The Benefits of Resurrecting Lost Languages.

Alex Rawlings writes for the BBC about Ghil’ad Zuckermann:

While Australia may be famous the world over for its biodiversity, for a linguistics professor like Zuckermann, the country has another allure: its languages. Before European colonisers arrived, Australia used to be one of the most linguistically diverse areas in the world, boasting around 250 different languages. Due in part to Australia’s long geographic isolation, many of these had developed unique grammatical structures and concepts that were unknown to languages in other parts of the world. […]

“I believe that most people care more about animals that are endangered than about languages that are endangered,” Zuckerman explains. “The reason is that animals are tangible. You can touch a koala, even though in the wild you’d be crazy to do so because she can kill you with her claws. But koalas are cute. Languages, however, are not tangible. They are abstract. People understand the importance of biodiversity far more than that of linguistic diversity.”

Yet for Zuckermann, preserving linguistic diversity is hugely important. For indigenous communities in Australia and worldwide that are still grappling with the legacy of colonisation, being able to speak their ancestral language is about empowerment and reclaiming their identity. It may even carry significant consequences for their mental health.

There’s a good discussion of when and why it makes sense to try reviving languages which goes beyond the usual touting of the beauties of diversity. Thanks, Bathrobe!

Comments

  1. “because she can kill you with her claws.” Number of people killed by koalas ever = 0

  2. Australia used to be one of the most linguistically diverse areas in the world,

    Did it? By what measure of “linguistically diverse”? It’s a big place. Aren’t there just as linguistically diverse areas in the Amazon or sub-Saharan Africa? (to throw a dart at the map)

    boasting around 250 different languages.

    (Swiftly skirting the conundrum of what makes a language count as “different” …) What sized area of Indo-China would you need to mark out to enclose 250 languages?

    Or is this a measure of different-languages-per-head-of-population? rather than per-area. Then do we have estimates of Australian population before ‘European’ what the piece euphemistically calls ‘colonisers’?

    Is/was Australia any more linguistically diverse than other barren and hostile terrains?, such as the Siberian river basins prior Chinese and Russian imperial expansion (to think of some recent discussion).

  3. AJP Crown says:

    all speakers of Guugu Yimithirr have an in-built compass in their brain that allows them to always know where is north, south, east and west. Therefore, they have no need to talk about the “left tap” or the “right tap”. Instead, they just refer to the “north tap” or the “south tap”.

    This doesn’t work for anything that’s not fixed in place: a tap on a ship, for example. If their kangaroo turns around, its north ear becomes its south ear. I suppose this must be why we kept both systems. The Guugu Yimithirr system works for the east & west wings of a large house, but not for ball games. It’s left & right wings for football (‘east wing’ would be ‘left’ for one team and ‘right’ for their opponents); ‘left field’ for baseball, I think.

  4. AJP Crown says:

    Rather than getting all confused every time they take a bath on a ship, I bet Guugu Yimithirr speakers use a l-r convention that they call N & S.

  5. David Eddyshaw says:

    Nigeria alone has something like 250 languages from at least three entirely unrelated families, though admittedly a very much larger population than Australia has ever had.

    “Inbuilt compass in their brain”, forsooth. Still, Rawlings has the sense mostly to quote Zuckermann, who sounds like he knows his onions.

  6. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    This doesn’t work for anything that’s not fixed in place: a tap on a ship, for example. If their kangaroo turns around, its north ear becomes its south ear. I suppose this must be why we kept both systems.

    You’d think so, but then you and I are both white Anglo-Saxon male adults, and we find it hard to put ourselves in the minds of people with very different cultural prejudices. Someone (I think in one of Steven Pinker’s books) had the same doubts as to whether points of the compass would work in practice, and questioned a young Mexican from a group that used that system, and found that she found it perfectly natural that her north ear became her south ear when she turned around.

  7. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Nigeria alone has something like 250 languages from at least three entirely unrelated families

    I think that Cameroon, smaller than Nigeria, has more than that. I thought it was about 600, but Wikipedia says 250, the same as your number, and I expect it knows better than I do.

