A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

[LINK] “Reconstructing the Lifestyles of Three Pre-Historic Amazonian Tribes”

leave a comment »

This brief post by Asya Perelstvaig at her Languages of the World constitutes still more evidence, this time linguistic, suggesting that current Amazonian cultures are survivors of a much larger and more complex society that collapsed, likely as a result of the post-colonial exchanges.

In my class on October 5, 2015, we talked about how ancestral languages can be reconstructed on the basis of their present-day descendants and how such linguistic reconstructions (particularly reconstructions of the vocabulary) can be used to reimagine the lives of the speakers of such ancestral languages. While most of our examples in class dealt with Indo-European languages (with a brief foray into the Polynesian world), here I would like to present another example where the same sort of socio-cultural reconstruction can be done on the basis of unwritten languages who offer us a rare glimpse into the lives of the their speakers’ linguistic ancestors. This example concerns three indigenous South American language families: Arawakan, Tukanoan, and Nadahup. These languages are spoken in the Upper Rio Negro region, on the border of Columbia and Brazil (see the map on the left adapted from muturzikin.com). The present-day Arawak languages are shown in pale-green, Tukanoan languages are shown in yellow, and Nadahup languages in brown. (The best-known language in the Nadahup family—at least in linguistic circles—is Nadëb, which exhibits the rarest Object-Subject-Verb order, found only in a handful of languages around the world, 4 in the WALS sample.) Of the three families, only the Nadahup is limited to this region, while Tukanoan languages are also spoken elsewhere through South America and Arawakan languages are found from Brazil to the Caribbean.

Epps (2015: 581) describes the present-day speakers of the languages in these three families who live in the region as follows:

“within the Upper Rio Negro region, the contemporary Arawak and Tukanoan peoples are settled river-dwellers who rely predominantly on fishing and bitter manioc cultivation for subsistence; the Nadahup are semi-nomadic forest-dwellers who prioritize hunting and gathering but also cultivate small garden plots.”

But did their ancestors live the same way? Since there is no indigenous form of writing, we must turn to contemporary languages and reconstruct the ancestral tongues. Such reconstructions were made by Payne (1991) for Proto-Arawakan, Chacon (2013) for Proto-Tukanoan, and Martins (2005) and Epps (forthcoming) for Proto-Nadahup. The relevant reconstructed words are given in the table below (adapted from Epps 2015: 582). The exact pronunciation of these reconstructed forms is not relevant for our present purposes; what matters is whether or not a given word reconstructs for a particular proto-language. A dash in a given table cell indicates that the word does not reconstruct for that family.

[. . .]

Since the only language for which the entire lexical set reconstructs is Proto-Arawakan, Epps concludes that its speakers “lived in settled villages, probably along larger rivers, and made use of ceramics, diverse domesticated plants… and animals … — consistent with archaeologists’ conception of early Arawak peoples as settled agriculturalists, much as they are today” (p. 581). In contrast, speakers of Proto-Tukanoan and Proto-Nadahup must have had very different lifestyles from those found among their descendants today. As can be seen from the table above, in Proto-Tukanoan a word for ‘canoe’ cannot be reconstructed. Similarly absent from the reconstructed Proto-Tukanoan vocabulary are “words for animals typical of larger rivers, as well as words for ‘canoe’, ‘paddle’, or ‘fish-trap’” (ibid). From this lexical gap, it has been concluded that speakers of Proto-Tukanoan were “less river-oriented than they are today” (ibid). However, the presence of a broad range of words for domesticated plants suggests that they engaged in agriculture. Likewise, the reconstruction of ceramic-related words means that speakers of Proto-Tukanoan manufactured ceramic goods.

As for speakers of Proto-Nadahup, they too must have had a different lifestyle from that of their present-day descendants. As mentioned above, today’s Nadahup peoples are “semi-nomadic forest dwellers who prioritize hunting and gathering but also cultivate small garden plots… [and] manufacture … ceramics” (ibid). Their ancestors, in contrast, appear to have neither “relied on domesticated plants, with the apparent exception of tobacco” (pp. 581-582) nor engaged in manufacturing ceramics since words for such objects are not reconstructed for the ancestral tongue.

