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Friday. Meet Paul from Romania, though somehow we miss each other off the night train. He tells me some excellent stories about life in Bucharest. In the early evening, Boardgame Orsolya explains that conventional fatalism and free will are not the opposites they seem. Her view: personhood is a mistake, and thinking either that a) you have to be a person to act responsibly, or that b) not being a person allows you to act irresponsibly, creates a false dichotomy. Working with what she calls the free play of universal consciousness is, it appears, not something like either orthodox free will or orthodox determinism. Perhaps like swimming with and against various currents. I had that view decades ago but couldn't articulate any better.
Thursday. For everyone out there called something like Chelonis or Spektre or Remo. People with normal names aren't allowed to make tunes like this.
Wednesday. Along with oil prices (since the semi-secret US/Saudi oil-production-increase deal) the ruble is collapsing this week. Has Putin been foiled, as they used to say? One friend says this week that ISIS/Daesh is a better arch-enemy wheeze than bin Laden because "he was just one dude, now they've got a whole legion of dudes".
Tuesday. Markets make fun of investors. Statisticians
fight back against noise.
Monday. Junior RBS employee writes open letter to Russell Brand. Amateur humourist better at humour than amateur economist is at economics.
Sunday. Naughty cheat where someone sings a supposedly authentic ancient Babylonian song despite having only lyrics yet no pitch notation, so the tune is made up. Quite pleasant - again a bit Dead Can Dance in feel - but I'm sure if the same reconstruction had been tried in the 1950s, the tune would have been guessed at totally differently. Meanwhile, here is the little-seen earlier version of Mona Lisa / Giaconda by da Vinci. She looks perhaps a decade younger, sweeter, and the background landscape's better too. Somehow cleaner, sharper.
Saturday. Are swingers in open relationships happier than other folk? Seems unlikely, but these researchers think so.
Friday. Fresh from viewing Esoteric Veronica's riverfront office some distance south in the 22nd district, glittering in strangely bracing, uplifting winter sun, I pick up the 2nd batch of prints from the printer and then find Harry outside his stylish fitness gym at 4.30pm, the streets by then completely dark.
December 11th; Thursday. Photo records Apollo space project lead software engineer + code.
December 10th; Wednesday. According to The Register, the US has the world's 2nd biggest welfare system, meaning biggest per person. North Korea, however, has the planet's largest submarine fleet.
December 9th; Tuesday. How could we forget the Daddy of the MacDaddy so quickly? After a flyby ale with the glamorous Kirsten, a wonderful surprise outing with Franc & Viki where, emboldened by a cherry-themed Belgian beer and a divine dinner, I ramble on about chivalric diplomats, lost civilisations, lesbians: the usual.
December 8th; Monday. Meet a charming illustrator for a drink and finish a text from Robin's library called 'The City of Florence' by R.W.B. Lewis. This is a curious combination of Florentine history, architecture, and anecdotes by a US writer who recounts how he first saw Florence as an army officer during World War Two, and came back again and again as an academic during the postwar years. There are episodes from the last 700 years. The book is rich in descriptions of the more recent centuries, visits late in the 19th century by American writers, and finishes strangely with write-ups of various much-loved shopkeepers and restauranteurs in several districts of the city. In places an awkward mix, there are nonetheless fascinating moments which other histories of Florence (once seeing itself as the new Rome) tend to leave out. The floods, the public debates about the placement of famous statues, the philistine dynamiting of the mediaeval city walls in the 1860s, its brief spell as the capital of the newly unified Italy, some family gossip of remarkable citizens who begat other remarkable citizens. Doesn't quite work as a book, but some fine bits.
Sunday. Met up again with Esoteric Veronica, her friend Ili, and Slovak Magyar Tarot reader Eva for some interesting discussion about the full moon and various turning points. Here an American conservative defender of public transit points out that cars and roads grew at the expense of bus and rail early in the last century due to massive government subsidies to road-building, combined with taxation of rail-based tram networks.
