Language is one of the defining cornerstones of culture. It shapes how cultures think and react, since this is how cultures spread and are passed on. It is through our oral and written histories that our culture is defined. There are also so many interesting quirks about language that are worth mentioning and I think our language is example on how to discuss from this perspective.
For example, Eskimos are said to have a hundred words for ice and snow. To other cultures, snow and ice are just that, water that froze, but to Eskimos living in the Arctic, snow and ice is their life.
Here in the Philippines, we have something similar. To other cultures, rice is just rice, but to Filipinos, rice is everything. There are so many variations and complexities to the approach of Filipino concept of rice. First, there is palay, which is rice that is being harvested. Then there is bigas, uncooked rice, and its opposite, kanin, which is cooked rice. Am is the liquid runoff from boiling rice. There is bahaw or leftover rice and the next day, when you fry the bahaw with garlic, it becomes sinangag. Even rice that fell on the floor has a name, mumu. The list goes on and on.
Then there is a strange theory of how people greet each other. In the Middle East and in Israel, people greet each other with these words – shalom and salaam, which respectively is Yiddish and Arabic for the word peace. It is as if these cultures instinctively call out to each other with the words they crave the most, peace. The wars that have scarred that region must have left such an indelible mark, so much so that if you wish some well in that area, you wish that peace come with them.
We Filipinos greet other in an interesting way. Don’t believe the advertisements, we don’t really greet each other with mabuhay. Try that here in the Manila and it will get you a raised eyebrow and a certain degree of incredulity. Here, we greet each other with these words – “Kumain ka na ba?” or in English “Have you eaten yet?“. To a Filipino, the ultimate concern of everyone is that anyone who enters our homes should never, ever go hungry. Yet here in the Philippines, a lot of people go hungry every day, making a strange parallelism with that of the Middle East. Their search for peace coincides with our search for an end to hunger.
Finally, even our concepts of love are multi-layered. For example, pag-ibig is our word for love but if you think about it, it also has a connotes to an idea of want. When you say iniibig kita you are saying that I want you. Our other word for love is pagmamahal which in turn has links to the concept of value. When you say minamahal kita, you are basically saying that I value you or you are precious to me.
Herein lies the rub. Language is so multifaceted and so complex that when you think about it, you will discover infinitely more interesting layers to it. In the end, however, language has one ultimate purpose, to connect each one of us to the other. We speak to other, we write our poems and songs and stories, because of desire to be one with the other person.