  8. Regardless of whether Australia is more or less linguistically diverse than other places (I’ve usually heard that Papua New Guinea takes the prize), it is the case that one of the first steps in colonization is to take away language. So retaining a language is important, but it’s not all of a culture. Another part is placenames and other geographical information, for example where animals do things at certain times of the year, how plants develop through the seasons (and how these things are changing).

    A while ago I listened to a documentary, I believe it was from the ABC, about a project working with some San people in South Africa who had been evicted from their traditional land to create a national park. The people not only were dealing with the challenge of losing their language, because they mostly worked on farms owned by Afrikaans-speakers, but because they were not permitted in the park, they were losing their geographical knowledge. The project was to recover and map as much as possible of this information. Mostly they were working with people who had walked the land as children trying to recover what their parents had told them.

    The project sounded valuable as far as it went, but there are many other places where something similar needs to be done if all this knowledge is not to be lost.

    In the case of Australia some such information is held in the form of songlines, which many people are probably aware of. Are there efforts to preserve this? (I hope so, I don’t know much about it.) Also missionaries were pretty ruthless about stamping out traditional ceremonies, initiation customs and the like.

  9. AJP Crown says:

    she found it perfectly natural that her north ear became her south ear when she turned around

    Wasn’t there any circumstance (a subway car for example or a cloudy night) where she couldn’t find north and had to use a different convention? Or did she & companions carry a compass?

  10. January First-of-May says:

    The whole “compass” thing reminds me of a story told by my linguistics teacher at university…

    Basically, back when said teacher had only just started seriously studying linguistics, she was told about those “compass” languages, and was also very surprised that such languages could possibly exist.
    She happened to be visiting a friend (also studying linguistics), and said to her friend: “That doesn’t make much sense. I mean, wouldn’t that require that the people speaking those languages would need to always know where north is?”
    “Wait-“, said the surprised friend, “- do you mean that you don’t know?”

    …The friend (who was a Russian native speaker, and didn’t know any Guugu Yimithirr or other similar “compass” languages) had apparently always been able to tell where north is, and had no idea that some other people might lack that ability.

     
    (I highly suspect that I’ve shared this story on LH before, but sadly I can’t actually recall any such case. Maybe I didn’t, though if so it was only because it never came up.
    This particular description is summarized from a longer version that I posted on a non-linguistic site in 2017.)

  11. David Marjanović says:

    where she couldn’t find north

    The trick is that people brought up speaking such languages remember where north is, and keep track of all their turns. Even if you blindfold them and spin them around 20 times fast.

    At least some such languages do have words for the right and for the left hand. These just aren’t metaphorically extended to the rest of the universe.

    I think that Cameroon, smaller than Nigeria, has more than that. I thought it was about 600, but Wikipedia says 250, the same as your number, and I expect it knows better than I do.

    All depends on language vs. dialect. I’ve seen 495 quoted as the amazingly precise number of languages in Nigeria.

    one of the first steps in colonization is to take away language

    That’s just the 19th/20th-century European model of colonization, though. The Romans didn’t care what anyone spoke, as long as they spoke Latin or Greek to the Romans; and so, Gaulish hung on in Trier – a city of some importance, not a rural backwater – till the empire fell.

  12. David Eddyshaw says:

    AntC’s ‘by what measure?” is a good question in a number of ways. A lot of Pama-Nyungan languages, at any rate, seem to be rather similar to one another (though this may be an illusion generated by my ignorance), and phonologically Australia seems to be nearly one huge Sprachbund, so you could make a case on such metrics for relatively low diversity.

    On the other hand, I suspect that by distinct languages per capita pre-invasion Australia was way up the league table.

    N-S rather than L-R orientation will surely have been much less potentially problematic for peoples tradtionally living out in the open most of the time.

    There are also Australian languages which do up-river/down-river instead, if I remember right.

  13. John Cowan says:

    Well, sure. I suppose if you hit people upside the head, they might lose track of the left-right distinction for a while too, but basically the kind of people we are talking about use dead reckoning: if they turn left, they simply automatically remember that they are no longer going north but east. Of course, “north” in absolute-direction languages is fundamentally solar north, not compass north, and eventually the sun will be visible enough to allow people to reorient.

