« on: January 13, 2011, 06:40:37 pm »
I have a pet peeve. A conversation that I have heard far too many times over the years. It is based in the idea that if a language doesn't have a word for something, that the people don't have that concept.
OK, sometimes that's true. No automobiles? Never heard of 'em? Then there's not going to be a word for something nobody's ever thought of. We didn't have a word for "spaceship" until we came up with the idea of spaceships, and even then we just took two words, one for the vast mystery of what's "out there" and one for a vessel that floats on the water, and glommed them together.
So what's up with the mythologies of people so simple that they don't have a word for, say, rape? Or a name for the color orange? Or words for numbers more than three? Does that actually mean they don't have those CONCEPTS?
In most cases, no; that's not what that means. Sure, in the case of equatorial people, they probably couldn't describe snow, but for many such words, the concept exists and can be described. So, Western civilization didn't call the color orange "orange" until the 16th century; they called it yellow-red. Does that mean that they didn't see orange? That they didn't know what it was? Fuck no. That's stupid. They saw the color as clearly as we see yellow-green before we know it's called chartreuse. And then someone comes along and says "That color's called chartreuse" and we go "Oh, cool."
Societies without a word for "rape" may call it, in their language, "assault and forced sexual penetration". People who don't have a word for nine may call it "Three threes". Sort of like we didn't really have a word for thirteen... we just combined three and ten. Does that mean we couldn't count above twelve? Or that we still can't?
My point here is that people need to examine their assumptions about language and concepts, and stop assuming that just because there appears to not be a word for something, that is by no means an indication that the concept doesn't exist or cannot be described. How many times in your life have you been thinking about something, and when you try to describe, say, a set of behaviors or assumptions to another person, they say "OH yeah, that's called "________".
And then you go "Oh cool, there's a word for that!"