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Linking Young Minds Together
     Volume 2 Issue 78 | July 20 , 2008|


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Give and take equation

Dr Binoy Barman

It is almost a natural law. We have to give something to take or gain something. If you sow good seeds and give manure and water in farming, you get the results in a bumper harvest. If you provide more nourishment to you body and mind, they will act with more energy and ability. You give and you take in return. No giving, no taking. Give and take equation is universal. If the river washes away one bank, it lifts the other bank from its womb. Flood submerges land only to increase fertility with silt.

You realise the importance of give and take equation in your daily experiences. You give money to the shopkeeper, and he gives you the stuffs you want (Remember the Bangla proverb “Phelo kari, makho tel”=Drop the coin and take your oil). Your employer will not pay you salary unless you work for him. Even you do not receive pity of God unless you satisfy Him with praises. You do good deeds in the world, and you will be allowed to enter heaven in the afterlife - such is the guarantee from God.

In fact, our sense of morality is largely contingent upon give and take equation. You work for the welfare for others, why, because you believe it will ensure your welfare, now or then. If you do harm to others, you will be cursed by them and your life will be hell. You give a slap, you are retaliated with a kick. Tit for tat, you call it! The rule is clear. Therefore, if you want to get help from somebody, you have to help him. If you aspire to be respected by others, you have to respect them first.

The give and take equation is true with all its negativity. If you seek a favour from any government official, you have to offer bribe to avail yourself of his service. If you can spend money, you can collect a set of BCS question paper, even secure a position in cadre service. Behind the screen, the police and the criminals maintain a give and take relationship. The two groups favour each other for mutual service. The cartel of dishonest businessmen also has nexus with the high-ups of the law enforcing agency. They help each other for the reason best known to them. The policy is: you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours!

I have noticed a linguistic perplexity in the give and take equation. The equation may be realised in different ways in different languages. What is given in one language may be taken in another language. For example, you 'give' a test or exam in English and the students 'take' it. But in Bangla, you have to 'take' (verb infinitive 'newa') a test or exam and the students have to 'give' (verb infinitive 'dewa') it. As a teacher you say to your students in the class, “Ami parikhya nibo. Tomra parikhya dibey.” Its literal translation will be: “I'll take an exam. You'll give the exam.”) But English grammar will not approve it. You rather say, if you have to be correct, “I'll give an exam. You'll take the exam.” So beware! Literal translation is never safe - it may jeopardise your cross-linguistic enterprise.

The anomaly in the usage of 'give' and 'take' ensues from the violation of what might be called 'collocatioal rules'. Every language has its own system of 'collocation' (constraints of putting words together), which flow from long linguistic tradition of a speech community. In Bangla you can 'eat' liquid like water and milk along with solid foods, and even abstract things like rebuke or interest, but in English you can eat only solid objects. In Bangla, vegetable, milk and egg are all 'pancha' (rotten) to you; but in English, vegetable is rotten, milk rancid and egg addled (Your brain is also addled when you lose your composure!). So the English and Bengali communities make the equation in different ways. You can view it as an element of culture.

The give and take equation has another interesting point of semantics. Linguists would call the pair of words 'give' and 'take' antonyms, more precisely, relational opposites. You cannot deduce the meaning of one word without the other. If you give something, someone has to take it; or, if you take something, someone has to give it. A kind of directional mobility is involved in their relationship. Something moves from one location to the other. If you happen to be the source, you give it; and if you are the destination, you take it. They are the same thing, seen from two opposite perspectives!

The writer is Assistant Professor and Head, Department of English, Daffodil International University.

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