Take the first north, then second east…

compass roseThere are languages that do not have words for left, right, behind and in front of, but refer to local landmarks or the cardinal directions instead. In Australia, for instance, speakers of some aboriginal languages would mention their north or south hand or tell you that there is a spider on the wall just east of you (which would be behind if you’re facing west, or on your right if you’re facing north, etc.). To go further on in a book, you would be instructed to go west in the book if you are facing south. Similarly, if a snake is coming towards the camera on a TV screen, and the TV set is facing west, they would say that the snake is moving westwards.

This makes our western perspective sound rather self-centred. As we move around, we stay in our own little bubble, as if the world moved around us rather than we in a static surrounding, like the Sun around the Earth rather than the Earth around the Sun. Aboriginal languages require their speakers to remain fully aware of and connected with their environment as the focus is not on themselves but on their surrounding. Westerners tend to think of themselves as being the centre of the world, with what is around them being at their disposal, whereas Aborigines are probably much better aware than the so-called “advanced” civilisations that humans are only a small part of a whole.

Novel as this perspective may be to us, it actually makes much more sense than our arbitrary and egocentric left-and-right way of thinking – that is, if you have a good sense of direction.

Photo: decorative-maps.com

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