The words we choose reveal a lot about how we think about the natural world.
This might not appeal to many of you, but it has a lot to do with why I’m compelled to write this blog. I just learned of this writer, Robin Kimmerer, a Potawatomi Indian and botany professor. This piece of hers has to do with how the English language separates (elevates) humans from (over) other living creatures by using different pronouns to refer to things. “He” or “she” means a person. “It” means anything else, living, dead, animate, inanimate, as long as it’s not a person. In the business, we call “it” an “indefinite pronoun,” so by extension the only “definite thing,” linguistically or grammatically, can be a person. For a long time in my classroom, I had a circle/slash diagram with “IT” in the center, hoping my students would pay more attention to antecedents. Her essay has helped me reframe this grammatical irritation (I’m worrying now that I’ve lost most of my readers… Sorry!).
In won’t summarize Dr. Kimmerer’s essay, except to say I think it’s worth reading if only to call some interesting attention to how language shapes our thinking about our relationships with the natural world. I’ll also endorse its ideas as possibly the most elegant conception I’ve seen of a regular theme in this blog, of how I can come to terms with the often bitter paradox of wanting to kill things I love. She mentions, early in her essay, the possibility of honoring the lives we take in our constant efforts to sustain ourselves. She doesn’t address hunting, but I’d love to talk with her about some of these issues and about how “our” language about hunting sometimes falls short of accurately describing what it’s all about.
If anyone reads her essay, I’d love to hear your thoughts.