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AWADmail Issue 103

December 10, 2003

From: Anu Garg (garg AT wordsmith.org)
Subject: Interesting stories from the net

Fascinating article about books in electronic form:

English language traced to Turkish farmers?:

Reviving dead languages:

From: Nicolas Steenhout (vavroomATbmee.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--sachem

Doesn't a language die with the second to last person to speak it? :-)

From: Keala Jones (cjonesAThpu.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--high-muck-a-muck

Regarding today's phrase "high muck-a-muck", you might be interested to know that the common slang in Hawaiian Pidgin for "stuck-up" is "high makamaka", taken from the Hawaiian word "maka", meaning "eye". The inference is that a prideful person keeps his/her head and eyes high.

Coincidentally, the pidgin makamaka and English muck-a-muck are phonetically very similar. Until today's issue, I always thought that muck-a-muck was a derivation of the Hawaiian, so it was very interesting to me to learn an alternate source behind the colloquialism.

From: Robert Cook (geoduckATwebave.com)
Subject: Muck-a-muck

Whenever I hear the phrase "muck-a-muck", I think of the scifi novel _Prostho Plus_, by Piers Anthony. I generally consider Anthony to be the very definition of 'hack', but PP is a fun little romp in which a human dentist is kidnapped by aliens and forced, semi-unwillingly, to travel the galaxy battling tooth decay. To communicate, he's given a universal translator which he has to program himself; when it comes to designating the concept of "Any Important Leader", in a moment of levity he codes in the phrase "The Grand High Muck-A-Muck of Freep." This causes problems for him later, when this same phrase can now apply to anything from a entity the size of a whale to a critter he needs to use a microscope just to see.

From: Kyle J. Ambrose (kambroseATmali.maf.net)
Subject: Language Extinction

The loss of a language is not necessarily irreversible. Many people still read and write, and a few speak Latin. In the case of Latin it did not so much go extinct as it bore children and spread out. Latin culture is preserved in various small ways throughout the world. Welsh has seen a small but enthusiastic revival. Hebrew was not exactly extinct, but it certainly has been revived as a living language, and a new Israeli culture has evolved in the process.

From: Jonathan Schrire (ajaxATiafrica.com)
Subject: Dying languages

You are right about languages being the repository of culture and community knowledge. In Southern Africa the original inhabitants, before whites or blacks got here, were the KhoiSan (Bushmen and Hottentots). There are similarities to the American Indians, for the Bushmen did not speak one language, but many different ones. Almost all of these San languages are now extinct. In the late 19th century several were still spoken, but less than 100 years later they were gone.

One of the results is that there is no memory among the present Bushman descendants of what their rock art means. These paintings, which are found all over their territory, have profound spiritual and cultural meaning, but in the space of 100 years the knowledge of this has gone. So we now have later scholars poring over these paintings and making inspired guesses as to the meaning of the art. Amazing and tragic to think that this knowledge died out with the languages little more than 100 years ago!

From: Sarah Grafman (sbgrafmanATyahoo.com)
Subject: Rosetta Project

Just wanted to send this link: rosettaproject.org/ It's a pretty remarkable resource for language comparisons and remembering "dead" languages.

From: Julia Battle (jugieATcenturytel.net)
Subject: Re: Native American words

I recently got to know a woman who is from the Chitimacha tribe here in Southwestern Louisiana. She had an interesting story about their native language. As with many of these the last person that spoke the language died and they thought it was lost and, as you mentioned, also a great deal of their culture. Well, many years later they were contacted by someone from the Smithsonian who had found waxed cylinders with the recorded Chitimatca stories and history told in their language. This linguist had not known that there were any living members of this tribe, but had taken on the project as just a challenge, and had come up with a dictionary of their language. Anyway, he found out that there still was a tribe and that they were excited about relearning their language, so in the last 20 years the language has been reintroduced. They teach it to the students in the school on the reservation and they have classes for adults also.

I thought you might be interested to know that there is one language that has come back to life! Also, the Chitimacha tribe is the only US tribe that has a reservation on their ancestral lands.

