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Monday, November 19, 2012

Different Points of View: The Grammar of Happiness

This morning, I found that there is a beautiful new documentary about the language of the Piraha people and the linguistic research of Daniel Everett available to view free of charge at the Smithsonian site:

I was very interested in watching this video, and I thought Bow might like to see it, too. I am very careful these days what I show Bow, because violent scenes upset him, but I didn't think that there could be anything in this video even remotely resembling violence, and I did think there would be beautiful scenery that Bow might enjoy just as much as I do.

So I brought the laptop into the pen with Bow to watch the documentary together, and I was also filming. When Bow began mild displays every time he saw new people, I was not worried about that. He usually is pretty well behaved around the laptop. And then there was a scene which, from my point of view, was quite interesting, because some Piraha men were speaking to each other in their own language by whistling. To me, this was about language.

But Bow became very upset. He started displaying and vocalizing and threw himself at the laptop. I yelled at him to stop, and actually he did stop pretty fast. The computer was not damaged. Just a little scratched. Once the laptop was closed and the disturbing video was no longer on the screen, Bow was quite sensible and handed me the laptop without any further ado.

But I was a little shaken. Why had Bow reacted that way to a video about the Piraha language? Was there something upsetting to him about their quiet whistling? Only later when I viewed the documentary again did I read the subtitles and see what the men were talking about: they were planning to shoot a monkey with their bows and arrows.

To me, this had been a documentary about language. To Bow, it was a show about humans killing monkeys. It was a very violent video! And he was duly upset.

You see, it's all in the point of view.

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