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Growing Courageousness of the Chuukese Language … Before jumping deeply into our main topic, let’s talk briefly about Alfred Korzybski, a Polish engineer-mathematician  who, after emigrating to the US, continued his advance studies at Harvard and became a celebrated philosopher. Among his scholarly work is his “Manhood of Humanity,” first published in 1921 by EP Dutton  & Co in 1921 with several subsequent editions. It was not until sixty-one years later that I came across the book when, in the winter semester of 1982, I was made to purchase a copy of it as it was a required reading in an undergrad class.

The author explained that the book was “primarily a study of Man and ultimately embraces all the great qualities and problems of Man and takes into consideration all the characteristics

which make Man what he is.” AK went on to note that in the book “great pains have been taken not to use words insufficiently defined, or words with many meanings.” Here lies his fondness, if not propensity, to push around his students in his linguistic experiment labs at Princeton and charge to them: “whatever you say it is, it ain’t.” AK was acclaimed as the father of the specialized field of general semantics, a philosophy of linguistic aimed at developing “Man’s time-binding capacity.”

Suppose AK was risen from his grave in America tonight and brought to Tolensom in Chuuk. To be sure, the kindhearted folks of Feup are apt to invite him: “eto sipwe mongo rais mei Kikkoman” (“come, let’s eat rice with Kikkoman soy sauce”). Listening to the natives around him, the Polish general semanticist would scarcely miss the growing courageousness of the Chuukese language, to wit:

1) “I love you” — Many Chuukese speakers understand this English expression. Do me a favor by translating it into Chuukese. Not as easy as it first appears, and it sounds awkward saying it, except when you borrow the Ifalukese word “faiyo” but please use extreme care in using the Polowatese/Houkese “faumehom,” a crude, if not disrespectful, reference to one’s eyes to express “love” where “sapoulum” would do the trick — as far as the Pollap-Fanatopweans and Paremese are concerned. The point here is that direct translation of “I love you” into Chuukese is abnormal, indigenously unacceptable. Indigenously speaking, it is awkward for a man to express joyfully his “love” to his sister and vice versa like the folks in the so-called liberal societies do. Why? It violates the “wall of separation” that is expected to exist between siblings of opposite genders or those generally categorized as brothers and sisters.

SOTIS (Semantics of the islands)

I don’t know whether it was a good thing to avoid appearance of intimacy between siblings of opposite genders. it’s just how life was lived. Nowadays, however, sisters cannot wait to pronounce unto the world their “love” for their brothers, tearing down the curtain of separation. Indirectness in addressing or recognizing siblings of opposite genders has begun to fade away. It is an index of being modern. You don’t tell your brother that you love him; rather, you tell a bird somewhere in the tree that you: “fayeou perhen mwaanemu” (achingly miss the feet of that man, who happens to be your brother or male cousin).

Similarly, you do not directly refer to your sister by her proper name. The Chuukese language thrives on contextualization and indirectness. You refer to your sister simply as “kena rhopwut” or “ekena fefin” (those women, usually speaking in plural form, even if there is only one female in question. It is a way of showing respect that is seldom understood or appreciated.

2) “En” or “You” is another expression that has gained linguistic courageousness by further striking down the virtue of indirectness upon which the Chuukese culture operates. The “En” expression is used conspicuously in informal convo and social media even by honorable ladies in the form of “Kapong En” (Greetings to You!).

Chuuk Governor and wife

AK and the likes of him would regard this invasive or interruptive expression almost as a curse, that is, pointing the pointing finger, if not the middle finger itself directly at somebody. It looks like something is drifting out beyond the reef. We are accustomed to demanding something instantaneously and directly. Nuance and indirectness tend to lose ground.

3) I’ve made observations twice or thrice on various appropriate and mischievous usages of the respect-showing word, Rewe, used chiefly in the outer islands of Chuuk and Yap. Those who are not from the NW could be forgiven for their ignorance about the social usage and nuance of the word — except when using it intentionally in a crude or disrespectful manner.

But what can be said about the native NW folks who simply do not know? Do you penalize downright ignorance, such as a fellow who addresses most of those whom he runs into as a “Rewe” as a NW equivalent of a Filipino who addresses almost every American as “Sir”. Sometimes the dividing line between the colonists and the colonized becomes too blurry and indistinguishable. The Cooked and the Raw, the French anthropologist Straus used to remark.

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