Some days life feels like just one long motion, like I am forever moving from one place to another. Moving other things from one place to another. Walking up stairs, walking down stairs. Driving here, driving there, and driving back again. Sleeping, waking up.
Maybe that is why most languages have many different words or phrases describing the way we (and other animals and objects) move. In English we have to go, to travel, to journey, to drive, to walk, to run, to jog, to spring, to ride, to fly, to jump, to hop, to skip… just to name a few. Off the top of my head I can think of these, from Spanish: ir, conducir, pasear, ambular, volar, … ok, so I couldn’t name as many Spanish verbs as English. But to be fair, English is my first language. And also, due to the way modern English was formed (from both Latin and Germanic based languages), it tends to have a superfluous number of individual words used to say the same thing, rather than, as in Spanish, many different things that can be said using the same word (and depending on inflection and context). But really, lets face it. No matter how our language developed historically, at this point in time with hundreds of millions of speakers from around the world, many of whom bring their own native languages and cultures into the mix…well, English is sort of the orphanage of languages. It takes everyone in.
Just to be fair (and in case a few of you who are reading this might recognize it), I stole that orphanage line from a song. I don’t know how this might be possible, but if you can name the artist and song title it came from, without looking it up online, I will happily send you a free copy of my book once it is published (or a copy of the manuscript if for some reason it isn’t).
Anyway, I guess all this talk about movement probably just comes from the fact that I seemed to be running around frenetically today (that is frenetic, not frantic – slightly different yet similar in both spelling and usage, another example of our language’s large variety of vocabulary), causing me to start thinking about what all the motion was for.
One of the other reasons we have so many words available to describe our own movements is that humans now have the technology to use machines to move us, and we have had to invent new words for the motions we use. While before, we may have just had “to travel” and “to journey” if we were talking about nonspecific motion toward a particular destination with no given method of transportation. But now we also have phrases like “to road trip” or an earlier invention “to circumnavigate”. Sure, that second one was probably a possibility in Latin for ages, but as a common usage word? Perhaps not till after someone actually circumnavigated something large enough for the word to fit. A whole country, perhaps. Maybe Marco Polo spoke of “circumnavigating the Orient”. Or perhaps a sea? Maybe Plutarch mentions circumnavigation of the Mediterranean in his many historical writings? Who knows. I bet if we looked hard enough we could find out, but that really isn’t what I’m after here.
I’m not looking to give anyone a lecture on language, or on etymology or anything, really.
I just spent the day asking myself a question: “what does it mean to be a part of a species that is constantly creating new technology to facilitate all sorts of motion, but that often doesn’t think about the outcome of their actions?” And more importantly, how does that apply to me?
But even though I’ve been thinking about it all day, I really don’t have any idea what the answer is. In fact, this may be one of those questions that doesn’t have an answer that can be nailed down. There are a lot of questions like this. Even in science, for example, at level of quantum physics – even a particle the size of an electron is impossible to pinpoint in space. It can, using certain types of measurement, seem to be several places at once. So the question, “where, exactly, is that electron?” is impossible to answer definitively. We can answer it for large chunks of matter, but even then, it depends which chunk of matter we’re talking about.
So perhaps instead of asking what all this motion means, I should just making it something to consider, without expecting a result.
That is my two cents for today.
Peace to you,
- 5 examples of how the languages we speak can affect the way we think (ted.com)
- First and second languages on the net (claudiabrauer.wordpress.com)