From: Ed Buhl (etbuhlATaol.com)
Subject: sachem

Languages are only one of the treasures lost to the many tribes who inhabited this land before the coming of the white man. Try tribal memories and identification; Indians were herded willy-nilly into Oklahoma -- so-called "Indian Territory" because it was so bare and desolate -- and today many are no longer sure what tribe they came from. Try ancestral homelands, sacred to people for whom ancestors were so important. The disappearance of language is only the latest chapter of a heartbreaking history. The technology of war seems to be the factor that decides what cultures survive. How long will this continue?

From: Matt Hinton (surfotterATaol.com)
Subject: Native American languages

But something is being done, thank heavens. Not enough, and far too late for many languages, but at least some of those that still survive are not being abandoned. Some nations are going to extraordinary lengths. The Wiyot (or Weott) people of coastal northwestern California were victims of a terrible massacre by vigilantes in 1860. That was the beginning of a long, slow decline that led to the loss of, among other things, their language. A recent resurgence of interest in their history and culture among the tribe's members has led to an attempt to resurrect the language, which now has no native speakers. An ethnographer took extensive notes on the language in (as I recall) the 60's, using the few surviving elders who still spoke it, and those notes are now being used to recreate the language from scratch.

My sister, a professor of linguistics at University of California, Berkeley, has been very much involved in efforts to rescue or resurrect Native American languages. She even testified before congress this year on the subject. She's been instrumental in setting up master/apprentice programs for many nations, including our local Hupa, Karuk and Yurok peoples. These efforts also involve establishing standard orthographies for the languages, most of which never existed in written form. Her work even took her last year to Finland, where the Sami people [aka Laplanders] have set up a program to preserve and standardize the several versions of their language.

From: Prof. Robert Fredericks (xuuxtukAThotmail.com)
Subject: Indigenous words

Your theme this week is a real tequio (community service) or even a guelaguetza (first-fruit offering, derived from the Zapotec expression guel guetz, meaning "twenty ears of corn", which we can take as a multi-purpose indigenous "shalom" which "fits in" with a whole range of social customs: weddings, baptisms, funerals, nuptial arrangements, peace treaties). You see, we have a multi-lingual poetry reading in the state "House of Culture" tomorrow night! We will be reading the haiku poems of Mario Benedetti in their original Spanish, in my own translations to English (read in public by Oaxacan ESL students)... Plus several of the 17 distinct indigenous languages of Oaxaca. One of our collaborators, a Oaxacan poet very active in women's poetry, is paying some of our indigenous students to translate her poems into their languages so that she can present them multi-lingually in Toulouse, France. Oh! i just got a message from one of the students who will be reading in English. Soon to be a graduate of the language-techer training program at the state university, and currently teaching ESL in a couple of schools, he is Zapotec himself,and got inspired by our efforts to recover his Zapotec! He will be reading both English and Zapotec versions. How has he been polishing his Zapotec translations? With his mother and his aunt! Now that's a real "mother tongue"!

I'll be looking forward to the rest of the entries for this week and hoping to see some of the expressions which have worked their way into everyday language: bury the hatchet, smoke the peacepipe, walk a mile in the moccasins of another.

Many thanks from Oaxaca!

From: Douglas Beebe (dbeebeATstate.pa.us)
Subject: Oh-so-PC view of master & slave servers or drives (AWADmail 101)

I'll bet you could elicit similar stories from plumbers and electricians. Every once in a while I (who am in neither of those trades) get a strange look when I mention a male plug or female coupling. If I've received such looks or comments, the pros must have received a multitude. Yet it's almost impossible to order fittings at a plumbing store w/o using such terms.

From: Jon Siegel (public1ATjonsiegel.com)
Subject: Re: AWADmail Issue 102

In the book that originally made him famous, "Understanding Media", published in 1964, McLuhan definitely said "The medium is the message" - that's the title of the first chapter. That thesis is developed solidly as the chapter progresses, and referred to throughout the book, making it one that scholars can refer to quite legitimately. "The medium is the massage" is a subsequent book, published about three years later, and the title is a play on the phrase made famous by the first book. By then McLuhan was trading on the fame that arose from "Understanding Media". This fame (or notoriety) also led to a long and very visible career including a cameo in Woody Allen's film "Annie Hall".

Dictionaries are like watches: the worst is better than none, and the best cannot be expected to go quite true. -Samuel Johnson

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