(Great video + summarizing text) In America, white people are referred to as Caucasians, but outside the U.S. the term refers to people from the Caucasus region, which includes the countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Russia, and Turkey. So why do Americans refer to people of European ancestry as Caucasians? In the video above, Franchesca Ramsey from MTV’s Decoded takes a look at the word’s history and it’s really racist. [more inside]
Last week, the BBC radio programme Woman’s Hour ran an item on the American documentary film "Do I Sound Gay?" The film explores what’s popularly known as ‘the gay voice’, a way of speaking that identifies a man as gay (though not all gay men have it, and some men who do sound gay are actually straight). The Woman’s Hour feature ranged more widely over the subject of gay language, including a lengthy discussion of Polari (previously: 1, 2). But it was all about the boys–-until, towards the end of the item, the presenter broached the inevitable question: do lesbians also have a language of their own? Nothing comparable to Polari--but we do have some historical evidence of in-group lesbian slang.
Science once communicated in a polyglot of tongues, but now English rules alone. How did this happen – and at what cost?
Over the past few years, some researchers have been arguing using mathematical tree-building and dating techniques, that the Indo-Europeans originated in Anatolia. In an article [.pdf] in the latest issue of Language, a group of historical and computational linguists using similar techniques say otherwise . [more inside]
31 Adorable Slang Terms for Sexual Intercourse from the Last 600 Years Lexicographer Jonathon Green’s comprehensive historical dictionary of slang, Green’s Dictionary of Slang, covers hundreds of years of jargon, cant, and naughty talk. He has created a series of online timelines (here and here) where the words too impolite, indecent, or risqué for the usual history books are arranged in the order they came into fashion. (If you don’t see any words on the timelines, zoom out using the bar on the right.) We’ve already had fun with the classiest terms for naughty bits. Here are the most adorable terms for sexual intercourse from the last 600 or so years.
In the Spanish province of Burgos, Castile y León, about 200 kilometers north of Madrid, is a tiny little village named Castrillo Matajudíos (pop. 60). The village is considering changing its name. [more inside]
This book deals with the Dialect of the English Language that is spoken in Ireland. As the Life of a people—according to our motto—is pictured in their speech, our picture ought to be a good one, for two languages were concerned in it—Irish and English. ... Here for the first time—in this little volume of mine—our Anglo-Irish Dialect is subjected to detailed analysis and systematic classification.P.W. Joyce's 1910 work, "English as We Speak it in Ireland," is a fascinating chronicle of a language's life, and no mistake. [more inside]
Here are a glossary and alphabet for the Lingua Ignota, the secret language created by Hildegard of Bingen, the 12th century abbess, seer, doctor, and composer.
When Hollywood turned to talkies, it created a not-quite-British, not-quite-American style of speaking that has all but disappeared.
"The discovery advances UC Berkeley’s mission to make sense of big data and to use new technology to document and maintain endangered languages as critical resources for preserving cultures and knowledge. [...] it can also provide clues to how languages might change years from now."
First noticed on tumblr but now available to all, Alex Clayden's paper "Same-Sex Desire in Pharaonic Egypt" which, among other things, tells you about the connection between lettuce and semen and the Ancient Egyptian for "You have a nice ass."
Historically, the city states of the Malay Peninsula often paid tribute to regional kingdoms such as those of China and Siam. Closer relations with China were established in the early 15th century during the reign of Parameswara, founder of Melaka, when Admiral Zheng He (Cheng Ho) sailed through the Straits of Malacca. Impressed by the tribute, the Yongle Emperor of China is said to have presented Princess Hang Li Po* as a gift to Mansur Shah, then Sultan of Malacca (+/-1459 AD). Tradition claims the courtiers and servants who accompanied the princess settled in Bukit Cina, intermarried with the locals and grew into a community known as the Peranakan. Colloquially known as Baba-Nyonya, the Peranakan or Straits Chinese, they retained many of their ethnic and religious customs, but assimilated the language and clothing of the Malays. They developed a unique culture and distinct foods. Nyonya cuisine is one of the most highly rated in the South East Asian region, considered some of the most difficult to master but very easy to love and enjoy.
Meta: word-forming element meaning 1. "after, behind," 2. "changed, altered," 3. "higher, beyond;" from Gk.
