that universal gesture of enquiry to our companion, who threw back his head in laughter. Sitting up even straighter, imposing in his uniform, he pointed cheerfully to his insignia. “No problem,” he announced in his heavy accent, “special policia!” So we sped along, the first and only time we’ve driven through Serbia with our own protection officer.

Given that we had no language in common, it’s amazing how much we gleaned from our convoluted conversation. Three hours is a long time to chat if those involved are making determined efforts to communicate, and we all did our best. We learnt that he had been in the Serbian army during the war in Kosovo, and was now in the Special Branch. He had to attend an official meeting in Belgrade, and it was up to him to make his own travel arrangements. He told us of his wife and family, he talked politics and history. He and I passed the phrasebook back and forth to each other, pointing out the words we needed, and we laughed. We all laughed. A lot. In that grim, war-ravaged country we managed to laugh. We three strangers, from backgrounds and cultures that could hardly be more divergent, had a grand old time, though I do wonder who and what he was exactly.

We dropped him off close to the river on the outskirts of Belgrade where he would stay the night with his sister, parting company with genuine regret. I got back into the front, still clutching my empty circular knitting needle. My husband commented on it, and was stunned when I explained that I’d had some vague plan to garrote our pal with it had the need arisen!