Reducing a Language to 7 Words

Out of over 1 million words in the English language, do you think we could possibly survive only on 7 words?  Be able to understand one another? Well, Khalil Gibran thought so.  He once said, “We shall never understand one another until we reduce the language to seven words.”

This is the prompt that I came across today for my writing assignment in my Blogging 101 course:

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As I sat there reading the prompt, taking it in, I was trying to think of which seven words would be sufficient enough for people to understand one another, engage in effective dialogues and have healthy relationships with others.  I saw this as a challenge to myself.  Out of all the words, which seven words would be able to stand on their own, and have everyone communicating effectively with one another?

Would the seven words consist of our basic human needs: food, water and shelter?

But wait, we’re talking about understanding one another now, right? So it’s more than just the basic physiological needs then. So perhaps a spin off of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs?

And how about love? Clearly, there’s no life without love and the world definitely needs more love? But… love is an emotion right? And our facial expressions would be able to communicate love, as it would sadness, and anger, etc. So, should we give an entire word to love or any other emotion? I’ll go with no. If my face can tell you, I’ll reserve my words.

Hmm.  What words do I use on a daily basis? Communicative words that is.

Then I started to think about the times I was traveling to places where English wasn’t their first language, like when I was on this local night bus in Thailand, on my way to Malaysia with no one knowing English on the bus, and then when we made a pit stop for bathroom breaks in this small village, I was hungry but there wasn’t any food around. But I needed to eat, so I had to communicate with them to find some food. How did I communicate with them? I pantomimed! It was easy enough. With my hands near my mouth pretending to put food in my mouth and raised eyebrows, I was able to effectively communicate that I was hungry and wanted to eat.

So what things cannot be communicated by our facial expressions? Or pantomiming?

What are words that I like to learn before traveling to a foreign country?

Then I started to think about rules.  Would conjugating the words or adding suffixes and prefixes make it a new word? Or could we stick to the root word and whether it’s a conjugation or not, it’s still one word? I decided that conjugating a word didn’t make it a new word.

So, I sat there at the dining room table, with a cup of tea in my hand, deciding to type whatever words came to mind first and stick with those seven.  I looked at my own life and how I communicate with those around me, going over exchanges with loved ones, strangers, kids, adults, friends, colleagues, and asked myself once more: Which 7 words would I need to express to others, to effectively communicate.  So, I put down my cup of tea, and these were the words which came to mind first:

  1. A word of gratitude: Thanks/Beautiful.
  2. A word to apologize: Sorry.
  3. A word to express happiness for others: Congratulations.
  4. A word to greet others: Greetings/Peace.
  5. A word to express openness and invitations: Welcome.
  6. A word to show you are in need: Help.
  7. A word to negate any of the above: No.

As I finished typing the last word, other words that came to mind were words to show appreciation, kindness and despair. I figured they’d fall under gratitude, greetings and welcome, and help respectively. I also thought of please and excuse me, as these are words I tend to make sure I learn before traveling to countrie’s where I don’t know the language. But greetings and sorry – especially for a Canadian 😉 – should be sufficient.

I still kind of want to add love to the list, but I’ve assured myself that love is something that’s better off shown than said. As many times, it’s quite meaningless when all it is is just a word.  As Extreme said, “More than words to show you feel, that your love for me is real.”

How about you? Which seven words do you think would be sufficient to maintain a healthy relationship with others where we are all understood?

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4 thoughts on “Reducing a Language to 7 Words

  1. Gosh that would take some thinking about. I enjoyed your post and I love Kahlil Gibran. I write poetry myself and I think reading Gibran as a student many years ago inspired me then and continues to inspire me now.

    • Yes, a word of praise. Didn’t think of that surprisingly. And that means a lot coming from a teacher. Guess I could’ve praised my students a little more. 😅 Thanks for the addition. What 7 words would you choose?

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