This article explores the role of analogies derived from language in the ethnographic description and analysis of non-Western ontologies. Focusing in particular on the rhetorical analogy of subject and object central to descriptions of Amerindian perspectival ontologies, I suggest that such analogies may well obscure as much as they reveal. Utilizing an account of ontological transformation drawn from my own research among the Mapuche of southern Chile, I suggest that the analogy of subject and object suggests to speakers of European languages a radical discontinuity and therefore obscures the subtleties of the transformation at stake. Through the presentation of alternative grammatical paradigms present in Amerindian languages themselves, I suggest that grammars necessarily contain implicit ontologies which, when used analogically to represent non-linguistic phenomena, may seriously distort the ethnographic data they are intended to clarify.
- linguistic relativity
- Benjamin Whorf