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Language and Art in the Navajo Universe [Paperback]

Gary Witherspoon
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

November 15, 1977 0472089668 978-0472089666 1St Edition
Studies Navajo culture as reflected in its art and use of language

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Language and Art in the Navajo Universe + Metaphors We Live By
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 244 pages
  • Publisher: University of Michigan Press; 1St Edition edition (November 15, 1977)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0472089668
  • ISBN-13: 978-0472089666
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,087,028 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a phenomenal book August 14, 2009
Witherspoon, a professor at the Univ. of Michigan, uses language as an entry way into a world-view and a way of Being that is totally alien to many if not most, Anglos. The Navajo universe was created and organized through language as the thought, conceived by Holy Beings, was projected onto the primordial unordered substance through the compulsive power of speech and song. Language then, is an energetic medium that affects the very entrails of reality. Thought then, for a Navajo, is a creative tool for ordering reality. That's why the ability to speak eloquently, and think beautiful & creative thoughts, is highly praised. A child acquires human status only after it has started to speak.

In this book i've found excellent descriptions of the Blessingway ceremony and various other curing rites (designed to recreate the world through myth, song, prayer and language). This includes the best (by far) explanation of the famous Navajo phrase "sa'ah naaghaii bik'eh hozho" that Navajos use to refer to a "beautiful, pleasant and healthy environment". The phrase which represent a maelstrom of meanings is firmly rooted into Navajo mythology and thus often considered untranslatable. Moreover, Clyde Kluckhohn (the 'grandfather of Navajo anthropology) often says that English lacks terms that have simultaneously moral and aesthetic meanings and hence cannot be used to comprehend Navajos.

Witherspoon tells us that the principal verb in the Navajo language is not "to be" like in many other languages (including ours); "to be" is of minor importance in Navajo. Instead, the Navajo language contains some 356,200 distinct conjugations of the verb "to go", reflecting emphasis on movement and change. Movement, song, speech and life are, for a Navajo, inseparably linked.
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10 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An analysis of symbols in Navajo cultural constructs. December 17, 1998
Witherspoon approaches his study of Navajo culture with the assumption that there exists some basic tenet of the Navajo cultural system that is all-enduring, but that it is the surface dynamism of this culture that characterizes the adaptability of the Navajo people. Witherspoon spent fifteen years living with the Navajo, and his experience in their language comes more from his work as a teacher and in other personal roles than from anthropological research. He sustains that there is a cultural chasm that separates Navajo culture and Western culture. Different languages contribute to this chasm, as does ritual, a large part of the behavior that non-Navajos do not seem to understand. The question of why rituals are carried out in the way that they are garners typical responses of non-Navajos. Most often, non-Navajos claim that ritual continues because of religious prescription. The curing of ailments by ritual is dismissed as coincidence and psychosomatic effect. Witherspoon argues that these conclusions are not valid because they are made in the viewer's frame of analysis rather than that of the Navajo. "Navajo acts arise out of their world and make sense within it" (15). Language and Art in the Navajo Universe aims to bridge the gap between Western and Navajo cultures.
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