The loss of language, and so the imperative to preserve language, is actually a fight about the basic metaphors that make up our world. Language is not just language. Language is also the impetus for culture, in that the metaphors and ways of seeing and being and doing, and even the very structure of each language, lends its shapes and twists and turns to the political systems, philosophy, and poetry of the group who speak it.
The way we live, the topics of our conversation, the subtleties of law and contract between people in a specific kind of community – these are all rooted in the metaphors around us, expressed through the language we use in our different contexts.
So the death of language is the death of certain ways of being. That is why the study of language, and of history, is such a fundamentally human act. This study allows us not only to perceive the ways of being, but also to apply the structures and frameworks of other languages and cultures in an attempt to solve problems specific to our contexts but with which we have been battling fruitlessly in our own paradigm.
I aimed to write about my experiences with isiZulu here, and I’m beginning to realize that it involves so much more than simply talking about grammar and syntax, or about oddities of Zulu culture. To use a metaphor, that would be as though I were expecting people to imagine an animal only by describing pieces of its skeleton, or by outlining the texture and patterns of its skin.
So, today’s blog was meant to be about the basic metaphors that I have begun to determine in the grammatical structure of isiZulu, and particularly its noun classes. On the way here, however, I listened to uKhozi FM. I listened to beautiful combinations of different types of isiNguni – some isiZulu, bits of isiXhosa, some seSwati and portions of isiHlubi. And it dawned on me that I was not witnessing a language in its death-throws, but one which had reached a level of strength which will make it capable of greater things – of taking on the mastery of English as well as other languages as a major player in Continental and Global literatures and discourses.
This made me happier than I had felt about the language for a while.
So perhaps tomorrow’s blog will be about the Noun Class metaphors. I don’t know.