Skip to main content

Verbs Not Nouns: The Role of Language in Scaffolding Alternative Worldviews and Futures

Help us make it happen Donate to FoD
1 Verbs Not Nouns Horizontal

In partnership with Dark Matter Labs

Language is a critical part of how we see, understand, and consequently shape and inhabit the world. Many Indigenous languages speak in stories that act as a foundation for holistic and experiential learning, passing down teachings across generations. These stories serve as blueprints for how we can live in balance and reciprocity with the earth and our more-than-human kinfolk, from plants and animals, to soils, rivers and seas. Indigenous languages, like Anishinaabemowin, are 80% verb-based, which similarly highlights the importance of relationships, acting together, and the plurality of being in this world. In contrast, noun-based languages, like English, tend to emphasise categorisations, dualisms, and classifications. These tendencies end up creating a scaffolding for a static worldview that erases the flows of life.

So what would it mean to learn to see everything as a verb? Could verb-based languages help us find active agency for all beings in co-shaping alternative futures? What if we would think of ‘community’ as a verb, ‘to commune’; could this allow for new modes of relationality and kinship? And in a verb-based language, would something as static as ‘property’ exist.

Medium: A mixture of online talks and conversations that explore the different spheres of influence and possibilities of language for alternative worldviews, knowledge, agency and futures.

Areas for discussion:

  • Language structure: Expanding how place-based culture and ways of living influence languages - learnings from the Tjuwa'uvu'uvulj people (e.g. different perspectives for land and earth).
  • Knowledge and worldview: Expanding our knowledge system and worldview by drawing comparisons between the Anglo-Saxon (trace back to Socrates’s Dualism) and Tjuwa'uvu'uvulj worldviews.
  • Commons, commoning and redline boundaries: Examining how current othering practices such as redline boundaries affect our relationship with the earth and human and non-human kinfolk, and exploring alternative regenerative practices.

Fang-Jui Chang & Yu-Chieh Wu will be this event's Moderators

This event is part of the series of 5 events around the theme of beyond property and ownership. The other 4 events are Who Owns the Land? A New Theory of Rights & Responsibilities, Everyday Life as a Knot of Flows: Conversations Along the River Don, Everyday Life as a Knot of Flows - Collective Mapping for River Don Entanglement, Who Owns The River Don? Exploring Rights of Nature, Self-Ownership & Reciprocal Stewardship. You are encouraged to participate in them all but it's ok if not. Each event will recap the previous ones and some parts will be documented.

Zoom Webinar Link:

Ph.D. Candidate, Institute of Education, National Sun Yat-sen University, Taiwan; Lecturer, Studies of Indigenous Cultural Development, National Pingtung University

Among other Indigenous peoples in Taiwan, we have different naming systems between every colonial rule (Dutch, Qing, Han). I was named “Giyu Tjauvalid” among the Paiwanese tribal community and my clan. To construct the “Paiwanese’ way of knowing”, I’ve dedicated myself to studying Indigenous Knowledge in education and linguistics since 2000. Recently, the main project has been about the integration of indigenous worldview (Paiwanese) into west-science knowledge (2019-2024, funded by National Science Council, Taiwan) at the aim of constructing traditional ecological knowledge in approach grounded theory, and designing new course materials in accordance with Indigenous community-based environmental knowledge.

Fang is a Responsible Innovation Lead and Strategic Designer primarily focused on societal structural transition and new civics. She has experience in democratic innovation, public service design and prototyping, open policy-making and rule-making, and large-scale civic participation and facilitation.

Yu-Chieh Wu is a doctoral candidate interested in language and identity, global citizenship, and multilingual education. She studies at the Global and International Education program at the Department of Educational Foundations, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. By identifying gaps in academic performance based on students’ linguistic capital, her research is expected to open up more informed discussions about how language practices are negotiated in the classroom and inform policy makers on improving education for a more equitable world.

Part of our 2023 festival strand


How can we respond to the climate crisis and biosphere collapse?