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Language and Culture

(Photo by Robin Holland)

This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with acclaimed author Louise Erdrich about her writing and her Native American heritage.

Erdrich described the significance of her Ojibwe language and culture:

"Native American people puzzle other people. Why is [their culture] so strong with them? Why don't they just become like the rest of us? What is it that's so important in their culture that they cling to it so? I think it has to do with the belongingness and the sense of peace that I feel among other native people, this sense of community - you're in the comfort of a very funny, grounded people who are related to everything that's around them, who don't feel this estrangement that people feel so often. That's why being Ojibwe or Anishinabe is so important to me... Even learning the amount of Ojibwe that one can at my age is a life-altering experience. You see the world in a different way. I for instance was astounded when I realized early on that Ojibwe doesn't see the world in terms of gender. You're working in a language in which there is a spirit behind this language. Everything is interrelated and participates in a level of spiritual interaction."

What do you think?

  • Do you speak multiple languages? If so, how does each help you see the world differently?

  • Tell us about your cultural heritage. How does it contribute to your unique perspective?

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    What do you think?

    •Do you speak multiple languages? If so, how does each help you see the world differently?

    •Tell us about your cultural heritage. How does it contribute to your unique perspective?

    Mr. Moyers,

    ANother answer:

    Recently watched a Russian

    yes, Russian,

    remake of the American movie "12 Angry Men"

    The Russian version is called simply "12".

    Mr. Moyers - you were the one person, like the one juror who said the unanimous verdict (Iraq)

    was arrived at too fast.

    Oh sure, they got me financially - it was too easy as we all now can see - like raping a 3 year old...

    But if I had to do it all again, I still would not shut up about war-mongering.

    Feeling that residual broken-bone ache of "terror" that will be with us all for the rest of our lives

    at the sight of a clear blue equinox sky over The City

    simply reminds us what is "man's" doing

    in contrast to what is other-than-man's doing...

    And rarely do the twain meet :-)

    Peace and love, and thanks,

    Dear Mr. Moyers,

    I am so saddened to hear that you are leaving the Journal. I have watched your show for many years on Sunday evenings, and feel amazingly well-informed and empowered by your deeply probing questions and your wonderful array of knowledgeable and passionate guests. Who will continue to ask the political and corporate questions that need to be examined and fronted by good journalists, such as you? I want to say thank you to you and your team for all of the hours of slogging and fact-finding. I will miss you seeing you, but I know that you have other things to do, and I wish you good health and happiness in your years ahead.

    Peace and Joy.

    Carole Pinto

    The fact that Goldman Sachs was a chief supporter of Obama's 2008 campaign did not enter your dialogue tonight is a real disappointment.
    We will all miss you, Bill. Please be happy as can be possible

    sheesh, whassup with the shoe spammer...

    From Luther Standing Bear (1868-1939), Oglala Sioux Chief:

    "The Indian loved to Worship. From Birth to Death he revered his surroundings. He considered himself born in the luxurious lap of Mother Earth and no place to him was Humble. There was nothing between him and the Big Holy. The contact was immediate and personal and the blessings of Wakan Tanka flowed over the Indian like rain showered from the sky."

    Something to be said for the way they KEPT their space big -- didn't over breed...

    One can feel a twinge of envy for how pure it was before the nasty tribes of white man who were thrown out of their own lands

    came to the Americas

    and informed the red man that their "theology" was wrong - earth was NOT Paradise...and they could prove it in a hurry...

    All of us across all the "races" of th eworld

    who know how to make this earth a "Paradise", need to come together.

    The music is in the air calling us to one another...a moment of "soul".

    LOVE one another. This is the way.

    DCE quoted, "Also the rear end makes a good target for the enemy."

    You don't pop up the head until they run out of ammo...timing is everything...

    While spring cleaning I found a 1990 "The World Almanac and Book of Facts"

    and grew nostalgic (too young for that, but there it is)

    for pre-internet "just the facts, ma'am"...

    And there it was, The Declaration of Independence in all it's "old" language...