Much more detail at the site.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 8, 2015 at 8:50 pm

[LINK] “The silences of Argentina’s election”

leave a comment »

Daniel Voskoboynik at Open Democracy is critical of the model of economic development in Argentina particularly, concentrated on the extraction of natural resources. As a Canadian, this sounds altogether too familiar.

Over the last two decades, Argentina and much of Latin America have seen the entrenchment of extractivism, a particular economic model based on the intensive exploitation of natural resources to be sold on the global markets. Under extractivist policies, the economy centres on the production of primary exports, and on the location of new sources of natural wealth.

While this model can bring vast windfalls when commodity prices are high, many social movements and scholars have raised significant questions about the impact, sustainability and social value of extractivist projects in the medium term. Such scrutiny, however, has hardly penetrated the mainstream media discussions or the political chatter mill.

Extractivism is no new phenomenon in the region. Under the colonial dominion, Latin American territories were essentially the object of plundering of raw materials. Contemporary extractivism, however (also known as progressive extractivism), tends to be wrapped in beneficial alibis: governments assert that the revenues accrued through commodity royalties and taxes will be distributed and devoted to social projects. In other words: the more they can extract, the more money they raise; and the more money they raise, the more they can fund.

During the twelve years of Kirchnerista rule, extractivism has become the prevailing feature of Argentina’s economic development. Prompted by global commodity prices and government policies, the country has experienced a major boom in extractive sectors such as agribusiness, mining, and hydrocarbon extraction.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 8, 2015 at 8:46 pm

[LINK] “Why Ukraine needs its own Harvey Milk”

leave a comment »

Open Democracy’s Anton Dmytriiev argues that, to start to make headway, LGBT Ukrainians need to start engaging with wider civil society.

Let’s start with copying: during Gay Pride in Kyiv this summer, there was a lot of talk about Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person to be appointed to public office in the USA in 1977. But what’s important here is that this only happened eight years after the Stonewall Riots in New York. During those years, the American public had gradually become aware of LGBT rights.

Milk served just 11 months in office in San Francisco, but in that time he sponsored an important anti-LGBT discrimination law for the city, and prevented the passing of a discriminatory amendment to Californian state law. This campaigning led to the assassination of Milk along with San Francisco’s mayor George Moscone in 1978.

Now here’s a question: how many Ukrainian and Russian gay activists – not just ordinary guys but the ones that give media interviews, lead organisations and spend grant money – were assassinated in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed? The answer is: none.

Do you know why? Because none of these gay activists and their organisations present any threat whatsoever to public life, the government or the ethical values of any part of the population, and nor do they bring anything new to the political or everyday life of their fellow Ukrainians.

None of our gay activists or organisations present any threat to our public life or government.

This is not to say that people should aim for martyrdom,. But it’s all very simple – not one gay rights organisation represents the interests and hopes of even 1,000 people. It can aspire to this, but in Ukraine, more often than not, NGOs (including LGBT ones) are like Potemkin villages – pure facades, set up to satisfy somebody’s own personal interests.

It’s an interesting argument.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 8, 2015 at 8:43 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Australia’s New Cities Minister Sounds Warning as Sydney Sprawls”

leave a comment »

Bloomberg’s Jason Scott notes severe real estate pressures in urban Australia.

The populations of Sydney and Melbourne are set to almost double by 2060, Australia’s new Cities Minister Jamie Briggs said, sounding a warning that ailing infrastructure and surging house prices must be tackled to ensure they remain livable.

“For a country that brags about the fact we’re a big, wide land we live in very small urban spaces,” Briggs, who was appointed last month by new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, said in an interview in Canberra Wednesday. “That trend is only going to continue.”

The nation’s major cities are coming under increasing pressure as public transport and roads fail to keep up with population growth. The inclusion of a cities minister in Cabinet indicates Turnbull’s commitment to urban planning and its importance to unlocking productivity and economic expansion.