    I think the most interesting thing about these languages is not sentences like “there is an ant on your north foot” (though they are interesting too) but the different interpretation of pointing gestures. If I tell you “Go into the store and what you want is on that wall” and point left, you will naturally go into the store and look on the left wall as seen from the entrance. But your Australian (or whatever) is not pointing left but (say) north and means “Look on the north wall”, which of course might be on the right or straight ahead or what have you.

  14. Kristian says:

    Surely all of these languages must have terms for the right and left hands. At least Guugu Yimithirr does, according to a paper by John Haviland (“Guugu Yimithirr Cardinal Directions”) that is linked to from the Wikipedia page. Handedness is after all a real property of human beings, not just something appears from some one’s perspective. (Also, chirality is real property of some objects.)

    How does one tell a third person “X has broken his left foot” in a language that has no terms for the right and left halves of the body?

    I get the feeling from some of these popular articles that people are so enamored of the idea that an exotic language doesn’t have words for right and left that they forget to ask some pretty obvious questions.

    I am also extremely skeptical of the claim that speaking some specific language makes it possible for someone always to know where the north is, even if they were in a closed room on a ship turning this way and that.

  15. We had a whole discussion of absolute-direction languages, with explanations of how speakers keep track, in some other thread, but damned if I can find it.

  16. John Cowan says:

    Even in languages dominated by a single frame of reference there are always special cases: as you say, ‘left hand’ and ‘right hand’ are pretty universal. On the other hand, anglophones wouldn’t say “*Finland is (on the) right of Sweden”, even though that’s true if you look at a conventional north-is-up map: we say “Finland is east of Sweden”. Similarly, a large house (like the U.S. White House) may have an east wing and a west wing, and the occupants seem to have no trouble keeping track of where they are even while inside the building.

    What is more, as this article makes clear, there is a third frame of reference besides absolute and egocentric ones, and that’s the intrinsic frame. We take it for granted that when we say “The dog is (on the) left of the house” that it’s egocentric, and if we went around to the opposite side of the house, we’d have to say “The dog is (on the) right of the house.” But “The dog is in front of the house” can be interpreted in two ways: egocentrically it means that the dog is between the speaker and the house, but there is also an intrinsic sense in which the house itself has a front and the dog is in front of the house if it is on the front side, irrespective of the speaker’s location. The same is true of “behind” and its AmE synonym “in back of”.

    According to the article there are languages (only Mopán Maya in Belize and Guatemala is named) that are predominantly intrinsic: every object has a conventional front and back (and presumably left and right too) and directions are given using these features. I don’t know how such people assign the front of a tree or rock, but presumably they do. Lojban has both egocentric and absolute prepositions (and corresponding adverbs of motion), but lacks relative ones: ca’u ‘in front of’ has solely the egocentric meaning.

  17. Aha, maybe I was thinking of this thread. As I wrote here:

    Of course they use orienting terms; the point is that in English we use “left” and “right,” whereas in Guugu Yimithirr they use “east,” “west,” etc., in Tzeltal they use “upslope” and “downslope,” and in some languages of the North Pacific coast they use “riverine” and “estuarine.” And yes, a Guugu Yimithirr will say “There’s an ant on your north foot.” Of course they have words for “left” and “right,” but they use them only in restricted contexts (e.g., “His right arm is weaker than his left”).

  18. John Cowan says:

    WP has a good, if short, article on the linguistic diversity index, which is simply the probability that two people drawn at random from the population of a country (or whatever) will have different native languages. In PNG it’s about 99%; in North Korea it is indistinguishable from zero. (Difficulty of saying what a language is, false self-reporting, lack of census data, etc. etc.)

    The index for Australia now is 27%; of course, that’s not saying what it was in 1788. For the U.S. it’s 33%, about the same as Germany and Turkey; for the UK it’s only 15%, about the same as Argentina and Romania; for the whole world it’s 80%. The article also features a world map of diversity indexes, from which it’s obvious that sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and and South-East Asia and its islands are the hotspots for diversity, with China, Canada, and Bolivia in the second rank. What surprised me most is that Russia’s diversity stands at only 28%.

