(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘lingusitics

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language / And next year’s words await another voice”*…

 

A crescent-shaped, wooden neck ornament from Easter Island made some time in the first half of the nineteenth century. The artifact, decorated with two bearded male heads on either end, contains a line of rongorongo glyphs along its bottom edge. Courtesy: British Museum

Of all the literatures in the world, the smallest and most enigmatic belongs without question to the people of Easter Island. It is written in a script—rongorongo—that no one can decipher. Experts cannot even agree whether it is an alphabet, a syllabary, a mnemonic, or a rebus. Its entire corpus consists of two dozen texts. The longest, consisting of a few thousand signs, winds its way around a magnificent ceremonial staff. The shortest texts—if they can even be called that—consist of barely more than a single sign. One took the form of a tattoo on a man’s back. Another was carved onto a human skull…

Rongorongo is the only script native to the Pacific. Like so much else, it makes Easter Island unique….  Where did the rongorongo script come from? What do its texts communicate?…

The full, fascinating story at “Language at the End of the World.”

* T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

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As we dedicate ourselves to de-cyphering, we might spare a thought for Edward Sapir; he died on this date in 1939.  One of the foremost anthropologists and linguists of his time, Sapir was a founder of ethnolinguistics– the consideration of  the relationship of culture to language– and he was a principal developer of the American (descriptive) school of structural linguistics.  Even more than the specifics of the cultures he studied, Sapir was interested in the more abstract connections between personality, linguistic expression, and socially-determined behavior.

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“Even a broken clock is right twice a day”*…

 

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be, as the saying goes.

Lumberjack beards, old typewriters, old-timey drinks, thick rimmed glasses, your grandmother’s knitting, fixed gear bicycles, mason jars for every occasionworkaday heritage brands, you name it – if it’s oldish, it’s in. All things vintage have now become eagerly sought after status symbols by modern-day consumers of a particular stripe, albeit with an ironic twist, under the insidious guise of counterculture coolness.

These are some of the hallmarks of today’s so-called hipster, the caricatured figure of a subculture much mocked in the media and on the internet, yet who somehow persists in having a widespread impact on popular culture and counterculture as it moves, sometimes unwillingly, into mainstream consciousness…

So if all sorts of retro symbols from the past are being revived, consumed, and regurgitated by a fast-moving hipster culture, it’s a fair question for us language obsessives to ask: is vintage language, perchance, also making a comeback?

In this decidedly unscientific investigation, the answer seems to be a resounding: mayhaps?…

Do the linguistic lambada at “More Hipster than Thou: Is Vintage Language Back in Vogue?

* Proverbial

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As we twist our tongues, we might send improving birthday greetings to Samuel Smiles; he was born on this date in 1812.  A Scottish Chartist writer of many personal improvement books, his “masterpiece,” Self-Help (1859), promoted thrift and claimed that poverty was caused largely by irresponsible habits, even as it attacked materialism and laissez-faire government.  It has been called “the bible of mid-Victorian liberalism”, and turned Smiles into a celebrity overnight.

George Bernard Shaw called Smiles “the modern Plutarch”; but, as F. A. Hayek wrote, “It is probably a misfortune that, especially in the USA, popular writers like Samuel Smiles…have defended free enterprise on the ground that it regularly rewards the deserving, and it bodes ill for the future of the market order that this seems to have become the only defense of it which is understood by the general public. That it has largely become the basis of the self-esteem of the businessman often gives him an air of self-righteousness which does not make him more popular.”

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Your correspondent is headed, as he hopes readers are, into the warm embrace of family and friends for the Holidays; thus (Roughly) Daily is going into its customary Holiday hiatus.  Regular service will resume just after the New Year.  Many thanks for checking in throughout 2015.  Have the Happiest Holidays!

 

Written by LW

December 23, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Numbers constitute the only universal language”*…

 

… or they could.

 xkcd

With 10-digit strings we can distinguish roughly 10,000,000,000 phones from each other. That assumes someone can have the number 000-000-0000, which is probably God’s number; and sure, maybe Satan has laid claim to 666-666-6666, so it’s not available; but we’re only being approximate here. The bottom line is that there’s enough space in principle for everyone in the USA to have 20 or 30 different cell phone numbers, if we use it efficiently.

But we don’t…

Read Geoffrey K. Pullam‘s thoughts on making more sensible use of our phone numbering system, in the always-illuminating Language Log.

* Nathaniel West

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As we subscribe to sensible semiotics, we might recall that it was on this date in 1905 that the first U.S. advertisement for a radio receiver– the “Telimco Wireless Telegraph Outfit”– appeared in Scientific American.

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Written by LW

November 25, 2012 at 1:01 am

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