A Bit Of An Explanation

I am not a professional. Not anywhere near it. But I like to think that some little observations I have about language and the social construction of it are worthwhile.

Some of these notes were originally written for acquaintances with no linguistic experience whatsoever, so please be patient through the explanations of basic concepts, and the simplistic tone.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Passivity And The Framing Of Descriptions

Latin verbs tend to be pretty uninteresting. Complicated and frustrating, occasionally, but not all too interesting. However, when going through my textbook last year, there were a tiny handful of verbs that caught my attention. Not their conjugations, but their meanings - more specifically, how the textbook phrased their meanings.

Gaudēre - To be happy
Esurire - To be hungry
Timēre - To be afraid of

Now, the knee-jerk reaction of a modern English speaker would probably be "Why are those verbs? They should just be adjectives." Mine was. After all, what was the point of having specific verbs if they were just other ways of saying "I'm hungry" - Latin has plenty of adjectives used those exact ways.

However, then I looked at the specific words that fit this construction. I remembered that they all have alternate phrasings (in English) - that, in fact, were verbs. You rarely (if ever) hear or see these anymore, but recall:

To rejoice
To hunger
To fear

There we go, other ways of saying "I am ___" within the same language.

And those are what you would use if you were trying to literally translate a Latin sentence using gaudēre, esurire, or timēre. I'm not sure why these verb forms died in favor of their adjectives, but I know one thing: The meaning a verb form constructs and the meaning an adjective form constructs are different.

It's the difference between active and passing. With the verbs you are the one feeling the emotion. You're fearing the wolf, you're hungering, you're actively expressing happiness. By putting you in an active role - by framing emotions* as acts - the verb forms of these words indicate that you are seemingly in control of what your body experiences.

Whereas, in the adjective form, you're passive. Hunger is simply something happening to you - you're not doing anything. Happiness is in you, but you're not expressing or creating that happiness.

So, using an adjective as opposed to a verb is a way of linguistically taking the blame off the subject. You're not responsible for your fear if it just happened to....well, happen to you.

It's a minor thing, but an interesting one. Of course, this isn't even getting into the other methods of constructing what in English would be adjectives. One step at a time.

*Yes, I know that hunger isn't really an emotion. I have trouble phrasing things.

No comments:

Post a Comment