ELL: RE: Percentage of Language

Matthew McDaniel akha at LOXINFO.CO.TH
Wed May 30 14:35:20 UTC 2001


I would agree that English and Wetern culture is more in boxes.  Other
cultures are more wholistic.

I would tend to agree with them, and find that western culture has more
been set up for empire, and how rapidly and repetively an item can be
exploited, a people, a resources, time, you name it.  Religion? Why of

To me this is the great weakness of Christianity, and I would seperate this
out as from what Jesus taught or Biblical text, but Christianity in the
western sense of what western people have done with that Biblical text and
its close relationship to the subjugation of peoples and the building of

This might make one ask why missions are so busy pushing all to our kind of
thinking unless it has to more with the empire than God, which of course in
my thinking it does, the greatest deception of our time.

But I was more getting at the point that in some cultures it might not be
readily possible to seperate the religion out of the language, as some of
my friends have pointed out about Hebrew.

Really the underpinnings of the language are the religion and vice versa.

I tend to find the same thing in my experiences with the Akha people and
their culture and language.

I am entering this as a kind of math.

What I am getting at is that if the language is made up in its majority by
the nuances of religious, cultural and legal thought, then if you ban the
culture, how much of the language have you also banned?

Nearly all of it.

So if a person was concerned about endangered language, and the effect of
missions was to eliminate people's culture, thus their language, would not
the tactics of traditional missions be of great concern to one working on
endangered languages.

I am not seeking an argument here, but there is this undeniable sequence I
see laid out.

I can readily compare long standing Christian Akha villages, and ongoing
traditional ones.

The conversation in the Christian villages is very limited.  In the
traditional villages, it is very holistic, and we talk about everything, no
lines, everything flowing back and forth about the law, ceremonies,
illness, work in the fields, these days we don't work, when you can and can
not cut bamboo etc.

The missions in Thailand have totally ended this in the Christian villages.
There is no such discussion over a broad range of subjects.

I venture a question in a christian village and the general look of the
Akha person is either to laugh very uncomfortably or look like they just
got slapped and really don't have an answer, a very awkward position for an
Akha if you know these people a little bit.

This sequence of math, reality, action, result, is something that I think
is being overlooked when scientific equiry should not be ruling it out, no
matter what one's persuasion.

I don't mind that many people don't want to talk about this, but I would
like to see how they do the math.

Matthew McDaniel

Mike Cahill wrote:

> Matthew,
> I think this question presupposes a Western viewpoint, that there is a
> clearcut distinction between religious and non-religious areas of
> life. We in the West often compartmentalize areas of our lives, while
> other cultures are more wholistic, regarding the spiritual as
> permeating everything. We say "THIS is religion, THAT is politics" and
> so forth, but this division is specific to our culture. But even with
> our culture, there are religious terms that have moved into the
> non-religious realm, for example in American English. "Grace" is one
> that comes to mind. Originally meaning something like "God's unmerited
> favor", we now talk of "grace periods" for returning books late to a
> library - not a very religious task...
> The point is, except for a relatively few technical terms like
> "priest", and the hierarchy of spirit beings, I would bet (ok, I don't
> have real quantitative data to back this up) that the percentage of a
> language used ONLY for talking about religious or cultural matters
> would be quite small. If you had someone give a monologue about a
> religious ceremony, would you include all the pronouns, articles,
> conjunctions, adjectives used as being "religious?" How about a verb
> like "go"?
> It may not be possible to ask a fruitful question on this.
> Mike Cahill
> International Linguistics Coordinator, SIL
> P.S. I'm not sure who started just signing first names to this list,
> but I for one would appreciate knowing a bit more who I'm talking to.
> Benjamin:
> What I am wondering is what percentage of an indigenous language is
> used for all culture and religion related discussion?  10% ? 20%?
> More?
> For instance if I told an American Indian they couldn't talk about
> their culture any more, couldn't perform it, or talk about their
> religion, or legal system, what will I have reduced the language to?
> Lets say I reduce it to personal exchanges only, items that are common
> to the household BUT not for the religion.
> In some cultures I think the loss of words for culture and religion
> would represent a considerable shrinking of the language as much of
> this is related to indigenous knowledge as well, and we would have to
> throw that out too.
> We might keep words like water, soil, air, etc?
> What would we have left that was sterile in this fashion?
> That asks another question, how many words in a common indigenous
> language, say Navajo?  Does anoyone know how many words in Navajo?
> Matthew
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