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Universal Language: The quest for finding humanity in translation



By Agrya Srivastava

“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it”

-Melchizedek, from “The Alchemist”

The Alchemist, one of the best-selling fiction novels of Paulo Coelho, in general, talks about a guy, named Santiago, undertaking an epic journey to find a treasure, which takes him to various places, enabling him to experience different cultures, and meet different people. What people tend to usually overlook while reading the book, is how he achieved his goal.

In the novel, Santiago meets people from different strata of society, as well as different regions of the world. They all, in one or many ways, help him slowly inch towards his goal, while acting as a catalyst, which isn’t true on careful introspection.

The crux of the story still remains unstirred; he was passionate about finding the treasure with all his heart, thus he received guidance from those around him, like from Melchizedek, the men in the men who assaulted him, etc. though there were instances where others didn’t understand his language due to lingual differences, they guided him with the help of “the language of the universe” all he had to do, was listen.

Universal language is, essentially, a language that can be interpreted by all beings of this world. It means that even if you don’t know someone’s language, there is some sort of gesture, sound, expression, or word that would make the other interpret your demands. For instance, a certain high-pitch calling sound made by humans is interpreted by dogs as a gesture of friendliness, or a certain expression may indicate pain, and a certain tone can indicate anger and/or hostility. Some people believe that humans deciphered foreign languages with the help of this natural element.

This “universal language” can be found in many stories, real or fiction. From the movie Pirates of the Caribbean ( where this is the central theme), the Percy Jackson series, the Hunger Games trilogy, and every Disney movie ever made, the theme of showing grit and determination to achieve a fairly tough goal, without succumbing to the obstacles, is rather common.

When we talk about universal languages, we’re not referring to English. It is not a universal language by choice or chance. English was forced upon more than half the world due to colonial aspirations, and the rest of the world followed suit. Today, in an unfortunate turn of events and a trail left in blood, English is recognised as a universal language.

This universal language that we refer to is not restricted to just people. It transcends beyond one species. We humans have been able to communicate to animals using the same, even if it is done in not-so-friendly settings. For instance, a dog can judge the behaviour of a human based on what hormones they are emitting; so they can literally smell out evil. If they feel the vibe of the person is friendly, they will approach the person in a friendly manner, and will do the exact opposite if they sense danger. This is just one example in a sea of other examples that prove the existence of such a language.

The three main universal languages in the world are emotions, maths and music.

As explained above, emotions are universal and can be interpreted easily. Emotions universally send signals describing pain, anguish, happiness, anger, and more.

Mathematics is undisputedly the closest entity we can have to having a perfect universal language. By this, we do not refer to boring school level math that isn’t apt for one’s future. Instead we’re talking about the phenomenon that 2 added to 2 will always be 4, in perpetuity, regardless of location or time, until proven otherwise. Mathematics can be used to bridge the gaps between socio-linguistic boundaries.

Music, on the other hand, is a tool that functions and relies on emotions to transmit messages, and rarely needs a linguistic medium to incorporate its message into the mind of a person. Music can often convey emotions fairly easily. A sad song will usually have sad melodies and will utilise a sad note scale (a minor scale). Thus, in this manner, it is easy to decipher. It is only when artists think outside the box and produce an experimental piece, the interpretation of emotions gets skewed. Examples of such can be heard in the song Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen, where the mood and tonality shifts every minute.

To understand the depth of how rooted universal languages are in the minds of living beings, one has to understand more and more about life itself, and humans have barely scratched the surface. Maybe a few centuries later, after successfully bridging the gap between spirituality, and the unknown and science, will we have a better grasp on the subject. But as of now, just like the mysteries of life, little is known about the same.