Language and its impact on our perceptions and actions

My admiration for the ‘To the Best of our Knowledge’ radio show and podcast continues to grow. I’ve already linked to a few episodes before, and this recent one about language, and the science of trees and how they communicate is no different.

Of particular interest was the story told by biologist Robin Wall Kimmerer (link) about her efforts to learn her native Indian language, and the challenges faced when it’s a polar opposite to how we think in English. While English is largely noun-based, Robin's ancestor’s language is mostly verb-based. In the Potawatomi language everything in the world is described as a living thing, from a stream that flows to the trees and forests. These are never identified by a simple and inanimate ‘it’.

Could our understanding of natural resources, and perhaps our approach to harnessing them, have been very different if English wasn't the dominant language?