  19. J.W. Brewer says:

    The claims seem hopelessly muddled. “Lots of Australian languages have specific feature X, which is otherwise quite rare globally” is a very different sort of point from, and often inconsistent with, “indigenous Australian languages are unusually diverse *as compared to each other.*” In fact IIRC one of the big historical mysteries is that the wide/dominant range of Pama-Nyungan doesn’t (last I heard) match up at all well with the apparent population history, implying that there must have been massive language shift/replacement over most of the continent only a few millennia ago.

    NB that the “diversity index” doesn’t weight for how distant versus close any two “different” languages are — although of course with enough prolonged contact languages that are unrelated in “genetic” terms will tend to exchange loanwords and/or develop areal/Sprachbund effects anyway.

  20. David Eddyshaw says:

    What surprised me most is that Russia’s diversity stands at only 28%.

    This diversity index is presumably going to be low regardless of how many languages are natively spoken in the country if a few of those languages account for the great majority of speakers; Brazil is way down, presumably for that very reason. Many languages spoken by very small groups won’t make much of a difference.On the other hand, if you have only only two languages, each spoken by half the population, you’ll score high. Hence Belgium and Switzerland look as if they were as diverse as Burkina Faso (which has about 60 indigenous languages) on the map.

    I note that Northern Ireland is coloured diverser than the Republic; I suspect this is an artefact of counting the UK as a monolith where lots of people speak Welsh (if only …)

    I’m not sure that “diversity index” is actually a very good name for it: what it measures is interesting, but it’s not what you would imagine from the name.

  21. David Eddyshaw says:

    I didn’t put that very well: I mean the index will be low in a case like Russia where if you pick a speaker at random it’s very likely that they will speak just one particular language, whereas in a case like Switzerland with two-three languages which are not only spoken by large groups but also between them account for most of the people, the index will be high.

    Either way, large numbers of languages spoken by small minorities will make no great difference.

    Thus Togo probably owes its place high up the table to the fact that Ewe and Kabye both have a lot of speakers and between them account for much of the population, rather than to the fact that there are a lot of Togolese languages (even though there are.)

    Thinking about it, the high scorers are going to be regions/countries with largish numbers of languages each spoken by substantial proportions of the population. Nigeria would fit the bill well: it would score high not because of the hundreds of little Chadic and Adamawa languages and what-have-you, but because millions of people speak Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo … India similarly. It’s having many *big* languages (proportionately) that will up the “diversity” score.

  22. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Wasn’t there any circumstance (a subway car for example or a cloudy night) where she couldn’t find north and had to use a different convention?

    I don’t think subway cars are all that abundant in remote parts of rural Mexico.

  23. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    The friend (who was a Russian native speaker, and didn’t know any Guugu Yimithirr or other similar “compass” languages) had apparently always been able to tell where north is, and had no idea that some other people might lack that ability.

    I could always tell where north was in Toronto, because north is up and south is down. I’ve had more difficulty in other places. It ought to be easy in Santiago because you can usually see the Andes and know that they run north-south. Nonetheless it took me a while to internalize that they are to the east of where I was.

  24. Our senses of these things are surely culturally and situationally informed. I know I’m not the only Chicagoan who gets to a place like the Pacific coast and becomes confused about east and west because the water is on the wrong side.

    I’m curious whether/how dyslexia presents in a traditional setting and a language that is N/S focused. I don’t mean that as a joke.

    I wonder whether a rapid, internalized sense of handedness has become more important in the context of text that must be read one way or another. Or boustrophedon, but even there, you must follow the zig and the zag correctly, and individual letters still must be recognized by where they face.

    In trying to learn Hebrew at a relatively late age I sometimes muse that the differentiation of letters is not as simple as it could be, based on details that are tough to see even with standardized computer typefaces, and that the development of the alphabet created a much simpler system.

    But then my youngest daughter asks me which one is b and which one is d, and I wonder how much of this is perspective. My older daughter stopped confusing b’s and d’s about the time she began to put her shoes on the correct feet. Which may be a coincidence. Or, it may be that traditionally Europeans didn’t make right and left shoes in part because they were illiterate, and hadn’t grown up with a strong focus on the differences imposed by right and left.

    In that light, I think the fact that moccasins were left/right footed is a pretty strong proof of the Book of Mormon.

