NATIVE AMERICAN WISDOM

Some years ago a study compared the self-imagery of Native American children of elementary age with that of children of European descent.Children of each group were asked, “Please draw a picture of yourself.”

The “American” kids drew pictures of themselves with round face and features, body, arms, legs and a name written nearby.

The Native children began by drawing in the sun, the moon, and stars. Then the mountains and hills, the river, the grasslands and trees,the village and its people, the extended family and parents, and then their own figure. Then they gestured to the whole thing: “This is me.”

English and other Western Indo-European languages are noun-dominated, Native American languages are verb dominated-, they are relationship/process-oriented, rather than object-oriented: watching the dancing rather than the dancers — the dancers fade back- into the background as you just describe the rhythms and the motions of what is.

In English, when we say “the man rides the horse,” our language forces us to think in terms of a subject, the man, and a verb phrase, “rides the horse.” We get a clear visual image, but we pay a price. In Blackfoot Tribe language, the emphasis is on the physical feeling. It’s a kinesthetic language, mostly verbs. So, in Blackfoot, to convey the same meaning, what’s said is something like this: The way your body talks to you as you feel the movement of the horse beneath you — that’s the verb. The verb conveys the kinesthetic feeling of the horse under you. And then comes a bunch of verb modifiers which tell about the rest of the information in the sentence, such as details about the man, the speed of the horse, how long he’s been riding, and, other things. The primary thing is the feel of the moving horse underneath you.

Blackfoot language is just 800 variations on the verb “to be.” and they make up  root words as the experience flows through them.

In English, the meaning of a word is generally not connected to the way the word sounds. Not so the Blackfoot language. Can you imagine a language in which the names of trees are assigned by the sounds that the leaves make in the fall of the year, when a gentle breeze is blowing?

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