Despite a preference for words, I do also like numbers – both cardinal and ordinal – and I value their reassuring and definitive benefit.
In fact, rather like words and vocabulary, numbers can be a language in themselves. I have a friend who is fond of saying, ‘Give me one number, and I have a data-point; give me two, and I have a position; give me three, and I have a pattern. I don’t need much else to determine whether something is working or not.”
But here’s the thing…
Consider the following sequence: 4; 8; 5; 3; 9; 7; 6. Read them aloud, then try to commit them to memory and recite unseen. If English is your mother tongue, then you have about a 50% chance of getting it right. If, however, you speak Chinese, then your chance of successful recall is about 90%.
Is this the famous Asian predisposition for maths and/or higher average IQ at work? Of course not. It is neither, for both of which are a fallacy.
The simple fact is that memory is held in a two-second loop in the brain, and the ‘mechanics’ of certain languages perform better than others. In this regard, Cantonese is king, with the words for numbers typically 1/3 of a second shorter to articulate than their English equivalents. In its simplest explanation, more numbers ‘fit’ more easily into that two-second memory loop.
At which point, we introduce wine.
We have previously discussed the language of wine, and, in particular, the nature of tasting notes and terms. Whichever position has been adopted – antagonist or apologist – it would be fair to say that both sides agreed that ‘improvement’ was required: a wine language that can ‘set free’ rather than confuse, imprison or exclude. (This year alone is still sustaining a trans-Atlantic ping-pong match around the interpretation of ‘minerality’ as a descriptor – meanwhile the fastest-growing wine brand currently in the UK is a Shiraz ‘cut’ with chocolate…)
I believe that we need to construct a language of wine that – like our Cantonese analogue – is better ‘built’ for comprehension, recall, and, critically, for shared understanding. Not an emasculating uniformity – a vinous ‘received pronunciation’ – but a simple, base vocabulary built around ‘benefits and understanding’ rather than ‘features and knowledge’. Noam Chomsky (see,’On Language’) refers to this kind of tension as the ‘the language of discovery’ versus the ‘language of evaluation’.
Most language schools suggest that with 100 words you can perform ‘hotel’ French/Spanish/Italian, thereby making yourself better understood, and hopefully enjoying both improved inclusion and easier participation. In a world of apparently disinterested consumers – increasingly driven by ‘price offer’ alone – this sounds pretty enticing.
‘Hotel’ wine-speak for interested consumers, anyone?
Suggestions for a list of a 100 word starter program gratefully received…Thanks!