Enthralled at hearing a bishop saying prayers in Latin, an admirer exclaimed, “No language on earth equals Latin for praying to God!” Amused, the bishop said, “Don’t be stupid! God knows all languages and, God’s loveliest language is silence. “Our debates whether Latin, Sanskrit, Arabic or Hebrew is best for praying to God probably has God rolling over with laughter.
Christians worldwide celebrate the feast of ‘Pentecost’- literally ‘fiftieth day’- originally a Jewish thanksgiving harvest festival celebrated seven weeks after the Passover. For Christians, it marks the birth of the Church, since on that day Jesus’ disciples experienced an outpouring of God’s Spirit in the form of ‘tongues of fire ‘that transformed them totally. They fearlessly began to preach Jesus’ Good News of joy, peace, equality, justice and love. Describing Pentecost, the ‘Acts of the Apostles’ plays on the word ‘tongues’- glossa in Greek – which has two meanings:(a) the obvious, and, (b) the extended meaning, ‘language’. Thus, when ‘tongues of fire’ descended upon Jesus’ disciples, they “were filled with God’s Spirit and began to speak in other ‘tongues’ (languages) as the Spirit gave them ability.” The essence of Pentecost is that God’s Spirit is omnipresent, unifying-in-diversity all people across manmade divides of language, culture, creed and so on. Nelson Mandela said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart. ” True! Enshrined in every language is a heartwarming world view and value system, which is precious and irreplaceable. That’s why the mother tongues of Mother India – some 22 major languages, 1,650 mother tongues and hundreds of dialects – are gems to be preserved.
Language transcends words. In Kongthong – a remote, hilly Khasi village in Meghalaya – people communicate through whistling. This is perhaps the only place in the world where people talk through whistling, using different tunes to call each other, which supposedly is more effective in the hilly terrains where words are likely to get distorted over distances. Life has led me to meet many peoples and taught me more than one tongue, Indian and foreign. Surprisingly, it’s more difficult to learn some Indian languages when compared to, say, Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese or German. Why? Simply because all these modern European languages are written with the same Roman script.
Conversely, the Indian languages are all written with diverse scripts. Thus, to learn an Indian bhasha, one must first painstakingly learn its script. I once met a man who spoke a dozen languages fluently since his dad was Russian and mom Italian. He was born in Poland and travelled worldwide just to master foreign languages. Overawed by his linguistic abilities, I said to one of his pals: “He’s amazing; he speaks so many languages!” His colleague replied wryly: “Yes! But he speaks nonsense in all of them!”
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