December 17, 2010

Like Speaking Another Language

I greatly enjoyed working with my Chilean client, and recently delivering two programs in Chile. One of the great pleasures was the difference in language: rather than "persuasion", my client referred to "seduction". Instead of talking about the "framework" of the program, we discussed the "journey" of the day.

Although there were interpreters at each of the two programs, I was careful not to fall back on American English idioms. I avoided saying things like "fall back" and instead choose "revert". Instead of "come back", I would say "return". Instead of "want", I speak to "desire" and "intent". I looked to the Latin rhetorical roots so as to be better understood and to present information more efficiently and respectfully. Conversing became both more intentional and more surprising, and I cherished in the poetry of our interactions.

A colleague's son was recently studying vocabulary, in preparation for his middle school entrance exam. He remarked that it was "like speaking another language". Indeed!

Human word, syllable, combination
of spread light and the find art of the silversmith,
hereditary goblet which gathers
the communications of the blood --
here is where silence came together with
the wholeness of the human word,
and, for human beings, not to speak is to die --
language extends even to the hair,
the mouth speaks without the lips moving --
all of a sudden the eyes are words.

I take the word and go over it
as though it were nothing more than a human shape,
its arrangements awe me and I find my way
through each variation in the spoken word --
I utter and I am and without speaking I approach
the limit of words and the silence.

I drink to the word, raising
a word or a shining cup,
in it I drink
the pure wine of language
or inexhaustible water,
maternal source of words,
and cup and water and wine
give rise to my song
because the verb is the source
and vivid life -- it is blood,
blood which expresses its substance
and so implies its own unwinding --
words give glass-quality to glass, blood to blood,
and life to life itself.

Excerpt from Chilean poet Pablo Neruda's "The Word"

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