Language allows us to communicate. More so though, language allows us to formulate thoughts and covey abstract concepts. The latter of which is the defining characteristic that separates man from animals. To quote Descartes, ‘I think therefore I am’.
Languages as such, specifically the inherent definitions and epistemology of words, function as philosophical embodiments of a culture’s worldview and shed light on values and morals. To truly understand the core of a culture, one must first fully learn the nuances of the language. The Eskimos for example have more than 50 words for different types of ‘snow’.
For Chinese – or more correctly the Han language – while it is commonly understood that Chinese is based on pictograms, less obvious is the fact that a large majority of Chinese characters are formed by the merging of different characters and their meanings to create new words. In the process, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs that shed light on how the Hans interpreted and organized the world around them.
To be honest, I’ve never given much thought to this of a language until the week-long trip to Taiwan from Nov 6-11, sponsored by the Chinese Culture Association, to visit the home of Mr. He Guodong, founder of the Global I Ching Association.
Throughout the week, Mr. He led a series of lectures and discussions in which he effortlessly wove in and out of Chinese characters to demystify the six Classics – Poetry 詩, Documents 書, Rites 記, Music 樂, Change 易 and Spring and Autumn 春秋.
Take for example, the word for Poetry 詩, as Mr. He pointed out, the Chinese word pairs the characters for land and unit of measurement with the radical for speech. Literally, poems are words about pieces of land. Or more elegantly phrased, the Classic of Poetry is a collection of reflections on the wonders of the land with each poem therein teaching us to appreciate the beauty of life and the earth we live in.
Every example Mr. He expounded upon seemed at once so simple and logical yet presenting such a profound understanding that it never failed to always leave me all deep in thought.
In this fashion, the five days flew by way too fast with such much more boundless knowledge left unsaid; leaving me eagerly awaiting next year when Mr. He commences teaching at the Han Culture Mountain Estate.”
by Jenny Chen