In my Media & Society class yesterday, we talked about lingusitcs, the “State of Nature” and a bunch of boring dead guys (I’d like to formally apologize to my TA who would absolutely kill me if she found out I was saying this about her beloved Pierce, Saussure and Hall).
One of the things that really stuck with me about that lecture is the notion proposed by Ferdinand de Saussure that there is no universal language. For example, when you stub your toe and your instinct is to yell “Ouch!”, it is different from a French person whose instinct is to yell “Oi!”. (These are called “interjections” and it’s actually really cool how our cultures have influenced our most basic reactions to things like pain).
So this got me thinking about other things: what about other basic reactions, like crying and laughter? What about the way we are able to read the expressions on others’ faces?
My friend told me she had an answer for this. She says we associate crying with sadness and laughter with happiness because that is what our society has told us. She told me we read facial expressions the way we do because it is what we have grown up believing in accordance to our language, religion, culture, etc.
But I don’t accept this.
A few years ago, there was a tribe of natives found in Brazil from an investigative team flying overhead the rain forrest in a helicopter. This Brazilian tribe had never before seen other humans, much less technology anywhere near this helicopter they currently found hovering over their home. (There was some kind of law passed that we aren’t allowed to disturb this tribe. So they’re probably still very happily living alone with only awesome legends about that helicopter that scared the crap out of them that day. Think about the beginning of Star Trek: Into Darkness).
What amazes me is that this tribe, that scientists believe evolved entirely separated from the remainder of humankind, looked, in the photographs published by National Geographic, surprised. You can see the look of awe they all had on their faces as they glanced up at this helicopter. You can see how scared some of them were.
So I’d like to propose a new theory: there is a universal language. It’s what tells us to call out when we’re in pain. It’s what tells us to cry instinctively when someone breaks our hearts. It’s what steals our breath away when we kiss that certain person. It’s what makes us shiver when we’re neverously waiting for a phone call that can change our life.
It’s knowing exactly how a person feels, even if you don’t speak their language.
It’s the most basic, natural and animalistic language. And while it doesn’t have a word, I’m pretty sure it revolves around love, pain and our raw human experiences.