On the other side, other cultures very much understate everything. Northern cultures are very renowned for that, along with cultures with a highly coded language. In Swiss “that hasn’t been too bad” is definitely a very hard earned compliment. It’s meant in a way, that there is really nothing negative to be said about it (and people there are very good at finding the negative points). So a huge compliment, given that even only 2-3 negative points means it has been fantastic.
Other examples are Italian, where gestures are an intrinsic part of the spoken language.
Beyond mere features of language, these differences go into the mind set of the corresponding cultures. In the north, surviving the harsh winters is truly a community project and brings a community closer together. It’s imperative to work together, or the culture perishes in the first winter. This reflects well in the very familiar naming, given that everybody knows everybody anyway.
In Italy, eating alone is unthinkable, family means everything. Eating is often an elaborate process with multiple stages. In the Italian mindset, restaurants are there for exactly that; that if you’d be forced to eat alone, you go to a restaurant and sit on a table with others. In Italian, eating alone is synonymous with dying alone. Even to the point where they say that eating alone, you’ll asphyxiate and there will be nobody there to save you. A fate you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.
Arabic cultures, which are very conscious of the honor of a person, have their very own coded ways. Straight up questions are considered extremely rude, as it could potentially lead to a situation where somebody might be forced to admit that they don’t know. That would be equivalent to losing face. In situations like these, the correct way to handle it is to give some sort of answer, as long as the foreigner asking that question leaves. The people asked will wave them away, pointing them in any random direction, as long as they leave and stop that insulting behavior. The correct way to ask questions is indirect: “Do you know somebody who knows the way to xyz?” The idea being that everybody knows somebody who has a better idea how to get there and can refer you to that person.
In the same culture being invited to the family in all forms, including a long and elaborate description of all the dishes which will be cooked in your honor as the guest is more intended as a token of respect. Even if invited in all forms twice, don’t go, because nobody expects you to show up. Only being invited three times really means you’re invited.
Haggling is also very intrinsic to that culture and is a way to show respect to the seller and show your own worth and the respect you deserve. That as well is another example of words which can’t be really taken for face value. In this warm and passionate culture, yet very conscious of social status, this very elaborate and coded way of communicating serves as a way to convey all these requirements safely.
Already, something as basic and seemingly universal as the concept of “I” is by far not as universal as people in the Western world think. In Western cultures it is very much limited to the body, with varying amounts of other concepts added (emotions, experiences, soul,…). In other cultures it includes the surroundings, family, even dead relatives, the pantheon and the whole tribe. It is noticeable how in cultures like these the fear of death as the extinction of that individual entity is way less pronounced and often more seen as a normal process and a natural thing as opposed to the total end of it all. For me, that is yet again a hint, how much our denomination shapes our world and how we position ourselves with respect to it.
We talked about the tendency of English to acquire vocabulary from everywhere and being very flexible. I think that corresponds with a certain flexibility, at least in America and Australia. I have never experienced such a flexibility with for instance the job you’re doing and how people change them on the go. The American sayings “you learn how to build a house by building a house” or “flying by the seat of the pants” come to mind in that context. In other cultures, that would be by doing a 4-year apprenticeship and then working ten years on the job before you’re considered any good.
German is more unwieldy, and tends to reuse words over and over again, combining them with other words to form new concepts. But it makes the language heavy and formal. But on the other side, ideal for thinkers like Goethe, Nietsche and Hegel, which use that sense of detail and precision in expressing their thoughts.
In contrast, French and Italian, examples of southern languages, are really straight up beautiful. They really sound like poems, and I think that sense of aesthetics straight up reflects beyond the languages. The works of Maupassant and Camus or then Dante Alighieri or Pablo Neruda very well reflect that sense of beauty, passion and playfulness.
Noam Chomski proposed a universal grammar based on observations that many languages share common structures. There’s a lot of controversy about that subject. There are languages outside the standard languages, which are so very different that this is very questionable if this would be possible.
Often quoted examples are indigenous languages which for instance don’t really know the concept of numbers, apart from one, two and many. The Hopi language does not use the concept of tenses and expressing if an action is in the past, present or future. What is more determining in this language is the level of certainty of the action. These examples show not just a mere lack of vocabulary, but a mindset which does measure the world in very different ways.