  25. David Eddyshaw says:

    Togo probably also benefits from the fact that smaller countries (or countries with smaller populations) are going to be placed higher in the table, all else being equal, because smaller languages will constitute a greater proportion of the total population considered, increasing their chance of being hit upon in the random sampling.

  26. David Eddyshaw says:

    I wonder how much of this is perspective

    The printed Hebrew “square” script really does have some letters which are hard to tell apart if your reading glasses aren’t up to date. I don’t think this is purely a matter of familiarity (though obviously it’s going to be less of a problem in practice if you are very familiar with Hebrew and can accordingly cope with more noise in the input.)

    Syriac is worse, if that’s any consolation.

  27. AJP Crown says:

    Language: Of course they have words for “left” and “right,” but they use them only in restricted contexts (e.g., “His right arm is weaker than his left”).
    Thank you. That’s what I wanted to know.

    The printed Hebrew “square” script really does have some letters which are hard to tell apart if your reading glasses aren’t up to date.
    Also sans-serif L and I on a computer or phone (and my specs are up to date).

  28. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    I note that Northern Ireland is coloured diverser than the Republic; I suspect this is an artefact of counting the UK as a monolith where lots of people speak Welsh (if only …)

    I would be amazed if this had anything at all to do with Welsh, rather than the rough quarter of the London population who speak something other than English as their first language at home.

    (I mean, it probably is taking the UK as one block, but so is the test of taking two people at random – statistics are funny, but the random people are surely more likely to come from the huge population of London than the small population of North Wales or the tiny population of the Western Isles.)

  29. January First-of-May says:

    I note that Northern Ireland is coloured diverser than the Republic; I suspect this is an artefact of counting the UK as a monolith where lots of people speak Welsh (if only …)

    I suspect this is actually due to the sheer amount of (e.g.) Polish speakers in some areas of the UK. Welsh is likely to be way down the list.
    [EDIT: basically what Jen in Edinburgh said, though I don’t think it’s just London.]
    [EDIT 2: Wikipedia tells me that the numbers of Welsh and Polish speakers in the UK are approximately similar – both account for about 1%.]

    I’m actually surprised about China – I would have expected it to rank far lower. Do they count Mandarin and Cantonese separately? (Even then I don’t think it would’ve been enough.)

  30. David Eddyshaw says:

    I would be amazed if this had anything at all to do with Welsh

    I wouldn’t; we’re not talking reality here. The statistics wouldn’t be much affected by the fact that large numbers of Londoners are not dull monoglots, unless there were several groups each with as many speakers as Welsh (possible: Polish and Punjabi for a start.)

    Although I disbelieve the more optimistic figures for Welsh on grounds of general miserabilism, there are certainly a great many more Welsh speakers than Gaelic; the cases are not at all comparable. The figures were probably calculated on the basis of their being about half a million Welsh speakers, which is commonly bandied about as a number officially. Welsh is certainly not spoken only by a “small population of North Wales”, at any rate.

    For what little it is worth, this is what Wikipedia has to say

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_of_the_United_Kingdom#Most_common_immigrant_languages

  31. David Eddyshaw says:

    Even counting the different SInitic languages separately, you probably would end up with a lowish score, because Mandarin speakers constitute so high a proportion of the total Chinese population that your chance of getting two in succession in a random pick will be high; hence China comes out as way below Belgium on “diversity.”

    This measures “diversity”, but not as we know it, Jim. It would be interesting to model it mathematically. For example, if you have only two languages, you get a “diversity” dependent entirely on the proportion of speakers, ranging from 0.5 to as low as you like; and it’s not linear, so you will get some very counterintuitive answers. As I say, “diversity” is not a good name for this measure.

  32. David L says:

    I know I’m not the only Chicagoan who gets to a place like the Pacific coast and becomes confused about east and west because the water is on the wrong side.

    I had exactly that experience a couple of years ago when I, an east coaster, spent a few days in and around Los Angeles and Palm Springs. Driving inland felt like driving west, because I’m used to west being away from the ocean. Even though I knew rationally what was going on, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that something was wrong with Californian geography.

