Okay, grab your thinking caps, kiddies, because it’s time for our language lesson. Today our lesson comes from the picturesque, pastoral and puny little Himalayan ex-Kingdom of Nepal. In Nepali, as in a number of other Asian languages, no one ever wants a thing. If a speaker of one of these languages feels a liking for a thing – say chocolate, or, perhaps, as is the case with the mountain-dwellers in Nepal, rancid butter – when they say so, they don’t say “I like rancid butter.”  Instead they say, “rancid butter falls to my heart.” When they are hungry for rancid butter or any other thing, it is not the speaker who is the source of said hunger, it is hunger that attaches itself to the speaker. They say “Hunger has attached itself to me.” Or they might say that “love” has attached itself to them, or, if the situation calls for it, hatred, chilliness, confusion, awe, nausea, tickles, sorrow or even indifference. They aren’t things you have, they are things that have you.

          That linguistic peculiarity might seem like nothing more than a footnote, but if you think about it for a minute, you might notice that a person who says “I hate you” is a lot different from one who Continue reading

Word power: thoughts on language

Verbal Overshadowing

Verbal overshadowing is a process by which a person’s memory of faces and other hard-to-describe perceptions becomes compromised by speaking or writing about the perceptions.  Witnesses to crimes are less likely to correctly identify the perpetrator if they have made a description than if they have not – especially if the description is made within the first ten or fifteen minutes.

Research on verbal overshadowing challenges the popular notion held by philosophers and psychologists that language lies at the core of thought.  Various forms of inexpressible knowledge may be best served by avoiding the application of language. Shall I abandon this blog? Continue reading