How many stars are there in the sky? Infinite, or so we have been told. How many drops of water exist in the ocean? Infinite, or so we have been told. We live in a world where we count apples, colours and people and not flavour, fragrance and sky. It sounds so straightforward, right. Countable and uncountable nouns. The grammar of countable and uncountable nouns. The clarity of it all. But is it really that clear?

Are there really infinite stars or it’s just us who can never, due to the limits of our abilities, ascertain the exact number of it all? At any given instant, there must be some fixed number of drops in an ocean but we will never know, owing to the limits of our abilities. We send men to the moon and photograph the universe today, but there is a limit to what we can probably never double check. That limit has found a way into our language too.

Grains of sand that we call uncountable actually count to that ant who carries one grain at a time to her destination.

Grains of sand that we call uncountable actually count to that ant who carries one grain at a time to her destination. If ants had languages, it would have classified sand as countable and people uncountable. We evolved as a species, continued evaluating and labelling things, and eventually called the ones within our limits as ‘countable’. This term, however, subtly points to the inherent ego of our species, what with all the labelling of everything based on our abilities. What we call ‘uncountable’ is actually ‘uncountable to humans’ and this difference is important.

Between exclaiming ‘to the moon and back‘ and clarifying ‘the sand is uncountable‘ lies the entire diversity of mankind. The history of a culture lives in its language, so decoding our linguistic eccentricities sounds like a good starting point to make sense of our human madness, isn’t it?

 

Copyright © Neha Sharma

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