Are you enthusiastic ("pertaining to possession by a deity," from Gk. enthousiastikos "inspired," from enthousiazein ) about Etymology? ( ethimolegia "facts of the origin and development of a word," from O.Fr. et(h)imologie (14c., Mod.Fr. étymologie), from L. etymologia, from Gk. etymologia, properly "study of the true sense (of a word)," Then why not explore ( 1580s, "to investigate, examine," a back formation from exploration, or else from M.Fr. explorer (16c.), from L. explorare ) the vast resources (1610s, "means of supplying a want or deficiency," from Fr. resourse) of the ONLINE ETYMOLOGY DICTIONARY [more inside]
Who Draws The Borders Of Culture?(NYTimes) Cultural border, as opposed to national borders, are funny things. One country can contain many (Coke vs. Soda. Vs. Pop, previously and previously-er). Cultural borders often appear as food and drink choices, like sweet tea, forms of alcohol, or BBQ sauce. [more inside]
In 2005, Steven Spielberg and Dreamworks produced a 6 episode miniseries that spanned the period of expansion of the United States into the American West, from 1825 to 1890. Through fictional and historical characters, the series used two primary symbols--the wagon wheel and the Lakota medicine wheel -- to join the story of two families: one Native American, one White settlers, as they witnessed many of the 19th century's pivotal historical milestones. The award-winning Into The West can now be seen in its entirety on YouTube. [more inside]
The myth of English as a global language One would have to say that English, far from being a pure maiden, looks like a woman who has appeared out of some distant fen, had more partners than Moll Flanders, learned a lot in the process, and is now running a house of negotiable affection near an international airport
The Corpus of American Historical English is a searchable index of word usage in American printed material from 1810 to 2009. Powerful complex searches allow you to trace the appearance and evolution of words and phrases and even specific grammatical constructions, see trends in frequency, and plenty more. Start with the 5-Minute Tour.
A decade on, the Coen brothers' woefully underrated O Brother, Where Art Thou? [alt] is remembered for a lot of things: its sun-drenched, sepia-rich cinematography (a pioneer of digital color grading), its whimsical humor, fluid vernacular, and many subtle references to Homer's Odyssey. But one part of its legacy truly stands out: the music. Assembled by T-Bone Burnett, the soundtrack is a cornucopia of American folk music, exhibiting everything from cheery ballads and angelic hymns to wistful blues and chain-gang anthems. Woven into the plot of the film through radio and live performances, the songs lent the story a heartfelt, homespun feel that echoed its cultural heritage, a paean and uchronia of the Old South. Though the multiplatinum album was recently reissued, the movie's medley is best heard via famed documentarian D. A. Pennebaker's Down from the Mountain, an extraordinary yet intimate concert film focused on a night of live music by the soundtrack's stars (among them Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris, Chris Thomas King, bluegrass legend Dr. Ralph Stanley) and wryly hosted by John Hartford, an accomplished fiddler, riverboat captain, and raconteur whose struggle with terminal cancer made this his last major performance. The film is free in its entirety on Hulu and YouTube -- click inside for individual clips, song links, and breakdowns of the set list's fascinating history. [more inside]
How new words are created - just one section of a site that charts 'How English went from an obscure Germanic dialect to a global language'.
The Declaration of Independence is perhaps the most masterfully written state paper of Western civilization. As Moses Coit Tyler noted almost a century ago, no assessment of it can be complete without taking into account its extraordinary merits as a work of political prose style. Although many scholars have recognized those merits, there are surprisingly few sustained studies of the stylistic artistry of the Declaration. This essay seeks to illuminate that artistry by probing the discourse microscopically -- at the level of the sentence, phrase, word, and syllable. The University of Wisconsin's Dr. Stephen E. Lucas meticulously analyzes the elegant language of the 235-year-old charter in a distillation of this comprehensive study. More on the Declaration: full transcript and ultra-high-resolution scan, a transcript and scan of Jefferson's annotated rough draft, the little-known royal rebuttal, a thorough history of the parchment itself, a peek at the archival process, a reading of the document by the people of NPR and by a group of prominent actors, H. L. Mencken's "American" translation, Slate's Twitter summaries, and a look at the fates of the 56 signers.
The Ashtray: The Ultimatum. Part one of a series by Errol Morris on meaning, truth, intolerance and flying ashtrays. [more inside]
Online Corpora. In linguistics, a corpus is a collection of 'real world' writing and speech designed to facilitate research into language. These 6 searchable corpora together contain more than a billion words. The Corpus of Historical American English allows you to track changes in word use from 1810 to present; the Corpus del Español goes back to the 1200s.
The BBC presents a wee Flash gubbins that discusses the history of the English language in ten parts.
The Language of Food is a blog with only four entries, but each one is an excellent, well-researched essay on, yes, food and language: ketchup, entrée, dessert, and ceviche. The author, Dan Jurafsky, teaches a parallel course at Stanford, the syllabus for which you can peruse here. via (mefi's own) honestengine.blogspot.com
Information-age math finds code in ancient Scottish symbols. "The ancestors of modern Scottish people left behind mysterious, carved stones that new research has just determined contain the written language of the Picts, an Iron Age society that existed in Scotland from 300 to 843. The highly stylized rock engravings, found on what are known as the Pictish Stones, had once been thought to be rock art or tied to heraldry. The new study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A, instead concludes that the engravings represent the long lost language of the Picts, a confederation of Celtic tribes that lived in modern-day eastern and northern Scotland."
