The Cherokee word ᏍᎦᏚᎩ /sgadugi/ means roughly "State" (pictured here in the fourth word of the sign marking the entrance to Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, OK). This word has its root in the Cherokee word ᎦᏚᎩ /gadugi/ means roughly, people coming together and working. This tribal ethic of community effort toward a shared greater good has a long history in the Cherokee tribe. It describes work teams formed at Baptist churches to support widows, orphans, or organize socials. Notice the addition that Ꮝ /s/ at the beginning of the word? That one morpheme, Ꮝ /s/, makes the activity of Cherokee people working together into something larger, a governmental structure.
In this one word, with the addition of one syllable Ꮝ /s/, a set of activities is described, that become valued over time as cultural norms, that then become institutionalized into government structures. In like fashion, the morpheme /ment/ is added to the activity of /govern/ to form the noun we think of as state. But in the English word /government/, working together is, well, less and less part of the action, if it ever was to begin with.
This snippet of linguistic analysis of a Cherokee word serves two purposes. More than just an amusing commentary on the sorry state of US National politics, it points to the close, mutually sustaining, relationships between language and thought <<—>> culture and change.
Take a look at the elegantly designed research Lera Boroditsky at Stanford University has been doing. She's beginning to put to rest circular debates about which which influences which, language or thought. More than this, her research suggests how language and thought fundamentally shape the ways people see the world and themselves in it.
What is meaningful to us linguistically structures our lives meaningfully.
As English continues to be valued as the global lingua franca, the potential loss of more meaningful ways of structuring our lives, cultures, and thought becomes apparent. Yes, Walter, the decolonial imperative is here, urging all peoples to speak, read, and write in languages more than English. When learning one Cherokee morpheme can change how citizens understand rights, duties and obligations to work together to govern ourselves, think of what can be changed by learning more.
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