"Pay my troops no mind; they're just on a fact-finding mission."

Pre-Politically Correct History: Primitive Languages Lack Abstraction

“The languages of nature peoples are not necessarily primitive in any sense of simplicity; many of them are as complex and wordy as our own, and more highly organized than Chinese. Nearly all primitive tongues, however, limit themselves to the sensual and particular, and are uniformly poor in general or abstract terms.

So the Australian natives had a name for a dog’s tail, and another name for a cow’s tail, but they had no name for tail in general. The Tasmanians had separate names for specific trees, but no general name for tree; the Choctaw Indians had names for the black oak, the white oak the white oak and the red oak, but no name for oak, much less for tree.

Doubtless many generations passeed before the proper noun ended in the common noun. In many tribes there are no separate words for the color as distint from the colored object; no words for such abstractions as tone, sex, species, space, spirit, instinct, reason, quantity, hope, fear, matter, consciousness, etc.

Such abstract terms seem to grow in a reciprocal relation of cause and effet with the development of thought; they become the tools of subtlety and the symbols of civilization.”

Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage, 1935

One response to “Pre-Politically Correct History: Primitive Languages Lack Abstraction

  1. Eric Patton June 18, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    Future time orientation, higher mathematics and civilization in general all requires abstraction.

    I’ve heard quite a few people debate that the tribes that lacked this were superior for this reason, because then no one could “lie to them”. John Zerzan equated our “fall” with the emergence of language itself.

    Of course, a detailed inquiry into things shows that first-hand witness, that just relying on our senses, is rarely enough to really know things.

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