Monday, June 13, 2011

0028 - Walls, walls and walls

Walled enclosure of Monte do Tosco, with walls less than a meter thick (left); walled enclosure of Fraga da Pena, with walls 3 meters thick (right).

In English there are “walls”, “walls” and “walls”. In Portuguese there are “muros”, “paredes” and “muralhas”. “Muros” are short and thin walls; “paredes” are high and thin walls; “muralhas” are high and thick walls. So, whatever is the structure, in English there is no big problem with the designation walled enclosure. But in Portuguese the generalized expression is “fortified settlement” (and the structures usually designated by “muralhas”) and that raises problems.

The main problem is that the expressions “fortified settlement” and “muralhas”, on the contrary of walled enclosure, are not “neutral”: they already imply a specific intention and functionality related to defence in a context of human vs human violence. And the expressions have been traditionally used without careful, regardless available data... and theory.

In fact, and regardless everything else related to context, a wall 0,80cm thick (a “muro” or “parede”) is quite different, in a lot of aspects (labour involved, available raw material, sustainability, resistance, visual impact, meaning, function, etc.) from a wall 2,5 or 3 meters thick (a “muralha”). Just like a ditch of 1,5 meter wide and a meter deep is quite different from a ditch 10 meters wide and 5 or 6 meters deep.

So, if we want to designate this general type of enclosures, it would be better to do it with a designation not compromised with specific functions and meanings. Easyer to do it in English than in Portuguese. It is an example of the difficulties generated by the available vocabulary of a language. And we all know how language is structural to our rationalization of the world and to our knowledge production. People tend to forget that, sometimes, a name is a synthesis, an arriving point and not a starting one (or that they must run the race before reaching the goal).

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