A World of Shape and Movement

I can’t get off this language kick for now. Someday you’ll appreciate this. No, really. Okay, maybe not. Regardless:

As this wikipedia article on Navajo classificatory verb stems shows, some animist languages prioritize communicating the shape and type of movement for a subject.

For example, the English verb “give” is expressed by eleven different verbs in Navajo, depending on the physical characteristics of the given object, such as: solid roundish object, load/pack/burden, non-compact matter, slender flexible object, slender stiff object, flat flexible object, mushy matter (includes drunk people and ice cream!), plural objects (two different types), open container, animate objects.

For example, “give me the tobacco” would change depending whether you meant plug tobacco, pipe tobacco, a cigarrette, a tobacco plant, tobacco leaves, a sack full of tobacco, and so on. Not because the name would change, but because the sense of the shape and relationship to the giver/receiver would change.

Compare this to English, where not only do we not prioritize this type of three-dimensional awareness, but we’d much rather know the brand of the tobacco than its physical properties. We prioritize the names of things, over the things themselves.

As an animal tracker, imagine how much more useful this language-inspired awareness would feel. Speaking in this kind of way keeps you close to observation, to direct experience, and away from “names” that pretend to contain knowledge.

Written by Willem