When we say “plant,” we immediately affiliate our speech and understanding with the Latin tradition. The word recalls, through the noun planta (still preserved in the same form in Spanish and Portuguese), the verb plantāre that means “to drive in with one’s feet, to push into the ground with one’s feet,” hinting at that other sense of planta, intimately tied to our bodies—“the sole of a foot” (cf. Barnhart’s Dictionary of Etymology). A mindboggling number of assumptions about plants and our comportment toward them are built into this etymology. Some of the tacit suppositions it underwrites are the following: 1) the soil needs to be leveled and made flat before planting can begin; 2) the root is equivalent to feet, by which plants are driven into the ground; [etc. etc. etc.]
But I’m quoting it mainly for the passage on Basque, which I dedicate to the late Larry Trask, that connoisseur of Bascomania:
And what if the word for “plant” is absent? That, as a matter of fact, was the case in Euskera (Basque language, which does not belong to the group of Indo-European languages) before its speakers adopted the designation landare from the Latin-based plantāre. According to the explanation I received from my Basque colleagues, Euskera put at the disposal of its speakers names for particular plants (a birch, an oak, peas, wheat…) without generalizing them under an abstract heading, a higher class. Perhaps, the distance from the vegetal world was insufficient to transform it into an object—above all, in and through language—set over and against the human subject. Whatever the explanation, such a level of singularity is virtually inaccessible to our modern sensibilities; at the limit, we can only get an inkling of it with the help of ethical categories and precepts.
Ah, those primitive Basques, so close to the vegetable world they can’t see the forest for the trees! (Thanks go to Trevor for the link.)