Linguistics – early American traditions

July 15, 2009 § Leave a comment

The following excerpt is from the first volume, Genesis, in the Memory of Fire trilogy by Eduardo Galeano which presents a multi-sourced multi-viewpointed history of the Americas …

The First Father of the Guaraní rose in darkness lit by reflections from his own heart and created flames and thin mist. He created love and had nobody to give it to. He created language and had no one to listen to him.

Then he recommended to the gods that they should construct the world and take charge of fire, mist, rain, and wind.  And he turned over to them the music and words of the sacred hymn so that they would give life to women and to men.

So love became communion, language took on life, and the First Father redeemed his solitude. Now he accompanies men and women who sing as they go.

We’re walking this earth,

We’re walking this shining earth.

Eduardo Galeano (1985, p.11)

 Investigating the explanations of language(s) and the origins of communications from any source or perspective perhaps reveals something about the explainers’ views about the important functions and features of languages. This is true not just of the explanations of the groups such as the Guaraní of South America given above, but also of more quote unquote scientific explanations, which for example focus on language as a distinctive human feature separating us from other animals, who may or may not communicate, and especially our evolutionary forebears the other primates.

Is it not interesting that the Guaraní suggest that love and language predate community – or at least a sense of it? This proposal and the phrase language took on life is a strange precursor of many sociolinguistic views of contemporary scholastic linguistic traditions that see language or discourse as the stuff of which identity, culture, and community are made 



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