Calligraphy pen writing on paper

anatomy of a language

Language is a beautiful thing.

I’ve been learning about the language of indigenous culture, plants and the Earth through the book ‘ Braiding Sweetgrass.’ Reading about these new and foreign languages got me thinking more about the languages I’ve grown up with, English and Chinese.

For example, take the English word for astronomy.

Astronomy in Ancient Greek is ἀστρονομία.

I never took Latin, but I’ve come to learn that so much of a word’s meaning can be derived from the root word.

“ἀστρον— ” means astron, or “star”
“—νομία” is derived from the word νόμος meaning nomos, or “law / culture.”

Combined together, astronomy means “law of the stars” (or “culture of the stars” depending on the translation.)

To me, this has beautiful meaning.

The same can be said for Chinese.

Like English, the subdivisions of a word carry so much meaning.

In Chinese, something spelled the same way can be pronounced four different ways based on intonation. And each character consists of different root words.

For example, the characters below are spelled phonetically the same: “ma.” But they are pronounced four different ways, and mean four different things.

妈 /mā/:mother
麻 /má/:numb
马 /mǎ/:horse
骂 /mà/:curse, scold

Language is a beautiful thing.

As I learn and appreciate more about indigenous language and heritage, with a world view so different from my own, I’ve grown to appreciate the nuances in my own as well.

2 replies
  1. Mariano
    Mariano says:

    Hi Yina,
    Your post is beautiful. Please, write more about the Chinese language like you did here. It’s interesting to me. I study Philosophy, language is related to it. Spanish is my mother language.

    Reply
    • Yina Huang
      Yina Huang says:

      Hi Mariano, thank you so much for the generous feedback. I hope to do so more moving forward.

      So glad to hear you enjoyed it.

      Reply

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