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Bangla holds a key to hidden human history

  • Published at 01:32 pm April 16th, 2018
  • Last updated at 02:05 pm April 16th, 2018
Bangla holds a key to hidden human history

Lessons in the old language

“In the very earliest time/when both people and animals lived on earth/a person could become an animal if he wanted to/ and an animal could become a human being. /Sometimes they were people/and sometimes animals/ and there was no difference. /All spoke the same language/ that was the time when words were like magic./The human mind had mysterious powers./ A word spoken by chance might have strange consequences. /It would suddenly come alive/ and what people wanted to happen could happen –/ all you had to do was say it. Nobody could explain this: / That’s the way it was.” – Nalungiaq, an Inuit woman interviewed by ethnologist Knud Rasmussen in the early twentieth century. Matthew C. Bronson, an educational linguist of the USA, wrote in his article “Lessons in the Old Language,” “The ‘old language’ that unites the human and more-than-human worlds is a recurrent archetype in the stories of indigenous peoples, those who have lived in intimate proximity with a particular bioregion for time immemorial. The Cheyenne version adds another chapter to the Inuit story:

“Long ago, people and animals and spirits and plants all communicated in the same way. Then something happened. After that, we had to talk to each other in human speech. But we retained the ‘old language’ for dreams and for communicating with spirits and animals and plants.

“In the Abrahamic version (based on earlier Sumerian tales), the Tower of Babel saga, the ‘something’ that ‘happened’ in the opening story is further elaborated. The first common tongue was abolished by a (slightly insecure?) god. He feared that people would use it to cooperate in building a tower that would eventually challenge his heavenly reign. Language has always been connected to the primal question of what it means to be human and our relationship with nature, the invisible and unknown, the ‘Great Mystery’. “The word in its primordial force runs through us like a current: What we say still comes alive, as in Nalungiaq’s story, or dies in the telling. Indeed, the power of language to create reality is a constant of the human experience. But this and other lessons of the old language have been largely obscured in the transition to modernity and industrial-technological civilization. When we contrast indigenous and western languages and worldviews, we can begin to reclaim aspects of the old language that undergird both.” The emphasis on nouns built into the grammar of English and other Indo-European languages is so intrinsic to its speakers’ way of thinking that it is challenging to imagine how it could be otherwise. But Algonquin and many other native languages have chosen a different path, a verb-based grammar in which nouns are derived from roots as needed but are not necessarily part of every sentence. The contrast between the two systems can be reflected in this statement: God is not a noun in Native America.
When we say 'god' in English, we are using a noun, and easily imagining him as a person, a separate entity somehow fixed in time and space (an old man with a beard, for example, as in 'May He watch over us'
The toughest question from Europeans that Native Americans have ever had was “Who is your (noun) god?” Comparatively speaking, English is very noun-heavy, forcing its speakers to utter at least one noun-phrase per sentence in order to make sense. We need nouns, and the noun-phrases they are part of, in order to make complete sentences. Referring traditionally to persons, places and things (including concepts), nouns can be seen as temporary snapshots of a flux of activity. These snapshots are the basis upon which cultural modes of logic and reasoning are based. When we say “god” in English, we are using a noun, and easily imagining him as a person, a separate entity somehow fixed in time and space (an old man with a beard, for example, as in “May He watch over us.” Imagine what a different reading of the Bible one would have if the word “he” or “him” was substituted systematically with “it” in referring to god – “It is watching over you” does not have the same ring to it. Does it? From the Native American point of view, the word “god” as a noun is a grammatically induced hallucination like the dummy “it” in “it is raining.” The closest Lakhota equivalent is tanka wakan, which is an adjectival-verbal construction. This phrase has routinely been mistranslated as the “Great Mystery” but is better glossed as “the Great Mysteriousing.” Such mistranslation is not trivial as it obscures the deep differences between a verb-based and a noun-based worldview. Why is this iconic image expressed in English so hard to construe in indigenous language terms? Many indigenous languages rarely use nouns and are much more verb-centered. Sakej Henerson, a Canadian researcher on Native Law, says his people (Cheyenne Nation) can speak Mikmaq, an eastern Algonquian language, all day without uttering a single noun. The Hopi term “rehpi” means “flashed” and would be properly used when, say, one saw lightning in the sky, without any implication at all that “something” flashed: The flashing and “what” is flashing are coterminous. English-speakers can attempt to step back from the way English has colonized their imaginations and turned everything into a noun. This is, in large measure, an exercise in “getting back to the roots.” The root word that we translate as “god” from the Hebrew Bible is actually a verbal expression, YHWY is one transliteration – “I am.” The shamanic, originally verbal, insights of the Old Testament prophets have been translated into nouns in the transition to modernity, a now familiar pattern. “But, what if god were a verb, an unfolding dynamic processing,” writes Bronson, “Perhaps it would be harder to fight and kill as so many have done in the name of 'god' if the native view were more widely held. Verbal thinking is complementary, dynamic and contextual, rather than dichotomous, static and universal. Problem situations and people are much harder to categorize as ‘things’ that one must confront and destroy in a verbal-based reasoning with fully animate subjects.”

