Robin Wall Kimmerer: The Grammar of Animacy

“Puhpowee…translates as ‘the force which causes mushrooms to push up from the earth overnight.’ As a biologist, [Robin Kimmerer] was stunned that such a word existed. In all its technical vocabulary, Western science has no such term, no words to hold this mystery. You’d think that biologists, of all people, would have words for life. But in scientific language our terminology is used to define the boundaries of our knowing. What lies beyond our grasp remains unnamed.” When Kimmerer endeavored to immerse herself in learning the language, Potawatomi, from which this word comes, she discovered an entire tapestry painted with how to relate with the world around us. In this article, Kimmerer reflects on the richness of the language’s vocabulary and grammar, and ultimately, the connection between language and our worldviews.

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