Saturday. Today joined Esoteric Veronica for a very enjoyable rock/classical spectacular thing she invited me and her friend Ili to at the large indoor stadium. Big music, big songs, big emotions: an audience of perhaps 12,000 was thoroughly entertained. The pianist at the centre of it clearly has the sure instincts of a proper showman. Light shows, dancers, video on a big screen all accompanied a programme of rousing orchestral numbers, ethnic song drum & dance pieces, intercut with a couple of quiet piano items for variation. A video back screen showed starry nights, orange clouds of fiery explosions, and slow-motion splashes of primary-coloured paint during one number where a woman singer seemed to be chant/singing (I might be wrong) "I'd-die-for-rock-and-roll-I'd-die-for-rock-and-roll-I'd-die-for-rock-and-roll---" at full belt. There was some Liszt and probably lots of other famous melodies, it all being too well blended and me being too ignorant of the classical canon for me to be sure, all put together with quick, well-rehearsed precision. The crowd applauded with sincere enthusiasm at every break. The overall effect was of
Hollywood thriller climax tunes crossed with the
Last Night of the Proms,
plus a smidgeon of
Dead Can Dance sprinkled over the top. A swelling, Proms-like ending had backscreen video speeding over valleys of sunflowers while black and white balloons descended on the audience.
Not so different, on the subject of emotional film scores, last night watched 'District 9', the imaginative 2009 alien-sci-fi film set in the Johannesburg slums. Some wonderfully convincing details, such as the way the South Africans refer to the ghetto aliens as 'The Prawn'. Hilarious and horrifying by turns, the bureaucratic back story is especially well sketched. If there is a flaw it was in placing the story 20 years into the future. 6 years, or 11, would have been fine for the tale to work. But, most unusually for sci-fi, a character persuasively undergoes real emotional change.
Friday. Yesterday was complex. Today more teaching. 2 articles about Putin & Russia:
Thursday. Remains of a big Norman palace have been found under Old Sarum, an odd hillock I've had my eye on for some time.
Wednesday. More dreary weather. I'm told plusher suburbs of the city had trees so iced up with freezing rain that heavier branches broke off and downed some power lines in the last day or two. Three different musical groups from sunnier climes or times that called themselves Something Continentals, evidently once a choice name that seemed to promise fame & fortune.
The Continental Cousins;
The Fabulous Continentals.
Tuesday. On train back to Budapest am able to get power socket in my carriage to work. Exult in the small victories, citizens. American radio broadcaster Ira Glass talks engagingly about
The Arabian Nights, about two ways in which his post-radio television appearances
changed his life, and about how he
became an atheist endearingly sympathetic to Christians' beliefs. Here Glass gives excellent advice on making good radio or television documentaries.
Monday. Tedious grey skies and drippy rain continue while I snuffle with a cold. Spend yesterday afternoon and all of today toiling over some 15-page business-plan document for a friend. Zsuzsi makes a nice piquant sauce with what's left of the
Recent weblog entries
Who can translate the next 300 words into
us and there will be revelry.
Languages dying out each week
- who cares?
We do - otherlanguages.org is gradually building a reference resource for over five thousand linguistic minorities and stateless languages worldwide.
Thousands of unique language communities are becoming extinct. Out of the world's five to six thousand languages, we hardly know what we're losing, what literatures, philosophies, ways of thinking, are disappearing right now.
We may soon regret the extinction of thousands of entire linguistic cultures even more than we regret the needless extinction of many animals and plants.
The planet is increasingly dominated by a handful of major-language monocultures like Mandarin
Chinese, Hindi, Arabic, Indonesian, Urdu, Spanish, Portuguese,
English, Swahili, Russian, Cantonese Chinese, Japanese, Bengali - all
beautiful and fascinating languages.
But so are the 5,000 others.
These are groups of people?
Linguistic minorities are communities of ordinary people whose native tongue is not their country's main official language. Swedish speakers in Finland, French speakers in Canada, Hungarian speakers in Slovakia - and hundreds more - are linguistic minorities.
And totally stateless languages are the native languages of some of the world's most intriguing, little-known, cultures. Like the Lapps inside the Arctic Circle, the Sards in Sardinia, Ainus in Japan. Cherokee in the US, Scots
Gaelic in Britain, Friesian in the Netherlands, Zulu in South Africa.
There are only a couple of hundred recognised sovereign states and territories, so 5,000 languages - more depending on how you count - are the native tongues of linguistically stateless people.
How could I help?
You don't need to learn an endangered
language - any more than go to live in the rainforest to help slow its destruction.
