Sunday, June 17, 2012

Polysynthetic vs. Analytical, and Who Really Cares?


Monday is the last day of our Spring Special. 6 months of Speak Cherokee PLUS the 2012 Cherokee Calendar and Manual, PLUS the New Cherokee Hymnal, PLUS the New Cherokee Dictionary,   

Cherokee is known as a polysynthetic language. That means that the words are made up of smaller segments, that the segments are inflected, and that the segments themselves tend to have little meaning or be indistinguishable from one another.

Think of the common expression gado detsadoa.

Gado, "what?" is a question word, alerting you that the whole sentence will be a question.
De is segment indicting "they to you (singular)"
Tsa is "you (singular)"
Ado is the root, meaning "call, name"
A is a time marker, suggesting "now"

gado  de+tsa+ado+a

"What do they call you now?" Not "list all your prior aliases"

In English, an analytical language, you can take any one of the words apart from the sentence and it will still have meaning. But if you use the Cherokee segments out of context, with the possible exception of gado, you have a mass of meaningless sounds.

All European languages function similarly to English, so for an English speaker to learn another European language is comparatively easy.  Learning a Native American language is a huge leap into a different language family and often a very different way of organizing and expressing information.  For an English speaker, Cherokee requires you to completely reexamine what it is you truly mean to say, which often forces you to reexamine why you are saying it as well.

Unless you are a serious linguistics geek, you don't give an uktena's butt whether the language is analytic or polysynthetic. The hardest language to speak is the one YOU don't speak yet. The one you grew up speaking is the easiest, and you can't understand why others around the world, like those pesky illegal immigrants, can't seem to handle it. But the fact is, unless you SPEAK the language regularly - not just read it, not just wear a cool syllabary T-shirt, you will lose whatever progress you've made. 

Donadagohvi, until we meet again
Nvwadohiyada, Healing and Peace be with you!

PS:  Beside this Cherokee interest mail list, I have two others. There's no charge, so click the links and join if interested:

HEALTH list:    

Friday, June 8, 2012

Happy Friday! Living Or Dead, and Fathers' Day,


Alihelisdi Tsunagilosdi Gohi-iga!   Be happy, it's Friday!
     How many of you followed the Transit of Venus on Tuesday/Wednesday? It's the kind of event that reminds us of our relative scale in the universe. We are barely specks of dust in the grand scheme of things. But unlike specks of dust, we are self-powered. 
     In Cherokee, there are two pluralizing prefixes, ani and di. Ani is sometimes mistranslated as 'people', because it pluralizes the clan names. Waya become Aniwaya, Tsiqua becomes Anitsisqua. Di is used for inanimate objects. Gasgilo becomes digasgilo, sesdi becomes disesdi. 
     At one time the difference was whether the noun was self-locomoting. Humans and animals that move on their own power took the ani prefix, but so did stars and clouds. 
Another school of thought reserves ani for humans. 
The most common division, however, is between the living and non-living. 
     In the opening episode of the updated "Battlestar Galactica," we have this brief exchange between the first human-looking Cylon to make contact with humanity and a human ambassador at a remote space station:
Number Six: Are you alive?
Human: Yes.
Number Six: Prove it!
     Six then kisses him passionately, while he responds... like a dead frog. She didn't ask to see his CDIB; the princess kissed the frog, and he stayed a frog. 
     This scene summarizes the series to some. The underlying questions are "Am I alive? Am I human? Or am I a robot programmed to think it's human?"
     Think of this when the "identity police" challenge you. Are you ayvwiya, a Real Person? Can you prove it? Are you actively involved in the Cherokee heritage, culture and language, or are you just croaking? 

Father's Day
It's coming up next weekend, and that will end our Spring Special. 

Stray Bits
[1] Many are familiar with James Mooney's "Myths and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees." Mooney's descendant and namesake has just agreed to be part of a project to release an annotated version, explaining some of the symbolism. Rather than a dead "museum piece," this would reflect how the stories of our ancestors still influence and guide us today. We would also like to make this an illustrated version, so if any of you artists have a piece that would be appropriate for one of the stories, please contact me.
[2] The bad news: Amazon doesn't support Cherokee characters. The good news: there's a way around it! For all of you budding writers... 
[3] A Hollywood film company contacted me about getting Hopi and Mayan Elders to describe their genuine prophecies as part of a documentary series in production on indigenous views of 2012. Told them I'd do my best, but the Hopi are notoriously close-mouthed with outsiders on these subjects. There's more positive response from the Mayans and Inuit Elders, but still wary.

Donadagohvi, until we meet again
Nvwadohiyada, Healing and Peace be with you!

PS:  Beside this mail list, I have two others. There's no charge, so click the links and join if interested: 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Deer and Rabbit Race for the Crown

