Ever have to have an important conversation with someone that couldn’t speak your own language?  Chances are, yes.  I remember back in middle school, playing pickup hockey with a couple of friends when my Chinese neighbour came out of her townhouse unit.  She rushed onto her driveway, a letter and stamp in one hand and calling me to her with her other.

She didn’t speak very much English and I didn’t know any Cantonese or Mandarin.  Regardless, we were able to communicate that her letter needed to be stamped and the address written.  It took a combination of sign language and broken English on both our parts but we did it.

Thinking back to that experience, I’ve wondered how we would have been able to get anything accomplished without even knowing English or were never taught meanings behind basic hand gestures.  English, our common language, helped solve a problem that our own mother tongues would have left us in isolation.

british empire
With the geographical reach of British Colonialism and the dominance of America in the global market, English has become the lingua franca of the modern world

This is the power of lingua franca or a common language from which those of differing first-languages can communicate with.  Language is the basis from which we communicate, write (pun)?  And being able to communicate with a variety of different people and different specializations is empowering!

Language is the basis from which we communicate, write?

Think of the human body and communicating through movement.  Many coaches and clinicians in fitness and movement science talk about primal movements.  These movements are the basis for all other movement systems.

There’s an approximate consensus that: squatting, hip hinging, vertical/horizontal pushing, vertical/horizontal pulling, and carrying in some form or another, make up a very large portion of human movement.

They’re the basis of communication across a variety of movement systems; Lingua Franca in their own right.  Imagine what’s possible when you break down to the basics and understand something foreign through finding its lingua franca?

The Power of Lingua Franca

old delhi
Old Delhi, a central hub of urdu literature

How powerful is the use of a lingua franca?  Well aside from helping an elderly women get her mail to where it needs to be, establishing lingua franca has helped forge huge empires across a variety of ethnicities.  We’ll take the example of my own ancestral language:  Urdu.

Urdu is a language that arose almost a thousand years ago and answered the same issue that English and hand gestures did for my neighbor and I:  To answer the SERIOUS NEED for different cultures to communicate with one another.  In fact, its basis derives all the way back to the Sanskrit script, one of the most ancient of scripts in the Indian sub-continent.

Whether you think of: the first mass-presence of Turkish and Persian people in India, the rise of the Delhi Sultanate under Qutb ud Din Aibak (1150 – 1220 C.E.) of Turkmenistan, or the dominance of the Mughal Empire of Akbar the Great (1542 – 1605 C.E.) of Kabul, Urdu is the product of a need for non-Indian cultures to communicate with the many languages that populated India.  It’s through this development of a lingua franca that the consolidated empires of Delhi and the Mughals were able to solidify a presence in India.   

Lingua Franca in Opposing Conquest

aramaic geography
Aramaic had influence over a variety of peoples due to its similarities with other semitic languages

Urdu was just one example of how a common language was able to help solidify the expansion of empires.  Yet, that’s not to say that the concept of a lingua franca was not able to do the opposite as well.  One of the first Lingua Franca that we know of is that of the Aramaic language.

Aramaic was a language that originated from the Semitic languages, having similarities to the modern languages of Hebrew and Arabic.   It quickly became the lingua franca of the geographical area known as the Fertile Crescent.

Now, currently there isn’t any confirmed research showing the cold-hard causes for WHY Aramaic became the common language of choice for those of Arabia.  Some historians hypothesize that the various Semitic language speakers (that would comprise Aramaic’s influence)  would have found it useful and not too difficult to learn yet another Semitic-family language.

David Tollen of Pints of History points out that Aramaic is unique.  It’s rise as a common language was robust enough to withstand the pressure of some of the most influential empires of its time (Latin, Greek, and Persian), while not being the national language of any great empire in and of itself.

Squats, a lingua franca of Physical Culture

cradle of civilization
Squats, the REAL cradle of civilization.

Now how do squats get involved in this?

The squat is a versatile movement that is essential to not only athletics but also to many daily tasks that we’re called to do as human beings.  In modern fitness culture, it’s not a fun exercise though.  It’s challenging and leaves you with a lower-body hangover that many find nightmarish-ly nostalgic.   It’s humbling in experience.

You can’t dance without leg strength.  You can’t compete in powerlifting without squatting.  It would be silly to improve your explosive lower body power without incorporating the squat in some variable form.  Catching a clean, the cradling of an atlas stone, back squatting, jumping for a three pointer, all have the primal movement of a squat involved in them.  In some shape or form, squatting is necessary for us to physically present ourselves in the world.

A Powerlifter learning the Cossack Dance:  Using Lingua Franca to Grow

Like the squat, I doubt a powerlifter would be easily able to learn complicated dances like the Hopak/Gopak.  But he or she would be able to see vague similarities from the dance that echoes to their own sport:  The squat and deadlift or squat and hinge pattern.

These are considered primal patterns of movement that we use in everyday activities and the case of the powerlifter trying to learn dance, act as torchbearers in a cloud of obscurity that is learning something new.  They act as reference points from which you can increase the radius of knowledge, slowly, but surely, building aptitude.

You’re speaking my language now

As each motor pattern is re-enforced, in relation to the reference points, this spunky powerlifter starts to gain some ground in learning the historic dance of the Crimean people.  By doing so, they might learn something about Crimean culture, or something that they can use in movement preparation for their own sport, say an activation drill that comes from a segment of the dance?

cossack dance lingua franca
It’ll take a while to learn this one

Finding a Lingua Franca in everyday life

In this post, I’ve talked about how we can find the common language in both training and in language itself.  Yet, I’m sure you can see by now that this concept can be used for more than just training and learning new language.

Take a moment to try and find different styles/methodologies, etc in different areas that you present yourself in.  What’s the common language in that area? How can you use it to learn about a different position than your own?

What’s the common language of habit building?

What’s the lingua franca of success?

What’s the lingua franca in good, quality, relationship building?
Here’s an awesome video by California Strength that jumps into using lingua franca or common language in the area of mastery.

In this way, finding the lingua franca builds our fitness and fitness should not be something that takes away from your ‘life’.  I’ve always been taught that it should ENHANCE it.

Thanks for reading!

 

MORE READING:

Kabuki Strength Systems Fundamentals of Squatting

Pints of History Aramaic: the Humble Language that Overcame the Persian, Greek, and Roman Empires

Dawn  Urdu’s origin: it’s not a ‘camp language’

 

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