  33. Try visiting Santa Barbara sometime! The coast there runs east-west, which really screws up your imagined geography.

  34. AJP Crown says:

    In Provincetown Bay, Cape Cod the sun sets across the water just like in San Francisco.

    JC: people we are talking about use dead reckoning: if they turn left, they simply automatically remember that they are no longer going north but east.
    Heh. Only you & I do that, John.

  35. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    Google tells me that about 700,000 people live in North Wales, not many more than in Glasgow, which seems relatively small to me – but I’m happy to use another word if you want to suggest one. I did underestimate the number of Welsh speakers in the west of Wales, but overall something like 300,000 people would seem to speak Welsh as a first language – people who’re happier in Welsh than English.

    I’m not making up the statistic that 25% of Londoners have a first language other than English, although I can’t currently refind the site that gave me it all in a nice excel spreadsheet – out of a city population of ~9 million, that’s more than 2 million, or 7 or 8 times the number of primarily-Welsh speakers.

    Maybe I’m being daft, but I’m struggling to understand how these much larger numbers could have less effect on the statistics.

    (The fact that the Londoners speak quite a lot of different languages between them surely only increases the diversity – if you did happen to randomly pull two people out of this ~3% of the UK population, there’s still a decent chance they’d speak different first languages from each other!)

  36. A few years ago I was reading a book of American Civil War history, in which various armies were moving up and down the Shenandoah Valley. Some of these movements made no sense, until halfway through the book I realized that the Shenandoah flows from south to north, so that “up the valley” meant “south.”

  37. Owlmirror says:

    A few years ago I was reading a book of American Civil War history, in which various armies were moving up and down the Shenandoah Valley. Some of these movements made no sense, until halfway through the book I realized that the Shenandoah flows from south to north, so that “up the valley” meant “south.

    And south to north is also the direction of the flow of the Nile, which is why Upper Egypt is in the south.

  38. Owlmirror says:

    I’ve always been interested in the languages that use absolute directional positioning. I found myself wondering if it might have something to do with magnetoreception. Some animals are known to have the ability.

    A recent study suggests that some people can indeed do this. I think an interesting followup would be to specifically test people who use languages with absolute positioning, and see if they show stronger effects than people who don’t use such languages. Also, if magnetic fields contrary to the natural one cause those speakers to feel lost.

    (More than one link OK?)

    Actual paper:
    Transduction of the Geomagnetic Field as Evidenced from Alpha-band Activity in the Human Brain

  39. If you have two people, one with a missing tooth on the right, the other with a missing tooth on the left, how would a person describe them who has only cardinal directions, and no left-right distinctions?

  40. Claire Bowern has a presentation, entitled Standard Average Australian, on the distribution of features commonly taken to be near universal in Australian but rare elsewhere. Unsurprisingly, such claims are usually false.

  41. Owlmirror says:

    If you have two people, one with a missing tooth on the right, the other with a missing tooth on the left, how would a person describe them who has only cardinal directions, and no left-right distinctions?

    “If X were facing north, they are missing an eastern tooth, and if Y were facing north, they are missing a western tooth”.

    Awkward, but possible.

  42. Y wrote:
    >If you have two people, one with a missing tooth on the right, the other with a missing tooth on the left, …

    And shortly after:
    >a presentation entitled Standard Average Australian, on the distribution of features commonly taken to be near universal … but rare elsewhere

    I like the potential for reading an insult into the juxtaposition, though in my experience, most Australians retain all of the common teeth.

  43. J.W. Brewer says:

    By the way, the Australian mainland (ex Tasmania etc) is very close in total land area to the “contiguous” (alias “lower 48” etc.) U.S. Which had more linguistic diversity prior to European colonization? Pick any coherent metric for diversity you like. (Obviously the northern and southern boundaries of CONUS, unlike the shoreline of mainland Australia, are arbitrary and more to the point are anachronistic and irrelevant in the pre-contact context, but work with me here.)

  44. David Eddyshaw says:

    Wikipedia claims about 120,000 Polish speakers in Ireland, out of a population a bit short of 5 million, so proportionately a good bit more than the UK; much smaller numbers of speakers of Indic languages though.

