dimecres, de novembre 15, 2006

Further Comments from my Linguistics Course (English)

So far, I think you've all added some really good contributions to this discussion, but I'm a little disappointed that not more of you caught on to the very different ways those who speak Mohawk and those who speak English view their world.

There are two concepts which I often share with my language students: Crossing the Bridge & Parallel but Incongruous Linguistic Universes.

Crossing the Bridge: this is a term I learned during my early years of learning Welsh and being, albeit marginally, involved in Welsh and Welsh language politics. Back in the 80's there was a movement in Wales called "Croesi'r Bont," or Crossing the Bridge. This idea was used to demonstrate how non-Welsh speakers could cross the bridge to the Welsh speaking world with time and practice. I remember Welsh Tutor John Albert Evans describing people in our class in relationship to the bridge (much to the glee of my own ego, I was described as having already crossed it!) Other students were described as setting foot on the bridge, or halfway across, etc. I tell my own students about this bridge and explain to them that when they finally do it, when they finally master their chosen language well enough to function comfortably in their new language, that they have now crossed a bridge to somewhere new...

...to a Parallel but Incongruous Linguistic Universe. No matter how close two languages may be, say French and English, the perception of everything shifts when you move from one to the other. You really do "see" the universe differently while wearing French colored glasses as opposed to English colored ones, and vice-versa. The same is true for any language. There are whole ideas, concepts, from the mundane to the profound that differ wildly from one language to the other.

It is indeed true what Noam Chomsky claims about language, that all human languages are equal, at least theoretically. In practice they do not exchange relevant concepts that are unique and different between them to make each complete. It is not just the concepts (semantics) however, but also the syntax, morphology and pragmatics that give each language a different perspective, each totally unique. As hard as it is to imagine, but when I'm in Wales, speaking Welsh all day, everyday, my universe is Welsh. China has a Welsh accent (there are Welsh speakers there having Welsh thoughts about it!). Quantum Physics flows like poetry through ancient concepts of the natural world, even if the math behind it is no easier in Welsh than in English (but in Welsh I get to talk about my numbers in base ten or base twenty, or for fun mix the two systems up!). World politics are colored by millenia old Celtic concepts of federation, tribal allegiance, freedom and fair play. It is not the world that I occupy in English, and because none of you speaks Welsh, you will never really understand what I mean unelss one day you do. However, some of you have crossed bridges into English or other languages, and perhaps, if you're proficient enough, and you're sensitive enough, you will perceive these linguistic differences in perception. French, Japanese, English, Mandarin, Wolof, Mohawk, Latin, Russian, Arabic, and all the other languages of the Earth occupy the same space and time, but do not share the same reality.

If you get a chance, go back and read the chapter on Mohawk again, and see if you can begin to appreciate what this means in relation to how Mohawk perceives reality.