From 1864 to 1904, the Russian Empire tried to quelch the nationalism of Lithuanians by ordering all Lithuanian texts to be printed with Cyrillic characters instead of in the Latin-derived Lithuanian or Polish alphabets. But they didn't count on the Knygnešiai - the Booksmugglers. [more inside]
Cool Antarctica is a site dedicated to all things Antarctic. There are pictures (penguins), videos (including, among much else, an old documentary about Edmund Hillary's and Vivian Fuchs' Transantarctic Expedition), a history section focusing on the famous explorers (e.g. Amundsen, Scott, Shackleton, Charcot and de Gerlache) and a fact file, which includes what may be my favorite section, an Antarctic slang dictionary (degomble: removing snow that's stuck to clothing before going inside - monk-on: a term for being in a bad, usually introspective mood, "he's got a monk-on" - poppy: alcoholic beverage that is chilled with natural Antarctic ice). All this is but a taster of what's on the website.
Scholars at odds over mysterious Indus script. The Indus script is the collection of symbols found on artifacts from the Harappan civilization, which flourished in what is now eastern Pakistan and western India between 2,600 and 1,900 B.C. A new analysis using pattern-analyzing software suggests that the script may constitute a genuine written language. [Via]
"Cultures at the far edge of the world" (YT) and "The worldwide web of belief and ritual" (YT). Two TED talks by anthropologist and explorer Wade Davis (previously) on the diversity of the world's indigenous cultures and their beliefs, and the richness of the "Ethnosphere," which he describes as "the sum total of all thoughts and dreams, myths, ideas, inspirations, intuitions brought into being by the human imagination since the dawn of consciousness." [Via Mind Hacks]
Embrace the Suck. Intensive military activity creates an incubator for slang. By bringing together people from geographically diverse backgrounds, putting them into stressful circumstances, and teaching them a new language of jargon and acronym, the armed forces create fertile ground for new idioms - many of which return home in civvies when the conflicts are over. In the Civil War, World War I and World War II, in Korea and in Viet Nam, servicepeople created or popularized now-familiar terms like shoddy, hotshot, cooties, tailspin, fleabag, face time, joystick, SNAFU, FUBAR, flaky, gung ho, no sweat, flame-out, and many, many others. Now, the GWOT brings us a new generation of 'milspeak'. Military columnist Austin Bay has published an early collection of neologisms from Gulf War II. On NPR, Bay explains what The Suck is, how to identify a fobbit, and why Marines look down on the attitude of Semper I.
Forgotten vocabulary. Words and phrases from an earlier era, the early Nineteenth century. Some slang too. (via the Presurfer)
'What words say does not last. The words last. Because words are always the same, and what they say is never the same.'
Writing has been around for a long time, but that doesn't mean we've mastered it yet. Want to make fiction? Perhaps it makes itself, perhaps it makes you... Self reference breeding infinite hyperrealities. Which world will you choose?
In April of 1817, a distraught, exotic, bizarre young lady wearing a black turban appeared in the village of Almondsbury, England. She spoke an unintelligible language, and mystified villagers brought her to see the local magistrate. Linguistic experts of the day were baffled: until a Portuguese sailor appeared, who claimed to be able to translate. He explained that she was kidnapped royalty from the island of Javasu. She called herself Princess Caraboo.
AncientScripts.com : discover introductions to more than 70 ancient and modern writing systems, from LinearB to hPhags-pa to Cherokee. View languages by type, family, or region. Many links to further reading on each subject, plus other goodies.
CELT, the Corpus of Electronic Texts, "brings the wealth of Irish literary and historical culture to the Internet, for the use and benefit of everyone worldwide. It has a searchable online database consisting of contemporary and historical texts from many areas, including literature and the other arts." It has texts in Irish, Latin, Anglo-Norman French, and English, ranging from the annals of the fifth century to the Agreement reached in the Multi-Party Negotiations in Northern Ireland of 1998. "Great my glory/ I that bore Cuchulainn the valiant..."
Rongorongo! Say it twice -- don't it feel nice? Most people think of the enigmatic maoi when they think of Easter Island but an equally vexing mystery is found in twenty-six wooden objects which contain pictographic symbols comprising...what? A language? A mnemomic system for recording stories now long forgotten? A resource for modern primitives' tribal tatoos? We could ask, but the authors are long-gone -- the victims of hard times -- leaving only a few tablets and a bunch of carved stone to puzzle over.
Quanto putas mihi stare hoc conclave ? That's "How many prostitutes does it take to change a lightbulb?" in Latin. No, actually it's "How much do you think I paid for this apartment?". Here's hoping, in the wake of the BBC's superb The Roman Way series, written and presented by David Aaranovich, that good old Latin is on its way back, albeit in an Internet, soundbitey way. Those intending to smuggle some into MetaFilter should definitely start here. The owner, for instance, might find Ne ponatur in mea vicinitate useful - "Not in my backyard". And Nihil curo de ista tua stulta superstitione - "I'm not interested in your dopey religious cult" should prove popular in the God threads. Vale!
For the MonkeyLovers out there: A Natural History of the @ Sign (If you're Dutch, you may refer to this symbol as "apeklootje" or "little monkey's testicle")
Talk is cheap Coming soon: 50-90% off. Discuss (in English).