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:

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