The People Without a Right or Left Hand

Guugu Yimithirr is a language of some aboriginal people of Australia. I know nothing about how to speak it. What I have come to learn about this Guugu Yimithirr is that it does not have a word for right or left. When giving directions, a native speaker might say, "go north, then turn south and there will be my house on the east." The speaker may also say something like, "raise your east-side hand and touch your west-side foot." 

The people who speak Guugu Yimithirr have a language that is geographically centered. Conversely, English speakers have an egocentric language, where right and left are words used in relation to the person rather than the outer world. Those who speak Guugu Yimithirr do not have a right or left hand, only hands that are north, south, east or west. 

(This wonderful little article from 2010 goes into greater detail on the limits of language and where 20th century thinking got a little off when considering the role of language. However, the article also points out that just because someone does not have the word left or right does not mean they are incapable of understanding the concept. The article is more a discussion on the axiom, "Languages differ essentially in what they must convey and not in what they may convey.”)

The language of the Church, at her best, is Christocentric. This Christocentric language is designed to not only draw our eyes to beyond ourselves but also to reorient our lives. There is a difference in saying, "look what I am doing" and "look what Christ is doing though me." The first is egocentric, the later is Christocentric. The first implies that the individual is paramount, the latter implies the self is a small part of something larger. The former props up the ego. The later puts the ego in proper location. 

For all those weird Christians we meet who want to "give God the glory" or say "it is by God's strength," just consider how weird it would be to listen to someone ask you to raise your north-side hand. It is a different orientation. A different orientation does not always mean a misguided, wrong, evil, sinful or heretical orientation.

How egocentric is your language? Are you willing to be re-orientated?