What is your language?


[by Zemfira Inogamova-Hanbury]

1438817929301There are different types and ways of communicating or using languages.

Body language: such as gestures, making facial expressions or moving eye brows and communicating your thought or message without even saying anything. Or sometimes eye glance or even silence are enough to pass or receive the message on an energetic level or read the message in the eyes of the other person. It does not happen all the time but if you know the person well enough it is possible.

There are also languages of symbols, signs, metaphors and archetypes.


During the Summer Language School organized by Active English Learning Project, Dr. Stephan Harding, teacher from Schumacher College was invited to talk about ecological crises that need to be addressed in new alternative ways as opposed to conventional ways. Dr. Harding used the language of archetypes such as Gaia to talk about Earth, our planet.

big_gaiaGaia is a feminine archetype in Greek mythology. According to Dr. Harding – “For millennia, traditional peoples all over the world have believed in an Earth mother who bestows life and receives the dead into her rich soil. The ancient Greeks called her Gaia, the earthly presence of anima mundi, the vast and mysterious primordial intelligence that steadily gives birth to all that exists, the great nourishing subjectivity – at once both spiritual and material –that sustains all that is” (Harding, page 40). The notion of Gaia was inspired by ancient Greek mythology.

For example let’s have a look at Hesiod’s homage to Gaia:

Gaia, mother of all,

the foundation, the oldest one,

I shall sing to Earth.

She feeds everything in the world.

Whoever you are,

whether you move upon her sacred ground,

or whether you go along the paths of the sea,

You that fly, it is she who nourishes you from her

treasure store.


gaiagodIt is a story that inspired scientist Dr. Harding to tell his own story about Gaia to the world. We tell stories all the time even though we do not recognize it consciously as story telling. We tell stories about our friends, families or schools. In another words our daily conversation are also stories. So, the story told by Dr. Stephan Harding is that “our world is in crisis, and, regrettably, our way of doing science in the West has inadvertently contributed to the many problems we face.”

[quote align=”right” color=”#077db0″]Gaia, the animated Earth[/quote]
According to Dr. Harding to address the ecological crisis it is important to change not only our policies that will address issues related to climate change, deforestation, global warming, etc. but also our way of being and our consciousness in relation to Gaia – the planet Earth. To perceive Gaia not as something is external and something that we can control and use the recourses from. In contrary to see very special connection between the humans and planet earth. To perceive Gaia’s body as if it was our own body and if we happen to harm the body of Gaia by cutting her trees that could be her lungs or polluting her soil and rivers and oceans that could be her blood system, then it is like cutting our own lungs, polluting our own blood and skin.

Slide03 copyTo reflect this metaphor Dr. Harding asked the following question – “what if you are a doctor and you see ill patients. Suddenly the doors of your practice room opens wide and there she comes in Gaia, this sentient Being or wholesome animal who is very ill and sits down on the chair and you have to examine her as a doctor. What do you think is happening to her? What would be wrong with her?” Some students in the room said that she could be ill from pollution; some said her skin was unhealthy, etc. But most of the students have acknowledged that she was not healthy.

It is a very strong and powerful language of metaphor being used to explain the state of the Earth and talk about science, ecological crisis to teenagers, children. In a very accessible language as opposed to trying to give lots of dry data that would possibly bore and confuse them. The language of the metaphor is powerful and accessible not only for teenagers but also to the adults.

imagesThe story of Gaia and the metaphor of the Sentient Being as Gaia are also being used to teach Master Courses in Holistic Science at Schumacher College in collaboration with University of Plymouth. The story of Gaia was developed into modern scientific theory called Gaia Theory by James Lovelock. According to Martin Rees (Trinity College, Cambridge, January 2009): “Lovelock developed arresting and romantically titled new concept. This was Gaia – the idea that the Earth’s biosphere behaves as though it were a single organism. Gaia was the insight of a man who is undoubtedly one of the most original and influential living scientists: James Lovelock. He believes that our species is now putting the Earth under unprecedented stress, and that climate change could lead to a world with much impoverished ecology that is barely habitable by humans. More scarily he claims that the ‘point of no return’ may already have been passed.”

The concept that Gaia is a living being not just a matter that can be examined, measured and controlled in a very reductionist way, was scientifically proven by showing the capacity of Gaia keeping herself in a very balanced temperature. Not too cold to die from cold and not too hot to die from heat. Gaia kept the perfect temperature that made her inhabitable by living beings including humans. So, we are like organisms within another great organism, Gaia.

zemfira-photo-thumbIn Kyrgyz cosmology and traditional medicine, there are two types of illness. “Issiq” which means hot and “suuk” which means cold. Just like our own bodies we have many other organisms living in our mouth, guts, stomach, etc. Most of them are friendly and co-exist with our lives but once we have a virus or any other organism that starts causing big disturbances in our immune system, in our body and in our wellbeing as a whole person then we might have a very high temperature in the attempt of our immune system, body, our will, mind and consciousness trying to increase the temperature within our body to make the environment in our body uninhabitable for those viruses that were not friendly to our ecosystem as a whole. Not friendly to our life and wellbeing. Thus, if we are not friendly and respectful to Gaia’s body and wellbeing she might increase the temperature of her body until the point that it will become completely uninhabitable by humans, animals and other living beings on the body of Gaia. But it does not mean that Gaia will stop living, it could mean that will try to regulate her wellbeing by getting rid of humans who are disbalancing her healthy state by putting too much carbon footprint into her body. This is another metaphor that we can use to make the scientific theory of Gaia very accessible and easy to perceive by teenagers.

[quote align=”right” color=”#077db0″]…young children pick up language so easily. Language is acquired unwittingly, subconsciously… Language among young children is caught rather than taught…[/quote]
To deliver the language of metaphor we also use different languages such as Italian, English or Spanish. For example, Dr. Harding is fluent in Spanish and used his knowledge of Spanish language in delivering some of the ideas in Spanish. Spanish language having the same Latin roots as Italian made it much easier and friendly for the students from Italy to understand some of the terms as “biodiversity”, “global warming”, “extinction of species”, “safe space of functioning”, etc. During the talk by Dr. Harding students were learning not only about the story of Gaia and modern science but also English, Spanish and Italian. In linguistics it is called – “Metalinguistic Knowledge”, which refers to – “an understanding of the form and structure of language arrived at through reflection and analysing one’s own communication” (Baker, page 247). When the stories are being told as opposed to the lectures being delivered in the form of monologue, teenagers are acquiring the language as opposed to learning the language. That is the main difference between the children who are coming into knowing of the new language by living it, hearing it, listening to it and between the adults who will be sitting at the ‘desky’ environment of the classroom and trying to make sense of the grammar and the structure of the language. Let alone pronunciation of the words. According to Colin Baker – “young children pick up language so easily. Language is acquired unwittingly, subconsciously, without the effort of secondary school language classes, without the pressure of 101 other important matters to consider. Language among young children is caught rather than taught. The process is not learning but acquisition when children are young. Language acquisition is a by-product of playing and interacting with people.” Let’s learn language by playing and interacting with others!?

[report written by Zemfira Igonamova-Hanbury]


Works Cited:

Colin Baker, A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism, Fourth Edition, Multilingual Matters, 2014;

James Lovelock, The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning, Penguin, 2009;

Stephan Harding, Animate Earth: Science, Intuition and Gaia, Green Books, 2006;