The overriding message from Nikesh Shukla’s tale ‘Namaste’ is, perhaps, that “Language Is Important”. Capitalising these words highlights their poignancy: it is a simple phrase, easily constructed and free of complicated clauses, and yet it, in itself, matters.
Truthfully, the evening bridged how the use of language and everyday ignorance can build into actions of a greater magnitude. Highlighting just how severely language can be simultaneously ignored and manipulated, to the extent of blatant ignorance and lack of care, Shukla noted the misuse of language on such trivial – but commonly encountered – things as on menus and in video games. He also mentioned the comedian Kumail Nanjiani, who, upon beginning to play Call of Duty (set in Karachi, Pakistan), discovered that the animated road signs were written in Arabic rather than in the national language, Urdu. In Shukla’s own words: “millions were spent developing this game, yet at no point did anyone decide to Google the language of Pakistan”. Another example from his reading focused on his experience at an Indian restaurant. Noticing the inclusion of ‘Chicken Chuddi’ on the menu, he called the proprietor over to contest the use of ‘chuddi’ – meaning ‘pants’.
Yet another, perhaps more startling in its bluntness, came from ‘Miss L’ (whose real name remains undisclosed). Indeed, it was her name that brought, once again, the power of language to the fore. Ultimately, ‘Miss L’, an actress, maintains her anonymity in an attempt to disguise her ethnicity and heritage from those judging her off a piece of paper, namely her CV. The reason for this is that her chances of being hired for a role that does not focus on the ethnicity of the character are, otherwise, incredibly slim. This, all on account of one word; a combination of letters formed in such a way that they can dictate your job prospects, your options, your future.
No matter how small the ‘error’, its ramifications will go beyond a mere annoyance — both emotionally and within society. If the above examples show us one thing, it is that we sometimes don’t care enough about other cultures to treat them with the same kind of respect we expect for our own. We seem to simply grab at words and, if they sound about right, use them without a second thought, stealing them for ourselves or putting them into an incorrect context. Our apathy towards such matters only serves to increase our ignorance and encourage other such acts of microaggression. To avoid this, we must accept that Language Is Important and begin to pay closer attention to how we use words in our own language, as well as words borrowed from others.