Ontos, Esse, and Wajud (and Bit’, or the uses of learning Russian for a philosopher)

So this is quite interesting:

What we need to understand, which I have mentioned in the answers to other questions is that Being is a wholly Indo-european linguistic phenomena. And that the contrast between Being and Existence is a historical confrontation between languages which have and do not have Being, in particular Arabic and Greek. As the Arabs learned Greek philosophy they eventually realized this difference between ontos (being) in Greek and wajud (found) in Arabic. So the Arabic Philosophers created a term Kun (make) to represent what was in Being that was not covered by Existence, the surplus, the supplement as Derrida would say. Then when the Arab philosopher’s works were translated back into Latin there was no word in latin for wajud (found, ecstasy) and so the Latin translators of the Arabic philosophy texts made up a technical term for what the Arabs called “wajud” which was “Existence” which was given the same range of manings as wajud. Within the Western tradition this term had little relevance until it was taken up as an alternative to Being by the Existentialists. For most of the tradition Essence preceded Existence, but the Existentialists especially Sartre reversed that to say that Existence precedes Essence, which is obviously true, because only Indo-europeans have that linguistic construct.

This quote comes from an interesting response to the question ‘What does it mean to Exist?‘  by Kent Palmer over at his blog thinknet. Don’t know much about it, but just got a notification from WordPress that I’d been linked, went and checked out the blog, and found this interesting article, longer than the quote I gave above, which is just an appetizer. Palmer continues on to address translation issues in regard to western and eastern versions of nothingness in some very interesting ways, and in general, seems like a very smart blog. Seems Kent works in systems analysis, and has two (?!) Ph.D.’s.

Back to this interesting linguistic issue, I’ve studied one language in which one doesn’t use the verb ‘to be’ in the present tense, namely, Russian. For example, you say ‘I student’ (‘ya styudyent’) instead of ‘I am a student.’ That said, Russian does have the verb ‘to be’, at least in theory, infinitive form (bit’), and you do conjugate it and use it in past (bil’, bil’a) and future (budet, buda) tense. Thus, you’d say ‘I was a student’ (‘ya bil’ styudyent’) or ‘I will be a student’ (‘ya budet styudyent’).Or, ‘ya bil’ ochen’ plochoi styudent rucckie yazik, izuchal’ dva goda, no cvegda ne mogu gavareet’, which translates to ‘I was a shitty student of Russian, I studied it for two years, but today I can’t speak it.’ And all I got was this crummy t-shirt . . .

I remember being shocked when I first learned this, which was already after I’d encountered Sartre and Heidegger. It’s often led me to think about the fact that whole traditions of philosophy are unlikely to have ever emerged in Russian for precisely this reason.

But I had no idea about how the Arabic connection was in between the Greek and Latin notions of Being and Existence. Now THAT’S some interesting shit . . .

Incidentally, I did get more than just a crummy t-shirt and my amazement at the lack of the verb ‘to be’ in the present tense from studying Russian for two years. After two years of doing daily written homework assignments in Russian, I can no longer write script in English without making many mistakes. That’s because Russian is only printed by typewriters and other mechanical means. When written, Russian is always written in cursive, which is quite different from anything used by latin alphabets. The result is that when I try to write English script, my hands do the wrong things, stop, stutter, and it looks like the work of a five year old trying to learn cursive.

This is why I print whenever I write on the board, and my print has evolved into this odd quasi-script-print that works fine for the board but few can read if I have to write a note or something like that, and it cramps my hand if I do it for too long.

So I need a t-shirt that says ‘I studied Russian for two years and all I got was this crummy t-shirt and the inability to write script in my native language . . . ‘


~ by chris on March 28, 2011.

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