A Yukaghir girl writes a love letter
February 27, 2019 12:40 PM   Subscribe

 
Well that was cool as hell. I'm can't wait to show this to my daughter when she gets home from school, she's going to love it. Thanks so much posting!
posted by saladin at 12:44 PM on February 27 [1 favorite]


AFAIK this is basically a false presentation -- you can read some background here. The image in the blog post is several steps removed from the original drawing in question, and it wasn't drawn in a context where a recipient was expected to understand it.
posted by value of information at 12:47 PM on February 27 [76 favorites]


Ruh roh, nevermind.
posted by saladin at 12:50 PM on February 27 [2 favorites]


I appreciate that, value. I thought this was too beautiful to be true, but I wanted to be wrong.
posted by Countess Elena at 12:53 PM on February 27 [5 favorites]


Though the debunking itself is fascinating! Well done everyone
posted by tomp at 12:57 PM on February 27 [9 favorites]


There's a similar thing in the Hall of Asian People at the Museum of Natural History here in New York; as far as I'm aware it's the real deal.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:58 PM on February 27


Damn, I was so excited about this that I didn't even read the post's comments.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 1:00 PM on February 27


Yeah, double-fascinating because of the debunking! This is great.
posted by Secretariat at 1:00 PM on February 27 [1 favorite]


I, uh, I had some issues with the AMNH's portrayals of non-European people the last time I was there, this past fall. They seemed to have been installed in 1965 and left to gather dust. I meant to write a strongly worded letter, but I didn't get around to it. Aside from a few new and shiny exhibits, everything was so heavily dated that I figured someone must have told them by now.
posted by Countess Elena at 1:02 PM on February 27 [9 favorites]


an awful lot of AMNH feels like stepping into a history exhibit of history museums
posted by BungaDunga at 1:06 PM on February 27 [17 favorites]


^^^ I still love the planetary hall at the AMNH but oh man, most of the rest of it, particularly the "cultural" ...
posted by Pandora Kouti at 1:09 PM on February 27


Seven minutes passed from the original post until value of information recognized the drawing and linked to a book with a better explanation of what the picture was all about. Again, I am impressed by the knowledge of the people at Metafilter!
posted by Termite at 1:26 PM on February 27 [8 favorites]


Also, value of information had a super eponysterical moment there.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:29 PM on February 27 [17 favorites]


FWIW the original context is still extremely interesting, even though it's presented deceptively in the link (and the deception is also extremely interesting as outline in the background that value of information posted — also the reproduced version leaves a big chunk of the picture out for some reason):

The truth is, as Shargorodskii explained, that the original picture was something he picked up after observing a Yukaghir game something like Twenty Questions. Yukaghir girls carve pictures on birchbark about their love lives, challenging friends who look over their shoulders to guess what they're carving. The artifacts they make in this way are not letters at all. They're just by-products of semiritualized play.

So it's not simply that this wasn't a letter the recipient would have been expected to understand — it was a pictographic riddle, explicitly meant to be both at least somewhat communicative of a thought but challenging to puzzle out.
posted by penduluum at 1:36 PM on February 27 [11 favorites]


Countess Elena, you might enjoy Mieke Bal's article, "Telling, Showing, Showing Off" about AMNH.
posted by Mouse Army at 1:36 PM on February 27


I'd also like to dispute the blog post author's claim, "But most importantly any person using a semasiographic system will have to represent the same idea in the same way. handwriting differences notwithstanding."

Setting aside the question of whether there even are any general semasiographic languages (see the section "The Classification of Writing Systems" at the link posted by value of information above), this doesn't seem likely to be true to me. It's not true of glottographic languages; there are many different ways to say the same thing. Why wouldn't semasiographic languages have the same flexibility? Indeed, the author's own examples of semasiographic systems we are familiar with refutes the notion: of the four traffic signs they chose, two have the same meaning ("Do not enter.")
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:47 PM on February 27 [5 favorites]


I, uh, I had some issues with the AMNH's portrayals of non-European people the last time I was there, this past fall. They seemed to have been installed in 1965 and left to gather dust. I meant to write a strongly worded letter, but I didn't get around to it. Aside from a few new and shiny exhibits, everything was so heavily dated that I figured someone must have told them by now.

Yeah, no arguments here, and I'm saying that as someone who thinks it's a cool place and hits it up once in a while. (I keep that in mind when exploring and supplement it with some outside reading.) The letter I'm referring to is kind of tucked up in an out-of-the-way corner, but it's a deconstruction of an existing visual-writing letter like this.

