Mungkin Saja

“Mungkin saja ada filsafat yang tidak bisa dilampaui, tetapi tidak ada ilmu yang tidak bisa dilampaui.”

I was rummaging through some corner of the Internet when I stumbled upon this little bit of text. Completely meaningless to me, yet it held my attention. Clearly it was not mere gobbledygook, and yet it might as well have been given my ignorence. it occurred to me that my own language must appear as gobbledygook to Mungkin Saja (this name, derived from the text, is of course fictional). It occurred to me how language separates as much as it enables the sharing of ideas and experiences. I can never enter Mungkin Saja’s world through her words. Were I to meet her, we would have to find other ways to communicate: gestures, our eyes, our expressions, the tone of voice, touch. And we would have images to help us, and dance, music.

“Bisa dilampaui! Bisa dilampaui!” she might say, laughing, and I would have to discover her meaning.

What do I understand of the people around me? In South Africa, English is the mother tongue of a mere 9.6% of the population; the world of Afrikaans, Ndebeli, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu remain largely closed to me. The Khoisan languages are a beautiful to listen to: Nama, Khoekhoegowab and Kxoe are among the world’s oldest languages but a strange linguistic terrain for most of us. But the strangeness of course is an orientalist prejudice, assuming the centrality and primacy of my own language. (if I had landed on the shores of Southern Africa four hundred years ago and wandered inland, it would be my language that would be odd).

I managed to establish that the text at the top of the page is Indonesian.

Many languages, one family. I would like to understand you, Mungkin Saja.

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