To Meander and to Err. LO27442

From: AM de Lange (
Date: 10/22/01

Dear Organlearners,

Greetings to all of you.

It is interesting how much wisdom there is in a language when we look up
the full meaning of words.

English language has only four basic words which begin with the
double consonant "dw" -- dwarf, dwell, dwindle and dwine.
German has none.

A friend of mine (thank you Fanie) told me of a certain professor G in
botany who had to translate source (place of appearing) and sink (place of
disappearing) into Afrikaans. He selected the noun "bron"=source. But the
noun sink gave him trouble. As a verb the English sink and Afrikaans
"sink" have the same meaning, namely to submerge. But as a noun the
English sink means in Afrikaans a washing tub. Botanists used to translate
sink with "put"= well, but prof G's objection was that a well, even though
a hole in the ground, is also a source (of water).

But we have in Afrikaans the verb "verdwyn"=disappear. A powerful rule in
Afrikaans is that any noun can be converted to a verb by adding the prefix
"ver-". For example, from the noun "dwerg"=dwarf we can create the verb
"verdwerg"=minimise. So prof G reckoned that the "dwyn" in "ver-dwyn"
defined the noun he was searching for the noun sink. He suggested it as
the best translation. But since the word "dwyn" does not occur in
Afrikaans, nobody wanted to accept it, especially not the linguists. They
did not for one moment realise that the "verdwyn"=disappear had actually
operated on its own root "dwyn"=disappearance. (Pronounce "dwyn" in
English as like for the name Dwayne.)

I immediately recognised another possible connection of Afrikaans to
continental Saxon="Nederduits". Linguists here believe that Afrikaans is
like modern Dutch a daughter language of High Dutch. But it is my thesis
that Afrikaans emerged from High Dutch (Frankonish) and Lows Saxon just as
Old English emerged from Angle and Saxon. Between these two emergences is
a thousand years.

So I looked up the English dictionary and indeed it has now the obsolete
verb dwine (to waste away). It comes from the Saxon verb "dwinan". If it
had been spelled "dwaynan" I would have been 100% sure of the connection
between "dwaynan" and "dwyn".

In systematical biology the biologist will often suspect that the
evolutionary picture is incomplete because of some unknown species. Then
that biologist will begin to search for that unknown species. Often, after
many years, either fossil records or a small living remnant of that
species is found. But in language linguists, even though some of them
might be etymologists, do not have that keen sense of evolution and thus
set out to search for a missing link. Perhaps in the Low Saxon area of the
east Netherlands (Twente, Drente) and north-west Germany there may still
be people who use in Twents or Low German the word "dwyn"=disappearance.

Afterwards I began to look at how many basic words in
Afrikaans still exist beginning with "dw". (I have not listed the
dozens of known alterations on them.) They are nine in number:

I have hidden on purpose the English translation of "dwaal". It
has two classes of translations.
"dwaal"= (1) meander, roam, rove, wander;
. (2) err, linger, misdirect, mistake.
The Old English (Anglos-Saxon) word "dwellan" also had these
two meanings. Unfortunately, only the second meaning (err and
linger) has survived in Modern English.

I find it incredible that two of the main features of creativity, namely
to meander and to make errors are reflected in the two main meanings of
the word "dwaal". The "dwaal"=meander is necessary to travel with a
specific thought through a landscape of thoughts until one can be found
with which a fruitful connection can be made. This is how an idea is
created. The "dwaal"=err means that the connection was not as successful
as was hoped for so that it has to be corrected as soon as possible by
trying again and again.

Many expressive words can be create in Afrikaans with "dwaal"
as root. Here are a few. (Again I have indicated the morphemic
translation in square brackets [ ]. For 'dwell' one of the two
classes of meanings in OE has to be taken. See if you can spot
which one ;-)

I have been a "dwaler"=explorer since my days as a toddler in the physical
and spiritual world. Many times other adults thought I was
"verdwaal"=astray, although I knew where I was. At school I soon learned
to keep my "dwaal-gedagtes"=day-dreaming for myself. Should I tell about
them, they would easily become judged as "dwalings"=errors, the beginning
of a "dwaalleer"=heresy.

When I became a teacher after making peace with my calling, I had to teach
pupils to "dwaal"=meander with their thoughts and not to be afraid for
"dwaal"=err. I soon learned with a shock that the number of pupils whom I
could convince to do it in my class, decreased exponentially from form 8
(first year) to form 12 (fifth year) in high school. Those who did it in
my class discovered a powerful way of creative learning. But they soon
learned to do it only in my class because in other classes they would be
reprimanded as "dwalende"=dissenting learners.

I was very fortunate to have taught at that school. When I became a
lecturer at university four years afterwards, I found the situation to be
even worse. Few students could "dwaal"=meander in their thoughts and
correct their "dwalings"=errors. Few wanted to master how to do it self so
that they could learn creatively.

However, the greatest surprise was the many students who jotted down the
first thought which came up in their memory as a possible answer. The fact
that they knew it could easily be wrong and that they did not intend to
correct it afterwards shocked me. With so much rote learning behind them
they treated academy almost like a lottery. It horrified me and will haunt
me up to my death.

Is this concept "dwaal" not important to a Learning Organisation?

With care and best wishes


At de Lange <> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

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