    I’m not sure I trust these diversity index numbers without seeing the working, and some account of what languages have actually been counted and why. Not that it matters much, at the end of the day … but that way madness lies. Where would the internet be, if it contained only important things?

  45. ryan, I had thought of giving an example with hands, but figured missing teeth are especially noticeable.

  46. Multiple comments:

    Besides being frequently outside, living most of your life in a small area can make absolute reference more practical. When I was a kid, I knew the cardinal directions over the whole region that my friends and I wandered around on foot. And I am not particularly good at keeping can map in my head. (In fact, as I have probably mentioned before, my spatial skills are about medisn level for the general American population, but among my family and peer group of professional physicists, I am way below average.)

    Things were different for the even larger area that we only traveled by bike though. For me, at least, I navigated that area by remembering the topology of the road network, with my position determined by a sequence of turns and junctions. That is the way I drive as well. Even today, I can still partially identify the boundary between the parts of my hometown I knew from (overland) rambling and the parts that knew from following the street network.

    The need for an intrinsic frame of reference is, of course, what gives use port and starboard, fore and aft. That was something that I always did understand intuitively, although I never knew quite the right terminology for it.

    Rivers, of course, tend to flow toward the equator. The reason is centrifugal force, which is tiny but can have an important effect on the stochastic development of a river course over thousands or millions of years. The Nike is a famous exception, but since the source of the White Nile is right on the equator, at Lake Victoria, flow away from the equator was unavoidable. The Blue Nile flows south until the topography is affected by the passage of the White Nile, and it turns North again before they meet. (Pictures of their junction at Khartoum show clearly where their color names come from, and it takes many miles for the much siltier White to mix with the Blue.)

  47. John Cowan says:

    Heh. Only you & I do that, John.

    I’d like to claim that I put that east in my post on purpose. Or at least that I left it in on purpose. But it would be wrong.

    I assume that the people who calculate this index assume that only a few people genuinely have more than one L1 and that they can be disregarded in the model. In any case, the number of individual multilinguals in the usual sense of “one L1, some L2s” can’t affect the result. But yes, in a region with k native languages, the diversity index ranges from 0 to 1/k; you might want to normalize it by multiplying by k.

    Fully three thousand miles from the ocean!

  48. AJP Crown says:

    If you have two people, one with a missing tooth on the right, the other with a missing tooth on the left, how would a person describe them who has only cardinal directions, and no left-right distinctions?

    The short answer is that the dentist will see where you have missing teeth, but if the dentist’s chair is stuck upside down to the ceiling, left & right are opposite. In my experience, you’re best off taping the x-ray to your forehead.

    I’d like to claim that I put that east in my post on purpose.
    And I would have believed you.

  49. J.W. Brewer says:

    Dental professionals eschew easy-to-muddle-up concepts like left/right and up/down when talking amongst themselves, instead using an unambiguous but arbitrary code that is perfectly coherent to those who have been socialized into the ways of the relevant guild. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Numbering_System

  50. Alright already. What if we’re talking about a facial scar or a cataract?

  51. Kristian says:

    Yes, but to use that code you have to know left and right. In that American system, you start counting from the patient’s upper right.

  52. J.W. Brewer says:

    To try to be more precise, I don’t think too many people actually muddle up the *concept* of left (from their own POV) with that of right (from the same POV), but quite a lot of people seem to get muddled up on which word corresponds with which direction, even in their L1.

    Referring to the *patient’s* upper right illustrates another potential source of confusion that the dental system is trying to sidestep, because the teeth that are on the right from the patient’s POV are typically the teeth that are on the left from the POV of the dental professional peering into the patient’s open mouth — the same way in which “stage right” is the left side of the stage from the audience’s POV (except for upside-down audience members). In clock-face terms the numbering sequence runs clockwise starting at 9:00 from one POV but counterclockwise starting at 3:00 from the other.

  53. David Marjanović says:

    different interpretation of pointing gestures

    In particular, it’s possible to point through yourself: if you’re facing south and want to point north, you point at your chest.

    I am also extremely skeptical of the claim that speaking some specific language makes it possible for someone always to know where the north is, even if they were in a closed room on a ship turning this way and that.

    If you grow up speaking such a language, the constant practice is probably enough… in situations more common than a closed room on a ship, at least if the ship is too large to let you feel how it turns.

