WANG, Yi-Jen（王 怡人）
Global Education Center, Global Education Institute
When I was working for a local advertising agency in Taipei, Japanese advertising in the 80’s fascinated me. So, in 1991, I decided to come to Japan to study Japanese advertising more.
Here I would like to share two of my experiences as a greeting message.
Language is a filter for recognizing the world around us.
In my research, I learned linguistics and semiotics, which are not a mainstream focus in the field of marketing, but nevertheless recommended by my supervisor. And I learned something surprising about the role of “language”.
The language(s) we use is not just a tool for basic communication, but also a filter for recognizing the world around us and shaping our values. This discovery means two points to me. First, in order to understand foreign cultures and people’s values, it is necessary to master the language of that country. However, mastering a language by learning from textbooks and dictionaries is not enough. The best way is to visit the country and learn from interacting with the locals. To be able to ask “What is this?” is a magical phrase for learning. With this simple phrase, the people around you will instantly become your foreign language teachers.
Second, comparing the abundance of vocabulary in a language with that of your native language may help you to understand the culture and values embodied in that other language. For example, in English and Chinese, the noun “water” is preceded by an adjective to indicate its variation. (hot / cold water”; 温 / 熱 / 氷 開水”). Of course, this grammar rule also applies to Japanese. However, in Japanese, there are special words that describe different temperatures of water, such as “白湯 (sa-yu),” “ぬるま湯 (nuruma-yu),” “お冷や (o-hiya),” and “熱湯 (nettoh).” In this way, the abundance of vocabulary that refers to things is an important characteristic of a language and the cultural milieu where it is used. So, if you are learning a language, bear in mind that the grammar and vocabulary you study so hard are actually keys to opening up whole new worlds.
Graceful people always speak compassionately.
Language changes over time. So, pay good attention to the words you choose. Why do we have to talk about “wording” here? It does not mean “use the words correctly,” rather pay attention to the intention and attitude you are conveying when using the words.
My story jumps here.
Pieter Bruegel’s “Tower of Babel” is one of my favorite paintings. The motif of the painting is a “high tower that reaches heaven” in the Old Testament. But why do I introduce this painting here? The reason is the myth behind it. That is, a unified human race who speak a single language became arrogant and built a tall tower to approach God. But this made God angry. Then God destroyed the tower and divided the single language as punishment. As a result, humans could no longer understand each other and are scattered all over the world.
For me, what this painting and myth mean is that it is important for us to humbly understand others as we sometimes cannot communicate as well as we’d like due to our different languages and, unfortunately, communication failures can cause various conflicts.
The real cause of the conflict is not the words, but the intentions and attitudes of the people who used them.
I would like to introduce a second experience that related to this. In the early days of my study in Japan, I quarreled with my Korean classmate over some trivial matter. However, since we didn’t understand each other’s language, we could only quarrel in Japanese. The problem is, since there is not much swearing in Japanese, neither of us could quarrel to the fullest!
Then I thought about it for a while. How do Japanese people quarrel? When I asked my Japanese friends, I got two kinds of answers. One is that the Japanese do not quarrel. The other is that the Japanese quarrel in a sarcastic way.
So that’s it. You can quarrel without swearing. What I am trying to say here is that even if common words are used, the meaning of those words may change depending on the intentions and attitudes of the people who are speaking them. Likewise, even if you use polite words, if you have a bad attitude, you are likely to be misunderstood.
It is inevitable that people will quarrel out of anger. However, in the structure of modern society, everyone needs the help of others to carry out their work. If one day you look down on or hurt someone in a fit of rage, the effect will eventually come back to you. Everyone is different. And everyone supports each other. So, let’s put ourselves in each other’s shoes and speak with consideration for each other.
Gracefulness is not defined by financial ability, good looks, fashionable clothing or luxury. Rather, it is defined by kindness and empathy for others.