Word on the street is that native american languages conceptualise the world spectacularly differently to Indo-European languages like english or Latin. Where we conceptualise everything as objects in space, and actions as forces acting on those objects, american languages conceptualise everything as processes or flows. This is a fairly monumental difference in world view, as far as I can tell.
One of the key issues here is that old issue of "What's in a name?" To my way of thinking, to name something is to confer a definition on it. Definitions like those in dictionaries, that is. They are essentially very static definitions in one way or another. For example, a cloud is allowed by its definition to take on many shapes, but once it condenses from water vapour into rain, it's no longer a cloud. Whereas a table's definition does require a particular shape. If you cut the legs off, it ceases to be a table. So names are a kind of straitjacket. Once we've consigned an object/concept/action to a named state, we expect certain behaviour from it, we expect it to have certain characteristics, and if it breaches these boundaries, then we consider it to be something else and give it a new name and a new set of expectations.
For the most part we (the West/indo-european speakers) imagine these objects (whether they be tangible things like a human, my cat, this apple, or intangible things like happiness or time) as something that can act, or be possessed, or that can have things done to them. These objects interact via actions of various qualities. The two objects in a particular interaction then continue as they were, unless the action so transformed them that they don't fit their names anymore. Further to this, once the action can be named, it becomes another object. Think of it like a flow chart. Whether a noun or a verb, it will consist of a name inside a box on the flowchart. To sum up, the focus is on the actor and the experiencer (patient) of the verb, rather than on the verb itself. Naturally the verb is important: in the sentence "the cat ate the mouse," there would be nothing to comment on if there was no eating. However the eating is seen as something the cat did, and that happened to the mouse. The focus is on what happened to the cat and the mouse and what the act of eating meant for them, rather than being on the act itself.
Now obviously I'm not an expert, I'm only an armchair linguist, and I'm basing my research purely on wikipedia (insert howls of derisive laughter here). Similarly, I'm making vast generalisations about languages of the americas that are differentiated into hundreds of language families. But here are my impressions and understandings of what seem to be widespread characteristics of american languages.
Whereas Indo-European relates to phenomena as objects in space, american languages (from Inuit to Aymara) seem to relate to phenomena as a series of flows. That sounds a little vague and fuzzy, but I believe it essentially relates to a focus on action and change, rather than a focus on static objects. To put it simply, the verb is more important than the noun.
This is evidenced by the sheer complexity of the verb in a lot of languages. They quite often can be conjugated to include information on subject/actor, object/patient, tense, mood, aspect, evidentiality, indirect object, direction, voice, and the manner in which a movement is made. There are probably other categories as well. Often nouns when they are directly expressed, are incorporated into the structure of the verb, resulting in those crazy long words which equate to entire english sentences, such as
adisbąąs "I'm starting to drive some kind of wheeled vehicle along" (Navajo)
tusaatsiarunnanngittualuujunga I can't hear very well. (Inuktitut)
ni-mit͡s-te:-t͡la-maki:-lti:-s I shall make somebody give something to you (Nahuatl, i.e. aztec)
Another aspect of this focus on the verb is the way many nouns are created from verbs in a language such as Inuktitut. In english we have a similar concept, in that a person who builds houses is known as a builder, and someone who paints is known as a painter. We do change the shape of the word: "He builds" is a different set of words to 'builder' though they are related. In inuktitut, the word "ilisaijuq" is both a verb, meaning 'he studies,' and a noun meaning 'student.' Since if we state about someone 'he studies,' we know he is a student, at least during the time that he is studying. But once again here, the focus is moved away from who 'he' is, to what he's doing. Rather than being given a name as such, it is merely stated what he is doing. The implication is that what he is doing is more important than what he is.
With this conceptualisation taken to its logical conclusion, everything becomes a series of actions or flows. Compare these Inuktitut sentences to their english equivalents.
Qannirmat qainngittunga = because it is snowing, i am not coming.
In the inuktitut, the whole concept is expressed with two words. They are both inflected verbs. The first verb is built around snowing, with suffixes for 4th person and causation, and the second verb is built around 'coming' with suffixes for negation and first person. Whereas in english, we are so focused on the object performing the action, that even where isn't something performing the action, we invent one! (i.e. snowing is purely a process/flow, no one is performing it, but english requires a dummy subject 'it').
I've been grappling with the distinction between the two conceptual metaphors for a while now, but reading one thing in particular crystalised it for me. I was reading the featured wikipedia article on 'the history of evolutionary' thought. It was discussing ancient greek, arabic, and chinese concepts of evolution, and pointed out the platonic and later the christian concepts of evolution, which was that species were a static category and that an animal couldn't diverge from that 'type.' It reminded me of the way we name things in western languages. For the most part, we expect something with a name to continue to be that thing indefinitely, and are then surprised when it changes. It seemed to me that it was reflective of our whole attitude as a civilisation. We build stone monuments and expect them to last forever. Parents get sad as children grow up and are no longer children. We try to fight off death long after the fight becomes futile. We understand protecting nature as trying to restore it to an unchanging 'perfect' state rather than learning to cohabit with it. Without wanting to stray too much into theology, the catholic church seems particularly caught up in this worldview. It talks so much of eternity. It acts as though the ending of old relationships and the beginning of new ones is unnatural. It sees itself as an institution which will continue til the end of time.
I can't help but wonder if all of this is reflective of our view of the world as static objects in space, with time merely a fourth spatial direction. Whereas if everything as seen as flowing, in action, moving, it's reflective of the very true concept that everything is in flux at all times, and that the only constant is change. I wonder does seeing the world like that make change easier to deal with?