The Universal Language of Charts

My family and I are on Spring Break this week in Sicily.  We decided to go full immersion and rented a house in a small town outside of Palermo.  We travelled via Munich and had a couple days there to explore before heading to Italy.

As I had hoped and expected, we're learning so much about new people and places.  At the same time, we're learning a great deal about ourselves as well as the universality of the human condition.

(Author's Note: My wife and I have had long talks about work/life balance when one is starting a research firm from scratch.  In the end, we agreed that early morning would be an ideal time for me to get some writing in!)

Sicily from Cleveland, via Toronto and Munich  Source: Google Maps

One obvious challenge has been the language barrier.  If you've ever visited Sicily, you'll know that this is not a region of Italy where English is widely spoken.  We had grand plans to master the Italian language before we arrived, but alas that did not happen.

We have found that using basic greetings like "please," "thank you," and "excuse me" are a great start.  Lots of pointing and shaking our heads yes and no at the local market.  Also, thanks to a personal college project with a great deal of foresight, I am able to order beer and wine in the local language of most European countries.

Don't get me wrong, we have taken advantage of technology.  Google Translate has come in handy a couple times, although we're trying to avoid being too dependent on it.  For example, I held up my phone and showed this to our server when we wanted to take the rest of our meal to go.

"Can I take this to go?"  Source: Google Translate

"Can I take this to go?"  Source: Google Translate

The funny thing is that in a restaurant filled with people that we couldn't really communicate with, we could actually communicate a great deal. 

Two older women laughed at our two-year old son when he blew them a kiss.  The owner smiled and patted my daughter's head when he walked by the table.  I shook the owner's wife's hand as we checked out.  

I know from attending many IFTA conferences over the years that certain things are universal.  Even without a common spoken language, you are able to connect with someone else in a meaningful way.

Beachcombing in Sicily

Beachcombing in Sicily

In fact, when I taught technical analysis at Brandeis University, in my first class I introduced the three universal languages.

The first was music.  We discussed how certain sounds are pleasing to humans regardless of their cultural musical traditions.  We also talked about the Fibonacci relationship that is prevalent in music, including music theory (a major chord uses steps 1, 3, 5 and 8 of the scale) and certain composers where you will find Fibonacci relationships in their works.

The second universal language was emotion.  A smile communicates happiness.  People cry when they're sad.  Laughter equates joy.  Anger is obvious, regardless of what you call it.

What emotion are these people showing?   Source: Pixabay

What emotion are these people showing?   Source: Pixabay

The third universal language?  Charts.  (Yes, I'm very biased on this.  Also, every single semester one of my students would guess "mathematics" and music and charts could arguably be combined into mathematics.  But this is my list and I'm sticking to it.)

A trend is a trend in any language.  Even if we don't have a way to discuss it with the spoken word, a visual form of analysis allows two people to understand what a market is saying.

As I head out this afternoon to buy some produce at the local market, I'll certainly bring along my phone for any emergency translations.  But I know I can connect with other people in many ways other than the spoken word.


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