I was surprised to learn that so many people on the mailing list had never heard this story. Traditionally, you hear these stories over and over for years, until one day you have a burst of insight and realize the meaning or moral of the story. Don't worry, I'll hand you several of the meanings after the story...
In the long-ago time, the Animals were quite different than they are today. Turtle was much bigger, and fierce, with sharp teeth and a thick one-piece shell. Rabbit was much bigger, too, about the size of a human. Deer had long sharp teeth but no antlers.  
He was a fast runner and Rabbit was a great jumper, and the animals were all curious to know which could go farther in the same time. They talked about it a lot, and at last agreed to a match between the two, and had made a crown shaped like lightning for a prize to the winner.
They were to start together from one side of a thicket, go through it, then turn and come back. The one who came out first was to get the crown.
On the day off the race all the animals were there, with the lightning crown set on the ground at the edge of the thicket to mark the starting point. While everybody was admiring the crown the Rabbit said: "I don't know this part of the country; I want to take a look through the bushes where I am to run." They thought that all right, so Rabbit went into the thicket, but he was gone so long that at last the animals suspected he must be up to one of his tricks. They sent a messenger to look for him, and away in the middle of the thicket he found Rabbit gnawing down the bushes and pulling them away until he had a road cleared nearly to the other side.
The messenger turned around quietly and came back and told the other animals. When Rabbit came out at last they accused him of cheating, but he denied it until they went into the thicket and found the cleared road. They agreed that such a trickster had no right to enter the race at all, so they gave the crown to Deer, who was admitted to be the best runner, and he has worn them ever since. His antlers remind us of the lightning and of the rains they bring. Rabbit was told that since he was so fond of cutting down bushes he would do that thereafter, and so he does to this day.

Rabbit felt belittled because Deer had won the crown of lightning, and resolved to get even. One day, soon after the race, he stretched a large grapevine across the trail, and gnawed it nearly in two in the middle. Then he went back a piece, took a good run, and jumped up at the vine. He kept on running and jumping up at the vine until Deer came along and asked him what he was doing?
"Don't you see?" said Rabbit. "I'm so strong that I can bite through that grapevine at one jump."
Deer could hardly believe this, and wanted to see it done. So Rabbit ran back, made a tremendous spring, and bit through the vine where he had gnawed it before. Deer, when he saw that, said, "Well, I can do it if you can." So Rabbit stretched a larger grapevine across the trail, but without gnawing it in the middle. Deer ran back as he had seen the Rabbit do, made a spring, and struck the grapevine right in the center, but it only flew back and threw him over on his head. He tried again and again, until he was all bruised and bleeding.
"Let me see your teeth," said Rabbit finally. So Deer showed him his teeth, which were long like a wolf's teeth, but not very sharp.
"No wonder you can't do it," said Rabbit; "your teeth are too blunt to do anything. Let me sharpen them for you like mine. My teeth are so sharp that I can cut through a stick just like a knife." And he showed him a black locust twig, of which rabbits gnaw the young shoots, which he had shaved off as well as a knife could do it, in regular rabbit fashion. Deer thought that was a great idea, so Rabbit got a hard stone with rough edges and filed and filed away at Deer's teeth until they were worn down almost to the gums. 
"That hurts!" said Deer; but Rabbit said it always hurt a little when they began to get sharp; so Deer kept quiet.
"Now try it," at last said Rabbit. So Deer tried again, but this time he could not bite at all.
"Enjoy the antlers, sucker!" said the Rabbit, as he jumped away through the bushes. Ever since then  Deer's teeth are so blunt that he cannot chew anything but grass and leaves.
Deer was very angry at Rabbit for filing down his teeth, and determined to get revenge, but he kept still and pretended to be friendly until Rabbit was off guard. Then one day, as they were going along together talking, he challenged the Rabbit to jump against him. Now, since everyone knows that Rabbit is a great jumper, he agreed.
There was a small stream beside the path, as there generally is in that country, and Deer said "Let's see if you can jump across this branch. We'll go back a way, and when I say GO! we both run and jump."
"All right," said Rabbit. So they went back to get a good start, and when Deer gave the word GO!, they ran for the stream, and Rabbit made one jump and landed on the other side. But Deer had stopped on the bank, and when Rabbit looked back, Deer had conjured the stream so that it was a large river. Rabbit was never able to get back again and is still on the other side. The rabbit that we know is only a little creature that came along afterwards.
  1. On one level, this is a children's story about being a good person: don't cheat others, don't be spiteful, and so forth. It's a lesson in human motivations.
  2. On another level, this is about selecting leaders. Deer is strong and noble, but a little naive. Rabbit is smaller but shrewd, willing to cheat to get what he wants. He's a back-stabbing little Machiavellian. He may not even see preparing the course as truly cheating. But the referees do. Deer is the one you want to have top position in a leadership structure. Rabbit needs to stay close as an advisor, because Rabbit is more likely to spot another back-stabber approaching. It takes one to know one. This year, we are selecting a leader for our nation, who by default is really president of the world. This lesson is timely.
  3. In the sky Deer is the constellation Galagina (roughly equivalent to Taurus), Rabbit is Venus, and River is the Milky Way. "The thicket" is the dense patch of stars, and the course through it is roughly circular - a recurring cycle or orbit.
  4. In another version of the story, Deer and Rabbit go ahead with the race, and each takes the lead for a spell. We can also see how each appears to have the upper hand for a while.

  5. The recent solar eclipse produced a crescent or "horned" disc for a few minutes. The partial lunar eclipse on Monday will as well... Horned Crowns in the sky.
  6. Rabbit/Venus has already doubled back and will cross the face of the sun on Tuesday and Wednesday as Sun and Venus appear to be between the antlers of Deer/Taurus at sunrise Tuesday and Wednesday.
I could go on, but just know that there are layers and layers of meaning to the ancient stories passed down by our ancestors.  Some of you have wondered why the book "Even Heaven Falls Apart" is taking me so long to complete. Now you understand some of the complexity! 

Whatever meaning you draw from it, the next Transit of Venus won't occur until 2117. If nothing else, take a moment and reflect on the usqanigodi, the wondrous and complex nature of it all! And give thanks for the departed Elders who preserved this wisdom that we might share it today.  
Brian Wilkes