Monday, November 22, 2004

Language is a virus from outer space

You know the old saw about the Inuit having so many words for snow? Well, they have no word for "thunderstorm" or many of the other phenomena they are witnessing with global climate change. Reuters has a fascinating article on this month's report released by Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. In particular, they talk about the degree to which indigenous people are, quite literally, at a loss for words to describe what is happening to their environment:
In Arctic Europe, birch trees are gaining ground and Saami reindeer herders are seeing roe deer or even elk, a forest-dwelling cousin of moose, on former lichen pastures.

"I know about 1,200 words for reindeer -- we classify them by age, sex, color, antlers," said Nils Isak Eira, who manages a herd of 2,000 reindeer in north Norway.

"I know just one word for elk -- 'sarvva'," said 50-year-old Eira.
What a clear indicator that the world is changing too fast...when the pace of events has outstripped a language's capacity. It made me think about American English. Perhaps we need more words to talk about mass mediated democracy or the millennial economy. Maybe the reason our guys can't win an election is they lack vocabulary to even be able to construct a sound bite.

No comments: