Friday, September 29, 2006

Tamazight cartoon

Dissertation all over, submitted, etc. - just enrolling for PhD...

On a different note, I just found a spot-on cartoon about Tamazight (Berber) language activism: Tamaziɣt nni. The speaker is saying, in French: "Azul fell-awen (greetings) - We have the grave duty of not letting Tamazight disappear... is ineluctable to..." The audience member in front of him is saying, in Tamazight (Kabyle): "What's 'ineluctable' mean?"

To my mind, this is perhaps the single biggest problem of some branches (certainly not all) of the Tamazight movement: they talk about developing Tamazight, but they talk and write and think in French. Tizi-Ouzou's walls are covered in aza signs (the Tifinagh letter resembling a man that has become a symbol of Amazigh activism), but its shopfronts and signs are covered in French, even though Arabic signs are regularly vandalised. This gives many other Algerians who would otherwise look more favorably on the idea of developing Tamazight the impression that it's simply a cover for maintaining or extending the (frankly negative) role of French in public life - an impression that is not always false. Personally, I favour a coherent policy: more use of Algeria's native languages - Arabic and Tamazight - in all spheres of life, and less use of foreign ones except in dealing with foreigners.

(And yes, the fact that I am writing this in English is somewhat ironic - but then, I'm writing for an international audience here, and from an English-speaking country.)

Friday, September 15, 2006

Olmec writing from 900 BC found

Almost done - just have to print it out - but I spotted this incredibly cool piece of news:
* Claim of Oldest New World Writing Excites Archaeologists - subscription-only, so see Writing on Olmec Slab Is Hemisphere's Oldest: Tablet of 62 characters dates to about 1000 BC. ('Oldest' New World writing found)

Mesoamerican historical linguists (Dave?) as well as historians must be getting fairly excited - the next oldest Mesoamerican writing was only about 200 BC.

Oh, and another classic example of confused BBC science reporting: "The finding suggests that New World people developed writing some 400 years before their contemporaries in the Western hemisphere." (!)

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Some links

I'm finishing up my thesis, so don't expect a posting for the next week, but in the meantime here's a couple of links:

LinguaMongolica - a site dedicated to classical Mongolian.
Academic Grammar of New Persian

The paper that more or less founded modern typology: Some Universals of Grammar with Particular Reference to the Order of Meaningful Elements (Greenberg 1963).

BBC readers' attitudes to African languages. An interesting range of opinions - probably enough for a small sociolinguistics article right there:
"Whether you were educated in French, English, Spanish or in whatever western language, on this small piece of God's earth called Rwanda, everything is done in Kinyarwanda. In this context, English may be as obscure a language as any other."
"Democracy is such a complex issue that it requires educated people. This being the case, my argument has always been that popular education cannot be achieved relying on a foreign language with which one doesn't have any link other than the fact that it was imposed on you."
"English in my opinion is the most widely spoken language in the world, but the most important language for me is that with which I can speak to my mother, my father, my grand-parents without having to bother if I was making the right sense. This language is Igbo. You can have your own view, but mine is mine."
"African Language are fantastic its makes you feel at home when you speak it. To be taught as a subject could be a big waste of time in school because it can't take you anywhere."
"In Cameroon we have almost 300 different languages beside English and French which are our official language. I am proud to able to read and write both English and French. I don't deem it necessary to learn to learn or know any other language because they cant help me in any way."

Friday, September 01, 2006

What free word order is really all about

Occasionally, I hear Japanese described as free word order because it allows argument scrambling. Then I think of Latin, and go "Hah!" The other day I happened to come across a bit of Virgil that nicely illustrates Latin's horrifying (at least to readers) ability to not only scramble the relative order of noun phrases, but break them up into little bits and scatter them about like confetti:

ultima Cumaei venit iam carminis aetas;
magnus ab integro saeclorum nascitur ordo.

Which might be approximated as:

last Cumaean's comes already song's season;
great from whole centuries' is-born cycle.

but means:
Already the Cumaean [oracle]'s song's last season comes;
The great cycle of the centuries is born anew ("from whole").

For Chomskyan syntacticians, I suppose you'd have to look at it as a kind of quantifer floating-like phenomenon gone mad. Case marking and agreement do help disambiguate it a bit, but still...

This piece of verse, incidentally, is apparently where the slogan on the US dollar, "Novus Ordo Seclorum" (New Order of the Centuries - aka New World Order:), comes from, though I don't see "Novus" in there. Seeing as medieval Christians used to think this poem predicted the coming of the Messiah, and here it's being used rather blatantly to refer to the founding of the US, this is a pretty amazing piece of boasting if you think about it; I guess the "city on a hill" conception of America has been popular for a long time...