Belief, Cultural Change, Cultural Traits, Culture, Epistemology, Knowledge, Language, Reason, Truth

Why We Should Make Our Politicians Speak in Hopi to Us

(About a 2 minute read)

English is not the best language in the world for discussing what is truth.

Back in the old days, folks thought of truth as a beautiful woman.  Let’s suppose for a moment they were right.  Let’s suppose truth is a woman.  If truth is a woman, then English is an awkward, clumsy 14 year old boy trying to seduce a sophisticated and confident 36 year old woman.  There are better languages than English for discussing the nature of truth.

The Hopi are a nation of native Americans living in the Southwestern United States.  If I can now recall what I was taught about the Hopi language in my linguistic anthropology course 40 years ago, the language is significantly more sophisticated than English when it comes to dealing with the concept of truth.

In Hopi, you cannot get away with only saying something is true. The language won’t allow it.  Hopi forces you to state how you know something is true.

The Hopi language recognizes three different ways of knowing something is (or probably is) true.  It forces you to pick one of those ways.  There is, for instance, no equivalent of the English statement, “I know you are home tonight”.  But here — expressed in English — are what you could say in Hopi:

I see (or directly experience) you are home tonight.

I hear (or have learned from another person) you are home tonight.

I reason (on the basis of what I have myself seen, or what I have heard from another person, or on the basis of both) that you are home tonight.

Just imagine how much fun we would have if our politicians, pundits, and preachers were forced to speak to us in Hopi!

Here’s the English:  My friends, it is a simple fact that my opponent in this race for the Governorship is a know pedophile!”

Here’s Hopi #1: “My friends, I have personally seen that my opponent is a pedophile!  Oh, wait! It’s not as it sounds!  I really wasn’t there myself.  Not really. “

Here’s Hopi #2:  “My friends, you should be alarmed!  I have it on good second-hand hearsay that my….Oh wait!  It’s more than hearsay..  Well, I mean stronger than hearsay.  That is, it’s admittedly hearsay, but it’s also stronger than hearsay.  Um…”

Here’s Hopi #3:  “My friends, I’ve added it all up to the best of my thinking ability and…Why are you all laughing?  Friends!  Why is everyone laughing at me?”

English, for all it’s many strengths, does not even come close to encouraging the sort of just and fair skepticism that Hopi does.  Rather in comparison, English seems to be a language that encourages people to quickly swallow things as true, rather than to think about how and whether they are true.

10 thoughts on “Why We Should Make Our Politicians Speak in Hopi to Us”

    1. Bertrand Russell once optimistically said the purpose of language was to communicate truths.

      Joseph Campbell retorted that was the third purpose down from the top — if judged by how often people did such a thing. I forget what he said was at the top, but in second place, Campbell put the purpose at lying — and cited politicians as an example.

      Indeed, English is a beautiful language! An Arabic friend who writes perfect English and speaks it with an “English” accent swears to me nothing compares to Arabic when it comes to poetry. I don’t know about his creds for saying that. He’s never composed a poem in his life, and he doesn’t much care to read them in any language. But — and this is more important, I think — at least a few Arabic ones have moved him from head to toes.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. There are many commonly accepted “emotion based” terms that can mean whatever you want them to mean. Love, for example. Truth is another. Therefore my conclusion is, there is no such thing as love… or truth. So why worry about it? Ultimately it’s what I end up believing about it that matters – to me. I don’t know Hopi but until we rediscover our ancient ability to communicate telepathically, when it comes to accurate description all Earth languages will fall short because first we must have a preset agreement on a common denominator. If I like you chances are I will believe you if you say that a thing is true. If I don’t like you chances are that I will not believe you for saying the very same thing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I believe that English is one of the easiest language to learn and it’s universal of course but there are out there many other languages and they are probably more beautiful like French and Spanish and Italian, beautiful but harder than English
    Italian especially, very beautiful language
    French is very classy and refined, most here people brag they speak it because it’s not easy and it’s classy
    My main language is Lebanese Arabic and it’s also a nice language but unfortunately in our countries the working language is English so we tend to neglect Arabic because we consider it’s not useful for your career
    Thank you for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes you are right, but anyway the languages we learn are always an asset and its importance will rise when we communicate with more people…no matter how neglected they are.

        Liked by 1 person

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