Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Worth of Words

Words without thought never to heaven go.
-William Shakespeare

I was raised to believe in the power of words. They give voice to your thoughts, setting off a chain reaction that become actions, habits and who we are. As much as I enjoy giggling when I read Urban Dictionary, today’s slang, text and movie reference English is a sharp contrast to the language of Charles Dickens or J.M. Barrie. There is a subtle beauty and polite refinement that is fading fast.
Did you know there is a UNESCO list of threatened and endangered languages? Every 14 days, a language dies. By the end of this century, it is estimated that half of the world’s 7,000 languages will disappear taking with it the diversity, context and deeper meaning that can only be translated by native tongues. This is not just occurring in remote parts of Africa or in isolated mountain villages in India. We are starting a two week adventure today driving from Southern California to Oregon. Our journey is dotted with dozens of extinct and soon to be extinct languages. During our vacation, another culture and it’s words will be gone forever.
This month’s issue of National Geographic highlights the Enduring Voices Project, which is an effort to preserve the knowledge associated with disappearing languages.The articles talks about how the word for future refers to the past in Tuvan. It looks at tribes in the Amazon who have no words for numbers. What would our culture be like if we "looked forward to yesterday"? If we had “some” children. I looked up the most commonly used words in Mandarin, which is spoken by 845 million people. The Mandarin word meaning lord/master was at the top of the list. Like 328 million people whose native language is English, I can’t remember ever using the term lord/master (much to my husband’s disappointment)!
What would my life be like if I never knew there was a word that meant guilt?  What would our communities look like if thank you was at the top of our most commonly used words? What would our world look like if no one had a word for hate?
In the Sonoran desert of Mexico, there is a village of about 650 people who still speak Seri. There is a Seri expression that everyone has a flower inside them and inside that flower is a word. What a lovely idea.
In your garden, what is your word? Which ones will you preserve for next Spring and which will be treated like an invasive weed?

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