Sunday, April 16, 2006

How Do They Do That?

The other day I was simultaneously listening to the marvelous mix of music from the movie "The Mission" and stumbling upon a web site about Mayan language and culture. It reminded me of a paragraph I'd come across in the book, "A Great And Noble Scheme: The Tragic Story Of The Expulsion Of The French Acadians From Their American Homeland" which details the brutal ouster of French Canadians by British and American troops back in 1755.

At any rate, author John Mack Faragher at one point writes about the richness of the native language Mikmawisimk, describing it as “a verb-based language that takes its structure from the relationships among things....” and then “To illustrate how sophisticated such modes could become, one student of the languages tells of the Mikmaw hunter who in a single word was able to convey his state of mind as he stalked a bear in the middle of the woods: the hope he would meet his prey, the fear that he would be killed in the encounter and the love he felt for his wife and children, for whom he was hunting.”

That's a stunning language, far more complex in this one aspect, at least, than English. More on Native language another time, but if you're interested in reading more now, check out this piece on the Tlingit language, or this piece about evidentials in Native languages, both by my favorite professor, William Z. Shetter.

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