Saturday, 13 September 2014

Possession. Can you live without this verb?

"Possession is nine points of the law", goes the early seventeenth-century proverb. What would happen to our understanding of possession if we had no verb to express it?

Scottish Gaelic (and other Celtic languages) has no possessive verb.  I quote from "Gaelic made easy", by John M. Paterson (1952):

We know that when you want to say that a person has anything, you put it as being "at him". Thus THA TAIGH AIG IAIN, A house is at John, or, John.....THA FIOS AGAINN GUM BHEIL AIRGIOD GU LEOIR AGAIBH, We know that you have plenty of money; or [literally], knowledge is at us that money galore is at you.

What would happen if we took away our English verb 'to have'? In Gaelic, we're stating the facts - there's a house and it's with John. There is some money and it happens to be in your pockets. To me, this sounds less permanent, accepting the transient nature of the world by the very grammar used. It makes me think that the things we talk about owning don't really belong to us in the first place - they belong to someone else and we're borrowing them for a while.

It's easy to forget that, really, everything is a gift; everything we use, borrow, eat. How about giving up the verb 'to have' for the day?

(You might want to check out the Story of Stuff for more on this topic)

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Gypsy storytelling

Should sustainability be an abstract concept? I went to a talk by Damian le Bas last weekend at Greenbelt on Romany language, storytelling and culture and I asked him how he would express the concept of 'sustainability' in Romany.

The answer he gave all of us was surprising at first. For all the precious lessons that Romany people have learned from the past about travelling light, for their low carbon footprint, there's no word for sustainability. Granted, Romany is an evolving language, but there's no English Romany word for 'sustainability'. According to Damian, English Romany is not often used for abstract ideas; more for saying "I'm going up the hill to catch a rabbit".

However, the Professor chipped in, there is an international Romany constructed word, dur-shayipe; sort of 'long term ability to carry on, etc', which can be used in the context of sustainability. They both agreed, though that it's a word with little currency.

This got me thinking. Should something so vital to our existence be relegated to the realm of the abstract? Where's the concrete language to talk about what we mean?