A good start is to just tell friends
about websites like this.
Broader public interest makes it easier
for linguists to raise funds and organise people to learn these languages while there's time.
That's right. There are people who love languages and are happy to learn them on behalf of the rest of us, but they need support, just like zoologists, botanists, or historians.
Fewer languages still sounds good to me
Depends what you think languages are for. They're not just a tool for business. We never said you should learn three or four thousand rare languages - or even one. And which ones we make children learn in school, or whether we should force children to learn languages at all, is another question.
Typical scene in a European city;
Chances are, folk here speak some sort of foreign
A century ago - before we understood
ecology, and when we cared less about wilderness, most educated
people would have laughed at the idea of worrying about plants or
animals going extinct. Now we understand how important species diversity
is for our own futures, we are more humble, and more worried.
In the same way, linguistic triumphalism by English-speakers who hated studying foreign grammar at school is dangerously ignorant as well as arrogant. Few of us know what we are losing, week by week.
How many people realise these languages have scientific value?
You can think of these languages across the planet as beautiful cathedrals or
precious archeological sites we are watching being destroyed. That
should be motive enough.
But these five thousand languages may
also hold clues to the structure of the human mind. Subtle
differences and similarities
between languages are helping
archeologists and anthropologists to
understand what happened in the hundreds
of centuries of human
history before written history. And
that is one of our best chances of understanding how human brains developed over the thousands of centuries leading up to that.
Wireless radio can be a great comfort to those unable
to leave the
textbooks in which they live *6
Study of the mind and study of language go hand in hand these days. The world's most marginal languages are actually precious jigsaw pieces from an overall picture of who we are and how our species thinks and evolves. Every tiny language adds another brightly-coloured clue to this academic detective story.
Yet researchers have hardly started sifting through this
tantalising evidence, and language extinction is washing it away right in
front of us.
And worst of all, most people have no idea that there is this
fantastic profusion of cultures across our world, let alone that
they are in danger of extinction. Even just more people learning that
there are still five thousand living languages in the world today (most
of us would answer five hundred or fifty) is already a huge help.
We English-speakers hardly notice English - it's like air for us.
But every other language is also an atmosphere for an entire cultural world,
and each of these worlds has people whose home it is. Each language encapsulates a unique way of talking and thinking about life. Just try some time in a foreign prison, being forced to cope in another language, and you'll realise how much your own language is your identity. That's true for everyone.
Minority languages are a
One of the most basic.
Dozens of millions of people worldwide suffer persecution from national governments for speaking their mother tongue - in their own motherland.
Many 'ethnic' feuds puzzling to
outsiders had as their basis an attempt to destroy a linguistic community.
Would the Northern Ireland dispute be quite so bitter if we
English had not so nearly stamped out the Irish Gaelic language, for
example? Almost nowhere in the world does a language community as
small as the few thousand Rheto-Romanic speakers - the fourth
official language of Switzerland - get the protection of a national
government. Next time you see some Swiss Francs, check both sides of the
But outside exceptional countries like
Switzerland or the Netherlands, speakers of non-official
languages have a much less protected experience.
Speakers of minority languages are often seen as a threat by both the governments and the other residents of the countries where they were born, grew up, and try to live ordinary lives.
They experience discrimination in the job and education markets of their homelands, often having no choice but to pursue education in the major language of the host state: a deliberate government policy usually aimed at gradually absorbing them into the majority culture of that country.
Mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow, of course *7
Most governments are privately gleeful each time another small
separate culture within their borders is snuffed out by a dwindling
population or a deliberately centralising education system.
The United Nations is no help. It is an association of a couple of hundred sovereign states based on exclusive control of territory, almost all of them anxious to smother any distinct group or tradition that in any way might blur or smudge the hard-won borders around those pieces of territory.
The usual approach by sovereign states is to deny their linguistic minorities even exist.
Mark Griffith, site administrator /
*1 image from , with thanks
back up to top of page
*2 "Al-Araby" in written
*3 "What?" in American Sign
Language; image from , with thanks
*4 "Big" in written
(read more); image from , with
*5 image from , with
*6 image from , with
*7 image from
'B?ume', with thanks to
Bruno P. Kramer,
and Franckh-Kosmos Verlag