The Coconut Radio: Communicating
From earliest times, people have “talked” to each other, even before they had language. The cave man is said to have invented the greeting of a raised hand as a signal to another party that he was bearing no weapon.
The world has come a long way since those days. Today even the most primitive tribes share a common language so that members can share ideas and information with each other. Many of the languages of the world come from one or two that existed thousands of years ago. As the population of the world increased and spread out, the languages were carried to other places, changing with time and place until they became completely separate languages. Some of these are no longer spoken; some have never been written down, while others exist only in writing. Expressions from one language often pop up in others.
Today, jet-speed computers can translate languages as fast as they can be spoken, making communications between nations easier and faster. But in spite of technical progress, a simple raised hand is still a greeting that is understood as a friendly gesture by people everywhere.
The people of the ten thousand islands of Tahiti learn the news about each other by their own unique “coconut-radio” system. Island gossip spreads quickly along the waterfront, where the crews of ships in the dock hear it and carry it to far-distant islands.
On many islands, before there was a written language, the hula dance was used to tell in gestures the history and folklore of the people.
There are no rooms numbered four or nine in Japanese hospitals. The word for the number four sounds just like the word for “death,” and the word for the number nine sounds just like the word for “suffering.”
The word “no” does not exist in the Japanese language – the Japanese are too polite to say no directly.
There are 50 thousand characters, or words, in written Chinese. Children learn about 200 by the time they are ten. As adults, they will know about 5 thousand or approximately what is required to read a newspaper.
Chiefs on certain South Sea islands have the unique power of reserving certain words in the language for their own personal use.