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Language origins, gender in language



Jim Bowman writes: "I'm sure someone has already noted that the Biblical story of Babel agrees with the theory of one original language from which all the others emanate. There seem to be certain "primal words" such as father, mother, God, etc, that are similar. But unanswered is why certain other "primal" words are so different from language to language. One that fascinates me in particular is "butterfly," since the study of butterflies is one of my interests. What is the relationship between "butterfly," "papillion," "mariposa," "Schmetterling," "paru-paru" (tagalog), "piusiah" (Thai), "hu dieh" (Mandarin), "nabi" (Korean), etc. I forget how this is said in several other languages, but so far I have not run into one similarity or root in-commonness. And, by the way, nobody knows for sure the origin of "butterfly," which indicates it is a very old word in the language. [Some say it could be a spoonerism of Flutterby, or the color of some northern hemisphere swallowtails].

But I wonder if Tagalog-speaking WAISers have mentioned that the Philippines boasts a language that is devoid of gender issues, since it has no words for "he" or "she." When I lived in the Philippines I used to wonder why Filipinos used to say things like, "Your father, how is she?" Later I realized that "he" and "she" make no sense at all to a Tagalog speaker and they have to learn the concept before they can use the pronouns properly. This is interesting because I know of no other language that has so many individual words for relationships, while English is stuck with only a handful of distinct relational titles like Uncle, Aunt, Nephew, etc. Is a language a reflection of culture, or the other way? Regardless, the Philippines has now had two women presidents and is a relationship-oriented culture. Our U.S. culture seems to be deficient on both counts.

Of course we now go to ridiculous lengths in our Western language to make God either into a Eunuch or a bisexual. My local church has revised the Doxology to remove "Praise Him all creatures here below." with "Praise God all creatures here below," etc. We conservatives cannot bear the idea of God as a "she," so we just try to de-sex Him (oops) altogether. It's not easy because our language has no neutral pronoun for persons. Maybe we should drop English in favor of Tagalog".

RH:
I thought butterfly was a spoonerism for flutterby, but the Oxford English Dictionary gives a less poetic etymology:

[f. BUTTER n.1 + FLY n.; with OE. buttorfleoe cf. Du. botervlieg, earlier botervlieghe, mod.G. butterfliege. The reason of the name is unknown: Wedgwood points out a Du. synonym boterschijte in Kilian, which suggests that the insect was so called from the appearance of its excrement.]

Ronald Hilton - 10.27.03


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