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Cultural diversity outthrou time an place

Thare is ither places the warld ower, an ither times outthrou history, wi differs: whiles it’s ither places we’v niver been tae (A’v niver been tae Oceania, for ensaumple) an whiles it’s e’en places we’v niver haurd o (maist fowk haesnae haurd o the island whaur A’m steyin, Réunion). As for ither times, they can shaw differs an aw, whither it’s times we can mind wirsels, times we can project wirsels intae (sae the naur futur) or times remote fae wir ain experience.

Sae, aw in aw, we arnae alane in wir ain cultur nor in wir ain pynt in time.

Tae some stent, we’r mindit on ither times an places ilka day, but we’r aften mindit o the same times an the same places, whan there a fair braider spectrum o existence available. The focus is mainly on recent epochs an dominant kintras, yer superpouers o the day: wir attention is a fair feck mair aften focussed on modren-day Americae as on New Guinea or the Mbuti; though, sae we’ll see later in this airticle, it isnae acause thir ither fowks dinnae hae things tae shaw us.

An the existin diversity is aften mair extraordinar nor whit we realise: maist fowk wadnae say there wis sae mony as seiven thousand leids in the warld, but that’s about hou mony there ar. The differs acqueesh different leids isnae wee, aither: there is twa-three different methods tae encode evidentiality in the verb, whither it’s throu the uiss o affixes or pairticles or jyned in wi the tense sýstem. “Evidentiality? Whit’s that?” A hear ye say. Aye, that concept merkin the source o information that is common in the Native American languages an Scots an English disnae encode ava.1 An there’s the antipassive, the equivalent o the passive in ergative leids. Ergative leids? That’s the leids that, like Bescayan or mony Aborigine leids, uises the (pro)noun o intransitive verbs like the object o transitive verbs.2 An the diversity in claes, cuisine, relígion, artisanry is comparable.

It is richt braw that there is thir differs acqueesh different kintras an times; we can rejyce in this diversity. It is richt braw that we ar aw different, wi wir ain thochts, wir ain ideals, wir ain habits. We can aye learn fae ilk ither an we, quite simply, aw hae the richt tae exist an aw.

An this diversity is threitent. It is projectit that mony o thir thousands leids could be deid gif current trends an affcomes contínue, in partícular the quarter o the current leids that is anerly spoken by less nor a thousand fowk. An the threit tae diversity in claes, cuisine, relígion, artisanry an mony ither domains o life is comparable.

An whit can be dangers o the utmaist loss o cultural diversity? In addítion tae the loss itsel, it can hae affcome on wir abílity tae hae alternatives and wir knawledge o sic alternatives. An there can be negative lang-term eftercomes due tae the viability o the society.

We can see the societies in Jared Diamond’s ‘Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive’. In this 2005 beuk, he descrives hou certain societies haes foundert ower time. Whither that is acause they war laith tae chynge tae fit their environs or due tae their eftercome on the climate, mony societies haes aither disappeart — like the Greenland Norse that refused tae uise fish like their Inuit neebours — or been reduced tae a remnant o itsel — like the Rapa Nui that fellt treen an biggit statues, lea’in room for a environmental doun-drappin.

We’ll need tae see gif a siclike fate waits on certain modren societies, wi the potential for a environs-connectit doun-drappin like some o them descrived by Diamond in Collapse. An a waur case scenario, in terms o societal doun-drappin, wad be a general doun-drappin o humanity. We can think on hou, gif sic a society wis ower the hale globe, naebody, or awmaist naebody, wad survive. Therefore a global society wad could bring humanity itsel, the species tae whilk we aw belang, tae failure an destitution.

On the conter side o this, we can see the Malagasy at Tromelin, forhouied by the crew o a wrackit sclave ship, that geniously inventit a new cultur, evendoun at odds wi the existin ane that they awready kent, wi new biggin, fishin an burial techniques.

Throu this an ither ensaumples outthrou history, we can ken whit’s possible, whit’s awready been duin, hou lang it’s lastit an whit upshot it can hae on the society.

There is the outlat that first comes fae L. P. Hartley’s The Go-between: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” It means that, gif we gang back or forrit in time, a place winnae necessarily be kenspeckle. It entails that the Scotland wir forebears kent afore us can be fair different as the Scotland we ken thir days. Gif we war sent back twa hunneryear tae Jacobite rebellion times, we wad be outlanders wirsels in the sense that the habits wadnae correspond. It is important tae mind that we wirsels will be history some day, sae we sud tak tent that whit we lea’ for wir bairns an wir granbairns is something wirthwhile, creative, interestin, productive.

