POINT LANGUE: Language, Comfort Zones and actual Communication

Petros Konstantinidis

What if we use the same rooms and see each other on campus? Some of us are not able to communicate with others. There are English track students who speak no French, while some French programme students are really struggling with their English. This goes to say that some of us, even if they may think that another person that they see every day on campus is very interesting and may have a lot to say, are just unable to come to contact with them. The funny thing is that even now, with this article, where I am trying to address this issue, only English speaking people will understand me.

Cartoon: Inger Hannisdal

Cartoon: Inger Hannisdal

Does this language issue actually pose a serious problem, though, or is it just a preface to remain enclosed in our small selfish world, encircled by our own words? Is there an alternative way of communication between us, that we do not even want to find? People have found ways of communication since the beginning of time, even without the use of language. Aren’t we, the great minds that will dominate the world in the future, able to find a proper way of communicating amongst ourselves? Maybe, this situation is a result of our first weird days in Menton, when we were just looking for people to talk to in a language that we use well, so that we will not be left alone. Is it the time to try to find other ways of communicating with people except for talking? Sports, arts and many other activities can give us this opportunity that we often reject in fear of leaving our newly built “comfort zone”. Ironically, Sciences Po wants us – in theory at least – to get out of our safe environments, our comfort zones.

On the other hand, bearing in mind Wittgenstein’s famous quote “the limits of my language mean the limits of my world”, we can see the obvious difficulties in communication between two people who do not have any linguistic common ground. Something that one cannot say with words may be even impossible to be expressed. The vacuum that therefore exists is normal and we should accept it, at least until our Arabic/English/French reach a level where words replace awkward silences. The next thing we will have to consider will be our new comfort zone and how we will build it, before breaking it – if we ever do. Until then, we might as well restrict our connections to people we can verbally communicate with. I mean, what can be more uncomfortable than hanging around with people you are unable to talk to?

This issue may have been discussed among us, but the question is what we do with it. Do we learn to live with it or do we take the risk to face it? I believe it’s a matter of choice. A choice that puts us in front of an “enemy”. But who is this enemy? Is it fear or is it language? In a relation that can be depicted with a Venn diagram (sorry for the math link), the space between the two circles is getting smaller and smaller with time. Will we accept its extinction, or will we try to stay in our little, safe circles? On verra…

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