Thursday, January 27, 2011

Alphabets, Words and Culture

Language is often a telling commentary of the culture. It is like a river, containing the thought process from the earliest days of its evolution. I was struck by this fact when getting across the children book for alphabets (the reason is obvious). For example, in English alphabet Q leads to Queen, which you can readily associate with British culture. It is something a kid learns in his/her most impressionable mind. That remains as a lifelong possession with further and further iterations.

I was, naturally, curious about the first impression of words in different cultures. With the help of few good friends, I prepared the following table. It is an alphabet-to-word map for 4 different languages, Bengali, English, Turkish and Swahili.


It includes only one word from a list of choices. Therefore, the conclusion can vary. Even then, few things are hard to avoid noticing. The prominent language from African continent, Swahili, includes several words asserting relationships (Baba, Dada, Mama, Rafiki). It reflects, from its early days, a strong social fabric. In the Bengali word list, you can find words like Indur, Ekka - which were reality when the earliest wordbooks were published. In Turkish, there are references to fruits, sea and fish - which are in abundance there.

There are alphabets in Bengali, which are not covered in English. For example "ch" (as in chair) is a Bengali consonant. A wordbook will contain chaNd (meaning moon) for the letter "ch", reflecting the romanticism in Bengali mindset.

By extrapolating this knowledge we gathered during our kindergarten days, it is also worth visiting how we map the letters to the words ourselves. Just a bit of exercising for your mind - name a word starting with "m" in your native tongue. Or a word with "h". If that does not map to a word you feel good about, the mapping needs to be simply retrained. Get a wordbook - perhaps :)

2 comments:

  1. name a word starting with "m" in your native tongue. Or a word with "h". If that does not map to a word you feel good about, the mapping needs to be simply retrained.


    eto kichhu bolaar pore J diye jnata (which is not probably a "paste" machine) mone porhlo? jibegoja mone porhlo naa? aar V diye Vnodor? Yaarki hochhche? vnodor er modhye feel good factor taa exactly kothay?

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  2. @Somdev Sen - anek kichhu-i mone porchhilo, kintu ekhan chhele chhoto, or boi theke just tule dilaam. Plus, ei word-gulo luptopraai taai majhe moddhye dekhle kharap laage naa. Feel-good to bote-i.

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