Unveiling human history using Bangla

Niladri Sekhar Dash in his A Descriptive Study of Bengali Words writes, “In an inflectional language like Sanskrit, grammatical elements such as prefixes, suffixes, case markers, etc are usually tagged with the words. However, in some cases, due to various phonological factors, these are normally used to make morphophonemic changes in words involved in the process of inflection. On the other hand, in an analytic language like English, prepositions are generally retained separate from words that follow these. “In case of Bengali prepositions, it may be assumed that both types of characteristics are indeed preserved in the language. Like an inflectional language, it has preserved a large set of case markers, which are often tagged with words to generate the Karaka or case relations among the words used in the sentence. On the other hand, like an analytical language, it has a large list of postpositions, which are used separately after the words to denote almost the same kind of syntactic functions, which are generally expressed by case markers." The unique potential of Bangla is that it’s the only language that uses both logocentric and verb-based systems. A few of us working in this field have already been successful in unlocking the semantic potential of the ancient texts including those of scriptures, myths and epics. Kalim Khan is the pioneer in this field, cutting a pathway by explaining and instituting this verb-based semantics theory relentlessly. The Bengali Lexicon: A Dictionary of Verb-based Letter-based Meanings of Words (Vol-I) that he co-authored with Ravi Chakravarti and which was published in 2009 has already triggered many an intense brain-storming session among the erudite and the academia. In an article styled "Bangla Semantics, Antidote to Western Amnesia," Khan and Chakravarti wrote, “It is but natural that Bangla semantics should provide a clue to the rich cultural heritage of Bangla-speakers and allied races of the Indian sub-continent. But this semantics is much more far-reaching than that. Thus one marvels at the amount of light thrown by it on many hitherto unexplained and obscure aspects of the European Tradition. “It has of course been known for more than two centuries that the majority of European and Indian (i.e. South Asian) languages have sprung from a common stock. But with all their knowledge of both the West and the East, the Western academics have not yet been able to explain adequately many features of their own language and culture. It is here that Bangla semantics can work wonders and furnish satisfactory solutions to a large number of problems. “According to the logic of verb-based word-formation, the word ashwa (asva) could well be applied to a person who could fast transmit and make effective the directive of the center up to the limits of the realm. A specially interesting explanation tagged to the word ashwattha (asvattha) in the authoritative Bangla dictionary Bangiya Sabdakosh by Haricharan Bandyopadhyaya may here be referred to. Now, the word was derived by adding -stha (roughly = situated) to the stem ashwa (asva). The Bangiya Sabdakosh in its explanation of ashwattha (asvattha) quotes an ancient authority to give the meaning of the word. The quotation is ‘ashwah tishthanti asmin,’ which means ‘horses dwell here.’ One not accustomed to the ways of verb-based semantics would find this explanation rather bizarre. But this explanation would not appear much queer when one is reminded of the tree ‘Yggdrasil’ of Scandinavian mythology, ‘the ash tree binding together heaven, earth and hell,’ Yggr being a name of the supreme god Odin and the word ‘drasil’ having the meaning ‘horse.’ One may also recall ‘Asgard,’ the heaven of Norse (i.e. Scandinavian) mythology, [with] ‘as’ having the meaning ‘god’ and ‘gard’ meaning ‘yard.’”
The time has finally arrived to decipher the history of mankind encoded in the myths and legends and that Bangla of all the languages carries the attributes that makes it the potential key to those mysteries