Turnbull, a self-made millionaire who ousted Tony Abbott last month in a ballot of governing party lawmakers, is renowned for using public transport in his home city of Sydney and last week was pictured riding a tram in Melbourne.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 8, 2015 at 8:41 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Linguist documents dying languages still spoken in Toronto”

leave a comment »

The Toronto Star‘s Verity Stevenson describes how Toronto, as a destination for migrants from around the world, can play a useful role as a place where dying languages can be documented.

[Linguist and director of Queen’s University’s Strathy Language Unit, Anastasia] Riehl began the Alliance in Toronto after her Cornell University grad school colleague, Daniel Kaufman, launched one in New York. After years of documenting languages overseas, she discovered the last fluent speaker of a dying Latvian language, Livonian, lived outside Toronto from a relative vacationing in Argentina in 2011. The woman, Grizelda Kristina, was 101 and ailing.

“That’s when I was like, ‘OK, let’s just say we’re going to do this,’” she said of the day in 2011 which prompted Kaufman to fly to Toronto to interview the woman who died two years later.

Since then, she’s interviewed more than a dozen speakers of eight endangered languages from around the world. She’s working on a short documentary detailing the stories of three speakers. Riehl has cut back on some work obligation to devote more time to the project.

Toronto’s position as one of the most diverse cities in the world — more than 30 per cent of its residents speak a language other than English or French — makes it an “as good if not better” place to document endangered languages.

The city’s website pegs the number of languages and dialects spoken in the city at more than 140, but Riehl estimates there are “dozens” that don’t appear in census figures. Any language becomes endangered, according to the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO), when its speakers cease to use it and when it is no longer passed on to the next generation.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 8, 2015 at 8:39 pm

[LINK] “Heroin, U.S.A.: How the middle class got addicted”

leave a comment »

The Toronto Star‘s Daniel Dale wrote about the devastating growth of heroin usage by middle-class Americans, looking at small-town New England.

More than 1,200 people in Massachusetts died from overdoses of heroin or prescription opioids last year. That is double the number who died four years ago, four times the number who died in car crashes.

The picture is just as ugly in the postcard towns of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. The killer drug once associated with urban poverty is more popular in the United States than ever before — especially among white people, women and the middle class, especially in the suburbs and the country, especially in the Midwest and northeast.

A weeklong tour of the Massachusetts wreckage revealed glimmers of hope: families starting to speak out without shame, once-oblivious political and medical leaders innovating to save lives, a small-town police chief putting addicts in treatment rather than handcuffs.

But the body count is staggering and rising. Haverhill, an unremarkable town of 60,000, had three overdose deaths in 2011, more than 20 deaths in 2014. In most of the state, this year will be just as bad as last. Thousands of families, many of them prosperous, have been left to puzzle out how they ended up here.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 8, 2015 at 8:34 pm

[LINK] “Manufacturing Moved South, Then Moved Out”

leave a comment »

Bloomberg View’s Justin Fox reacts to Paul Theroux’s screed on Southern deindustrialization by taking a look at the statistics.

What seems to have happened is that the lowest-value Southern manufacturing jobs have gone to China and elsewhere, leaving behind fewer but higher-value, higher-skill jobs. Also, the union/nonunion pay gap has been shrinking in some industries, most notably automaking. The most highly compensated autoworkers in the U.S. are now those at Mercedes-Benz, who all work at a nonunion plant in Alabama.

Put these various pieces of evidence together, and the story I see is this: Manufacturing employment has taken it on the chin everywhere in the U.S., including the South. Worst-hit have been lower-value manufacturing operations of the sort often found in the small-town South that Theroux spent most of his time visiting — although small towns and rural areas are also struggling all over the country, for a variety of reasons. Meanwhile, makers of higher-value products such as cars and airplanes have actually shifted some operations to the South, but they’re generally located near mid-size or bigger cities such as Spartanburg, South Carolina, or Birmingham, Alabama. And the most successful Southern metropolitan areas — Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville, the Research Triangle — haven’t built their economies around manufacturing. The parts of the South that industrialized did so just as industrialization was going out of style.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 8, 2015 at 8:31 pm


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 469 other followers