Martin Gusinde documented the life and rituals of the Selk'nam people of Tierra del Fuego, off the southern tip of South America from 1918-24. They had been nearly wiped out by a genocide led by Julius Popper, the Tyrant of Tierra del Fuego, their numbers reduced from an estimated four thousand to only a few hundred. Now a book has been published containing hundreds of Gusinde's photos. Forty-five photos are available on the National Library of Chile's website. The last native speaker of Selk'nam, Herminia Vera Illioyen, died in 2014. That same year, linguist Luis Miguel Rojas-Berscia completed a reference grammar of Selk'nam. His friend Joubert Yanten Gomez, a young Selk'nam, has taught himself the language. Selk'nam and efforts to preserve it are one of the languages profiled in Judith Thurman's A Loss for Words, an essay about whether dying languages can be saved.
The Allusionist is a language podcast with a etymological focus by podcaster and linguist Helen Zaltzman. The episodes are about fifteen minutes long and the ones so far have focused on political terms, spaces between words, crosswords, fake dictionary entries, museum display text, latin, curse words [explicit], the term viral, bras, but perhaps it's best to start with the first episode, where Zaltzman interviews her brother Andy on the subject of puns. The Extra Allusionism blog is also worth reading.
Merriam-Webster's Ask the Editors blog is the centerpiece of the Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary site. It is an excellent source of sensible advice about English language and usage. Editor-at-large Peter Sokolowski also has a Twitter feed where he highlights various interesting things about words. Finally, Merriam-Webster has started producing Ask the Editor videos, four so far, where they've tackled the subjects of i before e, classical roots, affect vs. effect and how news stories affect what words people look up online, in this case focusing on the effect of the coverage of Michael Jackson's death. Incidentally, Merriam-Webster have released their top ten words of 2009 list, which is based on what words people looked up.
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.
Everything you wanted to know about pre-Columbian Central America but were afraid to ask lest your heart get ripped out and offered to Quetzalcoatl
The Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies is your one-stop shop for pre-Columbian Central America awesomeness. There are so, so many wondrous things on that site, I don't quite know where to begin. I suppose John Pohl's scholarly introduction is a natural place to start. But maybe you just don't have time to read anything and just want to dive into pretty, pretty pictures. Perhaps the most user-friendly databases are Justin Kerr's photographs Maya Vases (e.g. 1, 2, 3) and Pre-Columbian Portfolio (e.g. 1, 2a, 2b, 3). From there you can delve into the collection of Linda Schele's photographs (e.g. 1, 2) and drawings (e.g. 1, 2, 3). There are more image databases but let me direct you to the collection of old Maya, Aztec and Mixtec books which are simply stunning (e.g. 1, 2, 3, 4 [last link pdf]). You can read more about Mayan and Mixtec codices and download high resolution versions of the entire books. There are also Maya dictionaries, glyph guides, linguistic maps and a who's who. There is also classic Mayan and Aztec poetry in translation. I'm telling you, that's not even half of what this amazing site has to offer.
Ventiçello is a miniature ceramic village sculpted by Steven Travis, who also invented a language and script called Tapissary, which appears on the images.
Ventiçello is a miniature ceramic village sculpted and photographed by Steven Travis, who also invented a language and script called Tapissary, inspired by American Sign Language, which appears on the images.
The story of the strange language of the Pirahã is just as much a story about the state of the field of linguistics. Professor Dan Everett of Illinois State University, who lived for decades with the Pirahã, first as a missionary, then as a linguist, believes Pirahã casts serious doubt upon Chomsky's theory of universal grammar. Chomskyites have started to fight back with a reassessment of Everett's famous paper on the Pirahã, where he claimed that the Pirahã "have no numbers, no fixed color terms, no perfect tense, no deep memory, no tradition of art or drawing, and no words for “all,” “each,” “every,” “most,” or “few”—terms of quantification believed by some linguists to be among the common building blocks of human cognition." He also claims that it doesn't have recursion, a feature of language Chomsky recently claimed was the defining feature of human speech. Dan Everett has rebutted the Chomskyite reassessment of his work. Video interview with Professor Everett. [Pirahã previously covered on MetaFilter in 2004 and 2006]
"Would it be possible to translate Finnegan's Wake or Moby Dick entirely into dingbats, whim-whams and clip art?"
White-o-glyphics. The idea: "If we took all the common graphic symbols floating around nowadays, would we have enough to make a viable hieroglyphic language? Would it be possible to translate Finnegan's Wake or Moby Dick entirely into dingbats, whim-whams and clip art?" Matthew White makes the effort to find out.