There is forby a beuk cried The Past is a Foreign Country by David Lowenthal that deals wi the wey fowk view the past, in partícular in líteratur, an hou fowk can learn anent the past.3

In it, Lowenthal, sae faur back as 1985, emphasised (p396) that the chyngin landscape meant that maist fowk is in wankent environs. Sae, the past isnae juist a outland place, but a outland place fae whilk we wirsels come.

Throu leukin at ither societies thir days whaur we ar yet outlanders, we can ken whit habit or act is possible, whit is awready around, hou wide it is awready spread an whit consequences it can hae on the society.

For ensaumple, on the quaisten o gender roles: the association o men wi huntin an weimen wi gaitherin, or men wi war an weimen wi steyin at hame an siclike associations. We can figure out whither thir associations is biological or cultural by leukin at ither culturs. Juist ’ithin the ae island o twal million (New Guinea), we hae three different fowks wi three different gender role scenarios: there is the Mudungumor, whaur baith sexes haes “masculine” roles; the Arapesh, whaur baith haes “feminine” roles; an there e’en the Tchambuli, whaur fowk follaes the conter fae whit certain Wasterners wad expect.4 5 Sae we can see that the reality o human behaviour is a fair feck mair varit than whit a body wad could think. Therefore the idea that specífic gender roles is inherent tae humanity is due tae a incomplete knawledge o human behaviour.

Mair ensaumples can be fund in Jared Diamond’s latest beuk, The World Until Yesterday, on hou the habits o some hunter-gaitherer societies an hou they can hae better ideas on certain topics than whit we dae.

A ensaumple o this is parentin, a domain whaur the Kung an the Aka haes better results, wi depression bein evendoun fremmit for them. Thir African hunter-gaitherer fowks haes a fair feck o phýsical contact as bairnies, an varied contact ’ithin the community, bein cared for by aw the ither fowk in the community an no juist the nuclear faimily whan they hae time aff fae wark.

Leukin efter bairns is a verra human act, as is leukin at the past. An leukin at the past is a wey for us tae better unnerstaund the futur, itsel a capacity specífic tae humans. It’s a capacity that haes helpit humanity prevent itsel fae stervin an deein out thousands o years syne in East Africae.

As Joan Boades, a Catalan archivist an best-sellin author, haes said:

“I’m an archivist because I’m interested in the future rather than the past. Some scientists had established that human beings use the same part of the brain aither to remember things or to imagine the future so if we translate this to a social context, we can say that a society that can’t remember its past also cannot imagine its future . . .” 6

This fact can be confirmed whan we leuk at the science: we can see that the thochts anent the past an the futur flaucht in multiple weys: for ensaumple, whan fowk haes Alzheimers, they cannae mind the past an they cannae imaigine the forrit an ayont ony mair, aither.

An this leukin tae the futur hings in wi planification. Ae thing A wad tak fae that is that we can uise wir uniquely human capacity o planification for tae pertect wir uniquely human cultural diversity.

In conclusion, it is braw that there is aw the variety an diversity in the warld an we sud forder it. No only that, but this diversity can be a wey for us tae better unnerstaund humanity an the warld. An leukin at different times an places that we dinnae ken sae weel is a specífically human capacity that we sud uise wittinly.


James McDonaldJames McDonald is a Scots polyglot steyin in Réunion. He is keen on different leids, inspecially local leids, an their forderin, whether it’s Scots, Gaelic, Réunion Creole or ither leids. He wirks in scuils, helpin bairns wi their hamewirk an giein chess lessons. Ye can contact him on jmcd89 [AT] googlemail [DOT] com.

Glossar

(Ye can translate ony wird atween Scots an English at the Online Scots Dictionar.)

Scots English
ae one
affcome effect
acqueesh between
Bescayan Basque
conter contrary
differ difference
doun-drappin a state of collapse
eftercomes effects
environs the environment
evendoun absolutely, completely
flaucht intertwine
foundert collapsed, foundered
forder promote, advance
forhouied deserted, abandoned
forrit an ayont the way ahead; the future
fowks peoples
fremmit foreign, alien
geniously ingeniously
kenspeckle recognisable
laith loath
outland, outlander an outsider, stranger, alien
sclave slave
stent extent
sud should
treen trees
wankent unknown, unfamiliar
wir our
wittinly knowledgeably
  1. World Atlas of Language Structures (WALS): Chapter Coding of Evidentiality
  2. World Atlas of Language Structures (WALS): Chapter Antipassive Constructions
  3. David Lowenthal, The Past is a Foreign Country (Cambridge University, 1985)
  4. Wayne Weiten, Dana S. Dunn, Elizabeth Yost Hammer, Psychology Applied to Modern Life: Adjustment in the 21st Century (Cengage Learning, 2011)
  5. Zeepedia.com: Gender Issues in Psychology
  6. Raphael Minder, The Struggle for Catalonia: Rebel Politics in Spain (Oxford University Press, 2017)