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October 23, 2008

I am fascinated by language structure.  Call me a dork, but etymology and grammar trees and subject-verb agreement are intriguing to me.  Especially when it comes to comparing two or more languages.

I’m enrolled in a Cheyenne language class right now and I’m thrilled to be learning my first non-romance language.  Cheyenne is incredibly complex, with most words comprised of numerous roots, which can change according to context.  It’s nearly useless, for example, to learn the numbers in isolation because the pronunciation varies depending on the context in which the numbers are used and whether the objects referred to are “animate” or “inanimate,” a property assignment similar to the feminine and masculine of romance languages.  As with gender assignments in the romance languages, animacy and inanimacy do not necessarily have anything to do with the characteristics of the objects themselves.

While I find the differences between languages intriguing, I often find the similarities even more so.  Tonight I learned that the Cheyenne word for morning (-vóona’ó) is the same as the word for tomorrow in many contexts, which is also the case in Spanish and in English (“morrow” comes from the Old English word morgen, meaning morning).  What is it about the hours before noon today and the day that will come that caused several very distinct cultures to choose to use the same word for them?  I really can’t think of a reason.

Hene’enovatano’hehe.  Seeks to understand.  That’s my Cheyenne name, and a very appropriate one indeed!


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