07 October 2010

‘sun’ and ‘moon’ conflated in one word

Languages map their concepts in different ways. In English we just have the word “brother” for a male sibling, but many languages require the speaker to choose either a word for ‘older male sibling’ or ‘younger male sibling.’

English requires its speakers to distinguish between ‘the sun’ and ‘the moon’ but apparently this is not universal. From Handbook of the Seneca Language by Wallace L. Chafe comes the following quotation:

Both the sun and the moon are referred to with the one word kä:hkwa:ʔ, literally ‘the sun or moon is in it’ (that is, in the sky). Which of the two is meant can be specified by preceding the above word with ʔɛte:kha:ʔ ‘diurnal’ or sɔekha:ʔ ‘nocturnal.’ An eclipse is called ʔɛkä:hkwáhtɔʔt ‘the sun or moon will disappear.’