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Sign Symbol Sound

An interdisciplinary exhibition exploring language and creativity

4 September - 11 October, 2021, Modern Art Oxford - Lye Valley


English uses about 170,000 words but sometimes they just aren’t adequate to describe what we feel or experience. Yet other languages often capture the essence of a situation so succinctly that we immediately recognise the sentiment expressed.

We’ve all heard of the Danish hygge but have you heard of ‘akihi (the Hawaiian concept of listening intently to directions and then walking off and not remembering a word that was said)? Or karelu (a Tulu word that describes the mark left on the skin after wearing something too tight) or the Irish aiteall (a spell of fine weather in between two showers of rain)?

There’s a certain deep-seated joy in finding words that perfectly capture something that seems so elusive in English. Words that make us realise our own feelings and experiences are shared by others around the world. Words that bring us closer together by offering a window into other cultures and their history, beliefs or preoccupations.

There are over 7,000 languages in the world but our linguistic diversity is increasingly threatened by digital communications where instant messaging and the dominance of English means we use an ever-diminishing range of vocabulary. In One Little Word I wanted to celebrate our diversity and cultures and all their quirks. Look out for these images installed on communications cabinets around Lye Valley, Oxford.

One Little Word

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Etain O'Carroll

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