Animist languages - Languages of Place
Animists speak high-context, low specific/technical languages. One word serves for many, many meanings, mediated on context. You could call this “metaphor”, layering, poetry, etc., whatever, animist languages do it intrinsically. For example, apache trackers use the same words for the geologic landscape (cliffs, valleys, ridges, canyons) as they do to describe the microcosm of the inner world of an animal track. Or, in english, to describe stealthy activity, we could say “sneak, slink, creep, tiptoe, move furtively, etc.”, while in the Chinuk wawa speakers would just say “talÃƒÂªpÃƒÂªs”, which means coyote, sneak, move furtively, slink, creep, etc. all at the same time.
Patterns of Behavior/Movement/Activity
Animist languages seeks to describe patterns of activity, and to connect similar patterns to each other. To separate the way of the coyote away from words describing sneaky behavior, destroys connection, destroys layering. In fact, to use the word “coyote” also means to “act like a coyote”, “to sneak”. In fact, the word “talÃƒÂªpÃƒÂªs” means most properly “to act like a coyote”. So in English, I can describe this as “the word coyote does not describe a thing, but a pattern of activity - I must denote a coyote by saying that it “acts like a coyote”. I cannot point out a coyote itself.” In an animist language I’d find it difficult or impossible to say what I just said. English intrinsically looks for Aristotelian essences, inner natures, fixed realities, whereas native trackers know that a set of tracks may match the pattern of coyote activity, but that does not mean that “a coyote” made them. In quantum mechanics: “is it” a particle or a wave? Pointless question that creates a paradox. In animist language, “does it move” like a particle? a wave? Effortless conceptualization of a former paradox created by the actual structure of a language dedicated to enslavement according to rigid classes and conceptions.
Verby, Not Nouny
This means that animist languages commonly see the word in terms of verbs, and rarely (or not at all, depending on the particular language) see noun-entities. In Mohawk green also means herbs/greenery/grass, it describes a pattern of appearance, not an entity. In Mohawk, one points out a “hunter” by saying “ratorats”, literally “he-hunts”. Civilized languages innovated the professional class, thus labels like “Hunt-er”, “plumb-er”, “farm-er”, etc. “He-hunts”, “he-plumbs”, “she-farms”, etc. Notice the difference between calling someone an “artist” and saying that “they create art”. Many of us can finally let go of civilized conceptions of success once we click into this thinking…“one day, I’ll ‘be’ an artist/writer/tracker/hunter-gatherer”. Do you make art? Do you write? Do you track? Do you hunt and gather? Only that can we honestly describe. “When will I grow up? When will I feel like an adult?” Do you do adult things? Do you do activity associated with “grown-ups”?
One famous Iroquois speaker, whose name we mistranslate as “Cornplanter”, would correctly require us to call him in his native language “He-plants-corn”. Your ear has probably picked up on all the native american names that fit this model, and the few that don’t, which we can easily explain as a similar mistranslation.
All this goes to explain why we need not just “E-prime” (no verb to-be), but E-primitive. In E-prime I can still use professional labels, like police officer/soldier/politician, but these imply intrinsic craft-oriented natures. If I point out an accountant to you, and say they also happen to “be” the greatest painter of the age, can you feel the smoke come out of your ears? E-primitive must jettison anything that gets in the way of as close to a reflection of the world as possible.
Animist languages begin with sound and mimicry. If you know birds, then someone imitating bird calls will immediately bring that bird (and everything it relates to - habitat, season, myth, coloring, survival use, edibility, character) to mind. The brilliant flowering diversity of mouth-sounds in native langues, hisses, clicks, pops, gutterals, reflects the astounding variety of sounds that hit the human ear. As languages lose their animism and become civilized, they round out, lose sounds, and shrink. You can find exceptions to this (Mohawk only has a little over a dozen sounds), but this works well as a general rule.
This also points to how easily we can resurrect animist language. Simple playful mimicry will over time rewild your language. To make a game of referring to birds by their song or alarm calls makes a good beginning, rather than signifying through the name of the british naturalist who “discovered” them (Steller’s Jay, Clark’s Nutcrack, Bewick’s Wren, blah blah blah).
Why describe those same birds according to some other person’s idea of their character or coloring (Mourning Dove, Northern Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, etc.). Why not re-own them, and call them by the pattern you see them demonstrate? “Watches-among-the-reeds”, “Thistle-ambles-without-care”, etc.? The next time you have an argument over “is it this or that” with someone, consider stepping out of the civilized framework. Does it behave like this? Does it behave like that? If both, what third thing emerges? Do both patterns together create a new possibility?
Abandoning the Prison of Identity
“Is that” a woman? “Is that” a man? “Am” I gay? “Am” I straight? “Am” I good? “Am” I evil? “Am” I Christian? “Am” I Jewish? “Am” I rewilded? “Am” I a Taker? “Am” I a Leaver?
You can’t even construct these pointless, meaningless questions in a language that sees the world as an active, creating, destroying, celebrating process. Even to call it a “process” creates a noun-state…more accurately, you could call it “process-ing”. Do you notice how that brings it alive, makes it vibrate, to acknowledge that it hasn’t stopped doing, and may do something else at any time?
Abandoning the Prison of Factuality
Civilized peoples worship facts, reliable unchange-ables. A common defense of the concept of “fact” goes, “Well, 'it’s” a fact that the sun will rise tomorrow. That we know." Since I know many native american cultures that feel that in order for the sun to rise, they must call it up, and welcome it, and if they don’t, it may not rise that day, I know that it won’t surprise them when the Sun’s furnace goes cold, or if the earth itself gets pushed out of orbit by very real cosmic phenomena (asteroids, nomadic black holes, etc.). A civilized reaction to that would involve saying, “well, yes, our science predicts that, but you know “it’s” a fact that…”
Civilized people require “facts” to feel safe and to go about their day-to-day lives. To animist peoples, the ongoing change-ability and need to re-new and court the universe daily, monthly, yearly, gives life its meaning, gives life its center. They feel safe knowing the universe has moods just like us. That same notion horrifies civilized folks.