|The Forbidden City|
|The Great Wall|
I rediscovered that a smile can communicate a lot of good will, and that the meaning of joyous laughter is universal. But what also struck me was the essential place of the pause in any language. My husband's colleague graciously took us to the best Dim Sum restaurant near the Lama Temple. And when she made a phone call, she spoke so rapidly in her native Mandarin that it took my breath away. Only when she paused did I know she had come to the end of a very long explanation. In a tonal language, ends of sentences cannot be signaled by the downward pitch of finality that we use in English. And so the pause becomes even more important as a signal of conclusion. We noted this as well when we had to rewind our (otherwise excellent) audio cassette tour of The Forbidden City. The Chinese English speaker was hard to follow: was she still describing the Hall of Supreme Harmony, or had she moved on the Hall of Central Harmony? She did not drop her vocal tone at the end, which is one of the few tonalities we use in English (as opposed to Mandarin, where every word is formed by one of three tones). So it sounded like she was continuing with the same thought. But if she had paused, we would have known.
It got me thinking of the rhythms of communication, and how essential the pause is in any language. In German, the listener uses the pause at the end of a sentence to match all the verbs with the nouns that preceded them. In English and the Western Romance languages, the listener uses the pause to absorb what has just been said. If we fail to pause, we are not engaging in the give-and-take of the communications loop, and we lose our listener.
When speech mirrors our speeding train of thought, it is too hard for the listeners to stay on board. And once they have jumped off, it is almost impossible to pull them back on. A pause may seem like a small thing, but it can keep you on track!