    Man, they were p-ssed :-)

    "He has erected a Multitude of new Offices, and sent hither Swarms of Officers to harass our People, and eat out their Substance"...

    As usual, "they" have it all wrong - it's NOT the Constitution that matters

    It was the way they listed all the reasons for a

    "Just War".

    I tried to use the internet to access all the websites at "cheetah" speed

    that one would have to access to find all the info in the 1990 Almanac

    and had to fend off a virus after only the 2nd site...

    Something to be said for "facts" all in one book, year after year...

    "...the truth is out there..."

    Teenager responds with snark, "it's in a BOOK?! that's so lame..."

    I always appreciated the precision of the English language when communicating "just the facts, Ma'am..."

    From the Declaration:

    "But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government and to provide new Guards for their future Security."

    I believe the 2010 list against "despotism" could be longer :-)

    But this one is spooky:

    "He is, at this Time, transporting large armies of foreign Mercenaries to complete the works of Death, Desolation, and Tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty and Perfidy, scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous Ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a Civilized Nation."

    It's NOT about "religion", never was and looks like it never will be

    since no one hears what the message was/is

    in the creation of a flower.

    Even the flower has something to tell us about lightening :-)

    If God were like us, He would have shut off the electricity by now (the sun) because of our juvenile "delinquent" behaviour.

    Posted by: Anna D

    Posted By David E

    Even the flower has the intelligence to turn its face to the sun so that it can absorb the energy of the sun for its photosynthesis.
    It seems people have the tendency to turn to the darkness to hide their face when they need all the energy they can get to overcome entropy.
    We are supposed to be the most intelligent of nature; yet we deny the intelligence of the system of cause and effect that makes our reality possible.
    It is like the rebellious teenager that thinks their parents are stupid because things are not the way they want them to be. They self-destruct just because they can. The parent does not want to have to punish them but also does not want to see them self-destruct. It is the Eternal Parents Dilemma.

    Fear promotes action to prevent disaster or undermines people's ability to respond rationally.
    The correct response to a threat is essential. Sticking one's head in the sand never solves anything.

    Also the rear end makes a good target for the enemy. ( :-) >

    "A picture is worth a thousand words."
    However, words have the power of persuasion that can create heaven or hell on earth.

    When communicating on the practical level of communications; the right meaning of words can prevent a disaster and the wrong meaning of words can cause a disaster.
    We need both a romance language and a technical language to provide a complete system of communications.
    Communications has become a critical issue because we now live in a dangerous world where the wrong words can cause hell on earth for everyone.

    Posted by: D. C. Eddy

    Noting like making us feel even more "scared", DCE :-)


    and that is a BIG


    the majority of humanity is at such an evolutionary level of WISDOM

    that a wrong


    in any and all languages

    can create "hell on earth"

    to even a higher degree than it already IS

    well, then we are all doomed.

    The more superstitions and fetishes that a culture or an evolutionary religion HAS - the less likely that they have the capacity to accept "technical words"...and certainly NOT in the timeframe that would prevent a carefully crafted "end time" scenario (how many BILLIONS of $$$ per month and counting? who knew even God likes to blow money on insanity?)

    - so "we" would need a "technical" Plan B anyway, no? And while at it, Plan C-Z might be in order...

    Not to be snotty or holier than thou

    but also for consideration might be the examination of the EQUALLY primitive superstition that

    "perception is reality"

    when presenting "technical" data.

    I agree, basically, with the premise that a "technical" language is yet another language whose aim is still

    "power" over others

    more than "power" to meet the basic challenges of HUMAN life maintenance.

    Even the flower has something to tell us about lightening :-)

    If God were like us, He would have shut off the electricity by now (the sun) because of our juvenile "delinquent" behaviour.

    "You're working in a language in which there is a spirit behind this language. Everything is interrelated and participates in a level of spiritual interaction."
    Louise Erdrich

    When dealing with the spiritual; it is necessary to communicate at the spiritual level.
    When dealng with the practical; it is necessary to communicate on the practical level.
    Even when communicating at the spiritual level it is essential that the right words with the right meaning say what is intended and that the words are understood as intended.
    When communicating on the practical level of communications; the right meaning of words can prevent a disaster and the wrong meaning of words can cause a disaster.
    We need both a romance language and a technical language to provide a complete system of communications.
    Communications has become a critical issue because we now live in a dangerous world where the wrong words can cause hell on earth for everyone.

