Wade Davis, in his TED talk, said, “A language is not just a vocabulary or set of grammatical rules. A language is a flash of the human spirit. It’s a vehicle through which the soul of each particular culture comes into the material world. Every language is an old-growth forest of the mind. A watershed of thought. An ecosystem of spiritual possibilities.“
He is quoted in this article I have had open on my computer for a few weeks now. It is fine poetry. And full of really huge statement, that land easily in me because I have a love for language… but singing this love song to language is not the same as my tongue fumbling over new sounds, bumbling through my own awkwardness and embarrassment to keep on practicing.
I’d like to invite you to learn one new word a week with us… to hit play and listen to the word, again and again, to whisper it, to shape it, to bring it to life… because, I believe the words below are true – that language is shaped by place, and each place has a code that the language unlocks. I believe that the best way I can honour the river, the trees, the plants, the sky, the rocks, around me, the beings that sustain me and soothe me as I scuff out into the morning and take deep breaths, or as I roll my bike out onto the trails… is to say thank you in the language that holds the DNA of the culture of this place and the people of the place. I hope that my whispered greetings in Ucwalmícwts will honour the place, the spirits of place, the ancestors of place, and the people living here now.
Each language holds a code. Place shapes language, and each place has a code that the language unlocks. Babies only hours old are able to differentiate between sounds from their native language and a foreign language, scientists have discovered. This shows that babies begin absorbing language while still in the womb. We pass on this perceptual inheritance through the tonal frequency of our lineage, like a sonic portal of ancestry. How we speak coveys a whole body of belief, an entire cosmology. The language we use shapes the boundaries of what we are capable of understanding, and therefore enacting.
In learning a language, we are not simply learning a new way of talking but inadvertently a new way of thinking. Our language literally shapes our perception. It shapes our neural pathways and the patterns they make. How we describe something is what we make of it. Indigenous languages, those of ancient cultures that have grown alongside a land and place over time, embody this with intention and sanctity. Here the name of a thing holds a key to unlocking its potential. Language not only describes but creates the energy of a thing.
Learn to say Ucwalmícwts, so we can learn to speak it.