Yesterday, I had the chance to watch Arrival for a second time and I have to admit while on the first time, I missed a lot of things (maybe due I was tired by then), but now, it left me thinking about 3 things (which I will describe soon), do not worry about spoilers as I won’t be touching the movie itself.
In short, Arrival is about how we as human perceive the world we live in and how we interact or react to the others/unknown, where language has a big role to do on the process.
Language has become a crucial tool to interact with people in our everyday life, we have verbal conversations, we text to people, and we do this using a handful or group of vocabulary, we use such words with a set of rules we have learnt since we were kids and depending on the language you speak, you know you have to follow the pattern “Subject-Verb-Object” AKA SVO for Spanish and English (just to mention 2) or “Subject-Object-Verb” AKA SOV for Japanese (again just one example) to form sentences. Some languages don’t have or care about female, male or plural words - I’m looking at you english -, while others have several forms of speech to be used according to the situation (this is usually called diglossia) such as Arabic. Base on this, it is not hard to conclude our thinking process; the way we generate ideas is deeply linked to our language, some people have asked me: “Javier, do you think in English or Spanish nowadays?”, to what I usually respond, it depends to who Im talking with, when talking to my family (in Spanish), I know I have to quantify time differently than English, when speaking in English I know sometimes I can convey an idea using fewer words. And this is how language shapes the world we are (#1).
Now, imaging yourself in a place where you are the only person who does not speak at all or partially speak the language from there. Communication is a 2 party process, and when one of the parties have difficulties to understand the other, frustration arise. I have countless examples like, should I say “Baseball ball or just baseball”, since coming from Spanish we usually say “Pelota de Baseball” where baseball is a foreign word we have incorporated in our vocabulary; the famous “Bare with me” vs “Bear with me”, once I got the right one, I removed the other one from my work/office vocabulary. These are tiny examples, but understanding each other (#2) is crucial, take the next example, during the cold war, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev gave a speech in which he uttered a phrase that interpreted from Russian as “we will bury you.” It was taken as chilling threat to bury the U.S. with a nuclear attack and escalated the tension between the U.S. and Russia. However, the translation was a bit too literal. The sense of the Russian phrase was more that “we will live to see you buried” or “we will outlast you.” Not a friendly comment, and for this kind of incidents interpreters have a whole career in the UN.
Learning a new language might not be an easy task and could be an ordeal depending on the one you want to focus (for example, Japanese is taking me way longer), but aside of the obvious benefits such as having a nice time traveling or getting a competitive advantage for that job you want, it can change the way you see the world ($3), you are just not learning the language but the culture its coming from, adding Japanese as an example, they have formal/polite and informal speeches, words can change depending if you are talking with your friends or your coworkers, when you are in a coffee store, people speaks to you in the polite form. You become closer to the people who speaks the language, understand why they do things in certain ways. It could even rise your empathy. Someone once told me before my trip to Japan, that it did not start when I landed there, it started from the very first time I embraced the idea to learn the language, and thus the culture, so the entire process became my journey.
So, I will leave you with this, go watch Arrival, I think it is an starting point of unification between 2 parties base on a bridge called language, all of the 3 things I mentioned are encompassed in the movie. Why it is important to overcome the differences? Why it is important to interact with people from different backgrounds? What do we get from it? How can we do it? And in the process, why not broad your horizon and learn a new language, most of the people in the world speak 1 language from a top 10 list.
And before I forget, you can check the movie info here.