    Afghanistan was just the "post office box" for the 9/11 attacks. It was a base of operations which, when the necessity arose, was moved to another location. And it was not the only base. Al Qaeda existed in many localities at the time of 9/11 (although, ironically, not in Iraq) and it still does. Therefore, continuing a conventional war in Afghanistan is doomed to fail in eliminating the threat of Al Qaeda.

    Mr.Moyers you seem to bring very informative quest to your program Ms.Erdrich was a contiuation of that fact. I was so moved that sat dowm to say thank you.

    This was a fantastic interview that I enjoyed very much!

    Having been previously unfamiliar with Ms. Erdrich and her work, I was enraptured by her presence on your show. I look forward to be being blessed by more of her poetry and novels soon. (I've already put some on hold at my local library!)

    Thank you for such a wonderful episode :)

    Louise is poised, original and yes she is authentic. I enjoyed it. Very passionate. I see grandpa in you. Thanks for telling our story well.

    Louise captures her words well. She is sensitive to their power. I think her grandfather still lives in her words, it comes through in her stories.

    Bill, who will introduce us to such fine authors when your keen eye and ear are no longer at our disposal? The last several years I have looked forward to Friday nights and the meditative and redemptive rythem of your interactions with people, who often like yourself, carry the courage we need as an example for our own lives.

    The Red Man wandered across from Siberia into Alaska.

    Most people in what is now the EU speak at least two languages. It's basically the norm.

    Perhaps accepting the fact of the common ability across all humanity - language -

    has at it's core the intent to speak of the inner life of a human

    is a better way to appreciate and value the "soul" in us all.

    I appreciate the information about Ojibwe bringing in new words to their vocabulary. Only a living language of progress can do that.

    Eventually, that commonality of progress of "soul" speak could lead to an international language

    and we can all still enjoy which ever progressive language we culturally nurtured up to that time of one language.

    Getting harder and harder to get together for a rip-roaring fun time of playing what we called "balderdash". Basically, the "it" person gets the unabridged Oxford dictionary and roots around for a word that no one in the group knows what it means. They everyone makes up a menaing, and only one is true, the one written down by the person with the dictionary. If the whole group believes that a made-up definition is the real definition for the word, that person gets a point towards the win.

    Obviously, some people are much better at "balderdash" than others :-)

    Being from a European tradition, I speak more than one language - alwasy have and always will. Kids find it easy to learn more than one language at a time.

    We all might be less "lost" if we stick to the basics of the "american dream" - leave behind the crap, hang on to the noble.

    We think that Louise Erdrich is a fake. her Indian ancestry is phony. That's why she refused to do a DNA test for Henry Gates' TV show. She is also dishonest, whether by commission or ommision, about her life with Michael Dorris (who was indian). It is a pity as her literary work suffers for it.

    As I watched the Journal this evening I felt the insistent urge to just soak it in and enjoy every minute. I couldn't help feeling sad about the editorial article I recently read, which detailed Bill Moyer's plans to retire after this season. Its a really mixed emotion to recognize all over again how great something is while knowing that it is soon to end. I enjoyed hearing Andrew Bacevich again this evening and his utter logic about Afghanistan and our governments sad folly there, reiterating many of the ideas he discussed at Powell's bookstore last summer.

    I then thoroughly enjoyed the interplay between two fantastic wordsmiths in Bill Moyer and Louise Erdrich, who nearly brought me to tears during her poetry readings and genuine understanding of the human condition. Its a rare talent and gift to the world that Bill Moyer has given in producing a show that mixes minds and concepts so naturally and leaves any viewer feeling both uplifted and heavy of heart at the depth of the topics discussed. I cant wait to read Erdrich's books, which at this point I have not read, but given the fantastic review by Bill and the beautiful discussion and views by Erdrich, I will certainly be reading.

