English like all Indo-European languages is an ‘object orientated language’.  It presents us with an object, he, she, it, then tells us something about it in the so-called predicate, She is dark-haired, intelligent, European, whatever. Alternatively, we are presented with two ‘things’ (organic or inorganic) and an action linking them together, I hit him. Never, except in the case of imperatives, do we have a verb standing alone and even imperatives do not express any actual state of affairs but only a hypothetical  or desired state of affairs (desired by the speaker) as in Come here. Whorf is one of the very few linguists to have noticed this :
“We are constantly reading into nature fictional acting entities, simply because our verbs must have substantives in front of them. We have to say ‘It flashed’ or ‘A light flashed’, setting up an actor, ‘it’ or ‘light’, to perform what we call an action, ‘to flash’. Yet the flashing and the light are one and the same!  The Hopi language reports the flash with a single verb, rehpi : ‘flash (occurred)’. There is no division into subject and predicate, not even a suffix like –t of Latin tonat, ‘it thunders’. Hopi can and does have verbs without subjects…”  (Whorf, Language, Thought and Reality p. 243)

Nouns and names are inert : they do not do anything, which is why a sentence which is just a list of names strikes us as being incomplete. But, although we can’t say it in contemporary English, ‘hit’ is perfectly adequate on its own; it pinpoints the essential, the action. Even more adequate on its own  would be ‘killing’  (it is ridiculous that we cannot say ‘birthing’ but only ‘giving birth’ as if we were giving something away to someone). Think of all the films you have seen which start with a shot ringing out and a dead body lying on the ground e.g. The Letter, Mildred Pierce. In both these cases, the entire rest of the film is taken up with retracing the series of events leading up to this all-important event and putting names to bodies. But the persons revolve around the central event, not the reverse, they interest us in the context of this event, not otherwise. In a more recent film, The Descendants, the entire film revolves around a water-skiing accident and it is extremely clever that the victim is only shown in a coma : she is of no interest in herself and had she not been put into a coma, there would have been nothing to make a film about. Such a dramatic event as a murder or violent death carries a tremendous weight of accessory events which otherwise would remain unknown and equally such events leave a long ‘trail’ of future events.
An ‘event’ language’ would have a (macroscopic) event as the central feature and the sentence structure would of necessity be different.  I have conjectured that the basic structure would be :

1. Presentation of a block of ultimate events
2. Its/their  localisation
3, Flow of causality (dominance) i.e. which event causes what.

 One or more of these elements may be absent : in baby-talk (3) is often lacking.

     Instead of  the bland  “He was hit  by a car”  we would have something more like  “Crash/he/car”

Event/dharma: the hitting, the collision
Localisation :  ‘He’   (whoever he is)
Cause (origin of dominance) :  car

Implicit in the subject/predicate syntax is an underlying ‘world-view’ or paradigm.

Whorf, remarkably, conjectures that a Hopi ‘physics’ would be very different from our Western traditional physics but ‘equally valid’. It is foolish to assume that an alien civilisation would have essentially the same mathematics and physics that we do though, certainly, there would be a certain overlap. Whorf thinks the main difference would be between a concentration on ‘events’ rather than ‘things’ on the one hand and a deep concern with the interaction between the ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’.

To be continued     

 

 

 

Advertisements