The paucity of space forces us to forego with any more examples offered by Khan and Chakravarti of how the verb-based semantics system helps us open layers after layers of meaning of a word. The writer of this piece has recently made some sketches of a few episodes of the human history encoded in myths and epics using the verb-based semantics system and the findings in almost all the cases contradict and even negate the understanding of those myths and epics currently available in the mainstream epistemological world. The findings have not been shared before as his conclusions might outrage mainstream academia. However, he hopes a few examples of his findings may not be too obnoxious: 1. Every deva (or ang-el, where “el” means a divine entity) have their seats or corresponding points inside us. Michael’s seat is in the eyes and thus is related to the Sun, Gabriel’s is in the tongue and so with communication, Azrael’s is in the nose and thus with breathing, Rafael’s is in the ears, i.e., with the realm of sound. The seat of chaos or uncreated nature is in the Muladhar, Eros’s seat is in Swadishtana, Fire’s is in the naval, Vishnu’s in the heart, Akasha’s in the throat, the full moon's in the Ajna, Siva’s in the crown (with the nectar and poison of his moon and serpents dripping from the Lalana Chakra), and the seat of the unspeakable One is in the Higher Heart. 2. The myths and epics are but the history of humanity encoded following its fall from a state of unity into individualism through accumulation of the surplus production -- Punji (private and state-owned capital that first commenced through hoarding of the fat of the meat -> Punj -> punji = capital). 3. First, the state capital led by the organizational entity called Daksha [that which instituted repetitive work for production] deviated from the natural state of collective existence, which resulted in the conflict between Siva and Daksha during the Daksha Jagna (or the institutionalization of the division of labor that saw the end of Sati, the first spouse/Sakti of Siva). 4. Many centuries later, the Vedas composed by Bedes (gypsies)/Bedus (desert nomads) and internalized by the Brahmins came to prominence and started promoting the private sector. Ravana was the biggest public sector entity, when Rama entered the scene and took the side of private capital. Rama was banished by the state capital of Ajodhya. But, at the end, through a prolonged war, the private capital came into dominance over the state capital that had accumulated a huge number of sycophants and beneficiaries including the intellectual bureaucrats (pundits, priests, advisers and technocrats, in addition to the muscle power of military forces to keep everything in check. The toiling masses would get the mere leftovers of such bureaucratic capital. Finally, the then reformist campaign of Rama won, and private-sector capital came to be the leading form of capital, not forgetting the bank capital represented by Kuber. 5. At the end of the Dwapara Yuga, the private sector again became too greedy, with Krishna, the black money, and Arjuna, the white, went through a long and devastating war with the public sector capital represented by Duryodhana and is brothers. Thus the private sector with the guidance of the black money defeated the state capitalism in the great war of Kurukshetra. Of course, at that time it was a positive and benevolent act of freeing people from the bureaucratic suckers of the state capital – almost similar to the Perestroika led by Gorvachev. But, during the war, the stance of Balarama, a brother of Krishna and an incarnation of Ananta Sesha aka Ananta Naga, sometimes translated as “the Endless One,” was totally neutral. When Bhima, prompted by Krishna, defeated Duryodhyana by dealing him a blow below the navel with his mace, Balarama cried in disgust, as hitting at the opponent’s body below the naval was considered unethical and un-chivalrous. From a number of other similar events described to have had taken place in the wars led by Rama and Krishna, we can surmise that the private-sector capital has never been shy of breaking moral codes to ensure victory over its chief rival, the public sector.


It seems the time has finally arrived to decipher the history of mankind encoded in the myths and legends and that Bangla of all the languages carries the attributes that makes it the potential key to those mysteries. The task is huge and it requires a huge collective collaboration between all the best brains of the society, most particularly the linguists and those most advanced in spiritual evolution.
Azfar Aziz is a Dhaka-based freelance journalist, writer and poet.
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