    On a side note to Mr. Moyer, if the World Affairs Council of Oregon has the sense to invite you to speak at the Schnitzer auditorium next year, please, please accept. I'm certain the place will be packed to the gills! Thanks for the years of everything!

    I have not heard of Erdrich's novels before tonight, but now most definitely am excited to read them. She speaks eloquently and intrigues me with her words and her interesting cultural mix.

    No, unfortunately, I do not speak multiple languages, although I have always dreamed of doing so. I lived in Hong Kong for a time and while there, taught English to Hong Kong Chinese who already knew the language but were not confident to converse.
    That was my job, to help my students confidently speak English. At this time it became clearly apparent how confusing "American" is with all its unique expressions that at times I found it a challenge to explain. What is clearly understood to us Americans, to my Hong Kong students was confusing, odd and sometimes funny.

    I am also quite a cultural mix and a mystery, my Father was adopted by Hungarian Jews and my mother's heritage is deeply rooted in the American cultural mix of English, Irish, Flemish, Dutch and American Indian. I came across a relative one day quite by accident on the internet, and found that I am a descendent of George Jefferson Toney a man from South Carolina and whose father probably fought in the American Revolution.
    Mom was a Baptist, my Father was an Orthodox Jew. I was raised reform Jew. Being a blond blue-eyed girl, I never quite fit in Saturday school with all the other Jewish kids nor did I fit in public school. My family moved from Ohio where I experienced cultural racism because I was Jewish, to North Carolina when I was 14 years old. This is where I encountered another kind of racism and I became another enemy.
    I must say, I never felt that I belonged anywhere. Didn't feel Jewish, although my Jewish religious training gave me a strong moral foundation. I certainly do not relate to Christianity, although I was raised in a Christian country. Never had a Christmas tree. I remember being told that my Grandfather wasn't really my Grandfather and not getting it. Some story was told to my Father that his biological parents were from Russia and that they were Jewish. So,on the one side I have a rich cultural mix and on the other a mystery. It has allowed me to be a curious person, always exploring and is probably why I moved to NYC vicinity. It allows me to encounter many cultures and beliefs and being the melting pot of many cultures, I can be the mix of mystery and confusion that I am.

    Alvin, you are full of hot air. POP! goes the weasel....and shame on pompous you.

    This woman speaks very well, and from her heart.

    So in my very crude words, shut your trap and thank you for doing so.

    "Shadow Tag" evokes a lyric by Paul Simon: "... I saw a shadow touch a shadow's hand
    On Bleecker Street." Likewise, I see and hear, in your sensitive interview with Louise Erdrich, connections lightly fleeting yet poignantly touching, and ultimately moving by being profoundly meaningful, because beautiful, and although ghostly, real and holy.

    I recognized the name Louise Erdrich, but I couldn't place it until I realized I had read The Beet Queen. I remember the description of the plane and the pilot at the fair. I did a bit of flying in my day, but that was a long time ago.

    First, I think language gives you a different way of communicating. Speaking two languages lets you realize that there isn’t just one way to communicate. There is always more than one perspective. There isn’t just one culture. There isn’t one world, or one solar system, or one galaxy or one universe. We obviously know there is more than one religion. So, is there one God?

    Second, I think what Louise meant to say was human 'enlightenment', not 'experience'. We experience things in this visible, physical world, and sometimes it affects us emotionally, but what she is seemed to be talking about was in the mind. The Gitche Manitou is unseen and relates to our mind or spirit or soul, not to our cultures or our languages. I believe in Gitche Manitou, not because I am English, ou parce que je parle français, or because I am a man. I once flew at 37,000 feet around Hudson’s Bay and I was staring into the aurora borealis around the cockpit. It was a real, physical experience, but what I thought was, Gitche Manitou.

    Finally, did Bill mean Life is God, or God is Life? I think life is in all our minds, and it is made up of 70% dark energy, 25% dark matter and only 5% of it is visible. It’s too bad we don’t realize we are all part of the same ‘life’ thing in this universe. That’s why I think we need more enlightenment, from programs like The Journal.

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