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Re: Corpses (was Re: Gender in conlangs.....)

From:Isidora Zamora <isidora@...>
Date:Thursday, November 6, 2003, 0:40
At 10:24 PM 11/4/03 -0600, you wrote:
>On Sun, 2 Nov 2003 21:52:24 -0500, Isidora Zamora <isidora@...> >wrote: > > >My Cwendaso/Tovláug do not have that much knowledge about what happens > >after death. They do believe that the soul/spirit/whatever survives, i.e. > >it is not annihilated, but that is about all they know. They have a > >profound reverence for human life in general, and they treat corpses and > >human bones with the utmost care and reverence, and have no fear of > >them. They might possibly gender human remains as epicene to give them the > >dignity of something human and also so that corpses can be made male or > >female by verbal agreement. Or they might also gender them as inanimate to > >show up the contrast that the corpse used to be a living, breathing human > >being, and now it is most definately not (although it is still most > >definately human, and will never cease to be.) > >That's an interesting contrast with Zireen cultures, which also affects >their languages. A Zireen ceases being a Zireen at death -- a dead Zireen >must be referred to as "the corpse of a Zireen" (or "a Zireen who has >died", depending on context). While "a dead Zireen" is grammatical, it can >only refer to a líve Zireen who is for some reason (by analogy or metaphor) >thought of as being "dead". > >This grammatical complexity is also true of other living beings; the >example in my language notes is "a dead dragon".
This sort of discussion makes me realize that I will have to give some thought to how the Trehelish speak about the dead. Once the corpse or skeleton is burnt, the spirit leaves this world forever and wanders in "a dark land under a starless sky." The "dark land" is essentially another plane of existence completely separate from this one, and it is, presumably, the domain of the Death god, whom Trehelish mythology (and the mythologies of related peoples) acknowledges to be more powerful than any of the other gods. As far as a Trehel is concerned, once the body is burnt, the person is no longer there - the spirit is no longer in this world. However, a corpse still has a spirit in it, so I think that they would speak of the person as still being there. They are very uneasy about corpses because of the ghosts in them, so funerals are performed as soon as possible. (Cwendaso, on the other hand, perform their funerals in a timely fashion simply to avoid the unpleasantness of singing a funeral over a decomposing corpse. Of course, since they generally inter in communal barrows, they really can't get away from that sort of unpleasantness, in the end.) The Trehelish probably need a complex vocabulary for human spirits in different states. I'll have to do some work in that department. Right now, I can see three-fold distinction: a spirit in a living body, which is almost completely tied to the body (certain religious rituals, high fevers, madness, etc. can loosen this bond somewhat and allow the spirit/soul/whatever to wander in a way that it ordinarily wouldn't be able to); a spirit in a dead body, which is bound to the bones of that body and to this world, but is capable of wandering abroad and of harming the living (and this is why the Trehelish are so frightened of uncharred bones, and even of fresh corpses); and a spirit which has been released from its body by the burning of that body and is now no longer in this world at all but in the dark land under a starless sky. The real question is how Trehelish people would relate to someone who has just died. Say your wife has died. You loved her very much, but she is now a corpse inhabited by a spirit, and the spirits of the dead are not safe - they can harm the living. So there is a dilemma here. I strongly suspect that Trehelish people are afraid to touch the body of a departed relative any more than absolutely necessary. They would be afraid that it might not be safe to do so. It is even possible that they employ priests (of the Death god) to prepare the body for cremation so that they don't have to risk touching it. Actually, I think that it is highly likely that they get the priests to do it. It's been rather helpful to sort of "think aloud" as I have composed this post. I guess other questions include what they do with the cremated bones. They consider them to be empty - truly dead; the spirit is elsewhere and cannot return. Cremated bones are also harmless. I expect that they must entomb them in some way. Somehow I expect that the wealthy probably build nice tombs. I also do not know whether they believe that the dead need anything. If the dead are in need of anything, then I know that it must be sent to them by burning it. However, my image of what the Trehelish "dark land under a starless sky" is like is that it is a very empty place; its not the sort of place where you would really need anything, so I expect that they do not burn funerary offerings. Isidora


Costentin Cornomorus <elemtilas@...>
Isidora Zamora <isidora@...>