I also learned something really amusing, which maybe the staff at AMNH may not know - I visited once with an ex who was nearly-fluent in Mandarin, and while we were poking around, I saw a sign the museum had done up and placed over an archway that lead from one room into the next; it was some Chinese text they'd copied off something and painted onto a plain red sign, clearly as a decorative move. "Hey, see that?" I asked my ex, pointing. "Can you read that? Or is it nonsense?"

"Lemme see...." he squinted, and started reading. And yes, it was something coherant. And what's more - it was really, really funny. What was on the sign was an excerpt from a letter that a teacher was writing to a friend complaining about his students and how stupid they were.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:54 PM on February 27 [11 favorites]


Setting aside the question of whether there even are any general semasiographic languages

How close are emojis getting?
posted by jacquilynne at 2:14 PM on February 27 [3 favorites]


Here's a linguist and expert on internet language explaining why emoji really aren't a language. It's a few years old, but nothing has happened in the world of emoji in the last few years to change the conclusion.
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:33 PM on February 27 [5 favorites]


(Which, actually, a lot of the ground covered in that article is generally about why the idea of a semasiographic language isn't super plausible, though there's plenty of specific stuff about emoji too.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:35 PM on February 27


Omnomnom, how long have you had that word in your vocab chamber loaded, waiting for a chance to fire? Is there a word for doing that? I like this submission, OP was interesting, counter-link was even more interesting, and then the comments have taught me a couple new words.

Originally this reminded me of learning about native american languages and cultures in elementary school, more than once I remember getting to write something using a picture key. I drew a lot as a kid (and always?) and I remember how different it felt from drawing, like, mechanically doing similar motions, but the process of turning thoughts into words into pictures was and is an interesting one distinct from the normal drawing process.
posted by GoblinHoney at 3:16 PM on February 27


Amazing isn't it. Suddenly the letter seems so clear after the explanation.
mmm...no?
posted by es_de_bah at 3:18 PM on February 27 [2 favorites]


The best demonstration of the non-language of emoji is the semi-failure of emojli
posted by BungaDunga at 3:23 PM on February 27


2014 piece on Yukaghirs
posted by Ideefixe at 3:26 PM on February 27


Hee!
posted by unliteral at 3:53 PM on February 27 [1 favorite]


Omnomnom, how long have you had that word in your vocab chamber loaded, waiting for a chance to fire?

Not to take away any awesomeness from Omnomnon, but "eponysterical" is a thing around here.
posted by cooker girl at 3:57 PM on February 27 [7 favorites]


There's some fascinating spam in the comments of the FPP blog post. That + the interesting debunking was worth the price of admission.
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:58 PM on February 27 [5 favorites]


I can't find it, but this reminds me of that hoax that purported a Psych professor showed his students a painting of some folks taking a sleigh ride at winter and asked them to say why it was clearly painted by a schizophrenic. Anyone remember that, or am I crazy?

EDIT: Here it is.
posted by es_de_bah at 7:53 PM on February 27


There's some fascinating spam

Are you by any chance a physician?
posted by hat_eater at 11:43 PM on February 27


a rather persistent and focused squiggly

Best euphemism evar
posted by chavenet at 4:10 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


That was too nice to be true... It is somehow sobering to see how scientists (Geoffrey Sampson in this case) can fall in the same traps as the rest of us do, by repeating too-good-to-be-true information told to them with authority without bothering to find the original source. Of course that kind of fact-checking was more difficult in 1985 than it is today: I guess than DeFrancis spent a lot of time establishing the 90-year lineage of the "love letter". I've done some tracking of this sort for my work (using the internet of course) and it's still amusing to find "truths" repeated word for word in modern papers that can be traced back to some offhand observation (or hypothesis) made by one person in the late 19th century in some colonial newsletter and never confirmed since.
Here's a much more recent one: an often-used example of tree communication (and part of the popular "plants are sentient" narrative) claims that Ents acacia trees bitten by antelopes warn other acacias by producing ethylene, which increases the production of toxic tannins in the receiving trees, which are then able to kill the antelopes. The original author, W. van Hoven, first reported this in 1984 in a South African park bulletin, and the story was picked up in 1990 in this New Scientist article. It has been repeated as fact since, for instance in this Smithsonian review (2018), and in scientific books about botany (2018), or philosophy (2016). However, the peer-reviewed paper where this should have been demonstrated (1991) only shows a correlation, and van Hoven's initial claims have never been confirmed since: while van Hoven is not at fault, the fact that some scientists and people involved in science popularization keep repeating his hypothesis as a fact is a problem. To be clear: plant communication is a legitimate field of research and ethylene production as a response to herbivore attacks is well known; however, its effects on herbivore performance remain elusive, see von Dahl et al 2007; in this case, at least, actual specialists don't bother with the acacia-vs-kudus story.
posted by elgilito at 7:18 AM on February 28 [3 favorites]


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