The language we speak has a drastic effect on our thoughts, beliefs, and habits. While this idea may be somewhat intuitive for all of us, it may be difficult to realize how deeply our minds and the words we utter are interwoven. An essay by Kimmerer (2017) titled “Learning the grammar of animacy” develops the topic with great detail, contributing to understanding this interconnection. In her discussion, Kimmerer (2017) discusses how the grammar of Potawatomi, one of the languages of Native Americans, is different from English grammar. She demonstrates how the English language limits the ability of people to appreciate the personalities of creatures other than people. The author also states that the English language is so arrogant that the only way to be animate is to be a human. While I agree that there is a strong link between language and thoughts, I think that the reason for the English language failing to acknowledge animacy is a strive for efficiency rather than arrogance.
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In her essay, Kimmerer (2017) states that the significant difference between the Potawatomi language and English is that Potawatomi acknowledges every object as a person. Potawatomi people were very close to nature, and they had very special verbs for “to be a hill” or “to be Saturday.” In other words, Potawatomi is a very personal language, which treats every object in the world as a person. The English language does not have the tools to appreciate the animacy of objects, as the only way for someone or something to be called a “she” or a “he” is to be a human. Therefore, people who can speak only English do not even have a chance to start appreciating the personalities of animals, plants, rocks, and water. Kimmer (2017) concludes her essay with the idea that if we all could treat objects around us as beings rather than mere subjects, things would have been different, and people would try to fit into nature instead of trying to control it.
I agree with the author that there is a strong link between words people speak and the ideas they have. Kimmerer (2017) states that when we say that “a tree is not a who, but it, we make that maple an object, we put a barrier between us” (p. 133). This implies that people’s attitudes change drastically depending on how they talk about an object. One does not need to be bilingual to understand this idea. Suppose a person lost a cellphone, which served for five years. On the one hand, one can call this a problem and try to address it. On the other hand, a person can call this situation an opportunity to buy a new phone or to learn how to survive in this hectic world without having a phone. In the first case, a person is likely to be feeling sorrow, while in the other case, one would feel challenged or excited. Thus, by merely changing the way we call things, which is our language, we can change our thoughts and attitude.
While the English language does not have the tools to treat everything as animate objects, I disagree that the reason for that is arrogance. Kimmerer (2017) says, “the arrogance of English is that the only way to be animate, to be worthy of respect and moral concern, is to be a human” (p. 133). I think that the reason for the language to become impersonal is the ultimate strive for efficiency. The English language has lost not only animacy but also cases, inflections, suffixes, and prefixes. In modern English, it is impossible to distinguish between a noun, an adjective, and a verb without context. The purpose of the English language has become to pass on information in the most efficient way without any emotions. I believe that losing animacy was another consequence of the strive for efficiency rather than arrogance.
In conclusion, the essay by Kimmerer (2017) provides exciting evidence that there is a direct link between the thoughts and attitudes of people. Grammar and vocabulary can change the way people percept objects and judge events. The author pays much attention to how Potawatomi enables the speaker to think about all things around us as animate objects. However, by focusing on arrogance, the author overlooked a deeper problem of the English language losing the richness of emotions. In the strive for efficiency, the language of William Shakespeare and Thomas Hobbes is surrendering its beauty and sensitivity. Animacy is only one of the numerous features our language has lost, along with inflections that distinguish between grammatical cases, parts of speech, and grammatical gender. If the current trend prevails, in the future, English may even lose “he” and “she” altogether and call everything an “it.”
Kimmerer, R. W. (2017). Learning the grammar of animacy. Anthropology of Consciousness, 28(2), 128-134.