Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Language and Religion

Sivin told me that the Malay language does not have verb tenses... and it is very similar to Indonesian. Thai doesn't have verb tenses either... Oh, and Sivin told me that Chinese doesn't either.

I am going to go out on a limb here and say that most all east Asia (or all Asian?) languages do not pre-occupy themselves with tenses. A verb is happening... it has not happened, nor will it happen in the future... it just is happening.

Of course you use qualifiers to explain when it will actually take place. Like instead of saying, "I visited Malaysia" you would say, "I visit Malaysia yesterday." Get it? No verb tenses.

Well, all Latin-based languages (which is pretty much all of the languages in the West, no?) have very developed verb tenses. This last semester alone, I learned at least 6 tenses in Spanish. And that was one semester!

My point: Semitic religions, which some might call religions of the West (even though they aren't really) are preoccupied with history because the God YHWH actually intervenes at specific times in history and is, in fact, taking history somewhere... but in Eastern religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Chinese folk religions, etc.) there is no sense of timeline because the life is cyclical, not linear.

Cyclical, not linear. And you can see traces of this worldview here in their languages. Huh. I just thought it was an interesting observation.

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