    And south to north is also the direction of the flow of the Nile, which is why Upper Egypt is in the south.

    and why in ancient times Egyptians called the Euphrates “the river that flows backwards”.

    Dental professionals

    Heh. “Although it is named the ‘universal numbering system’, it is also called the ‘American system’ as it is only used in the United States.”

    to use that code you have to know left and right

    Either that, or clockwise and counterclockwise (“count clockwise so that you go up, not down, from 1 to 2”), which may be easier.

  54. I have always had trouble distinguishing left and right, since I was a child. I suppose it may be a mild form of autism. I have developed a coping mechanism, which is to visualize myself driving a car. However the whole thing falls apart if I am somewhere like Australia, because if someone says “Turn left here” I will turn right, because my mind interprets left as “across traffic”.

    On the other hand I am pretty good in remembering where north is. I would be even better if I recalled, when necessary, that if you don’t know where north is, it’s because you’ve been led astray by the fairies, and the solution is to take off your jacket and put it back on inside out.

    I think this was discussed before, but some Indo-European languages carry traces of a system that assumes that you are facing east, (In other words, that you are “oriented”.) So the word for south is related to the word for right and so on.

    In the SF Bay Area, the concept of north depends on what city you’re in, because many of them are on a diagonal grid. You could be driving along W El Camino Real, and then suddenly find yourself on S El Camino Real, without having made a change of direction. Most people who have lived here for a while say “towards the bay” or “towards the mountains”.

    I don’t know about dentists, but having surgery they don’t rely on the surgeon remembering right and left. You meet them before the operation, they verify with you what is to be done and they draw it on your skin with a marker. At least that has been my experience.

  55. ktschwarz says:

    Rivers tend to flow toward the equator

    This seems to be a myth; here’s one debunking from a geologist, there are others out there. Russians are familiar with multiple major rivers flowing into the Arctic Ocean.

    The Earth’s surface already bulges at the equator due to centrifugal force. Rivers flow relative to the Earth’s surface, so there is no net effect on rivers. Newton predicted the Earth’s oblateness, but it was quite a while before it could be measured. In fact, Cassini (who had a rival theory of gravity) did some measurements within France that seemed to show that the Earth was prolate. The controversy was settled by a pair of expeditions to Lapland and Ecuador to measure the length of a degree of latitude.

  56. David Eddyshaw says:

    some Indo-European languages carry traces of a system that assumes that you are facing east, (In other words, that you are “oriented”.) So the word for south is related to the word for right and so on.

    Not just Indoeuropean: Biblical Hebrew too, for example, has ימין “right/south”, and Hausa has gaba “in front”, gabas “east.”

    However, Kusaal and its kindred assume you are facing west: ya datiuŋ “your right” is “north”, ya dagɔbig “your left” is “south”, ya tuona “before you” is “west” and ya nya’aŋ “behind you” is “east.”

    I’m not sure how far back the “north” and “south” expressions really go, mind: they may have been created for purposes of Bible translation. My actual informants gave as accepted terms zueya “hills” for “south” and Barʋg “Bisa-land” for “north”, both of which make perfect sense so long as you stay in Kusaasi territory.

    Malicious fairies try to get travellers lost in the Kusaasi bush country too. Their feet are attached backwards to confuse trackers (the fairies, not the travellers.)

  57. Bathrobe says:

    I have developed a coping mechanism, which is to visualize myself driving a car.

    I visualise myself setting the table. Knife on the right, fork on the left. I don’t need to remember specific detail about knives and forks, either. It’s just a way of remembering, through physicality, which hand is which 🙂 (It wasn’t a restaurant so spoons weren’t laid out at the start of the meal. No butter knives, either.)

  58. Bathrobe says:

    To be honest, what I found most interesting about the article is the claim that it helped the mental health of speakers.

    I once caused one of our commenters to fly into apoplexy by suggesting that indigenous people who are completely assimilated trade in a unique identity for that of a nondescript member of the mainstream.

    It was suggested to me (I’m speaking from what I remember) that having a unique identity is useless when you are poor and marginalised, and that encouraging native Americans on dead-end reservations to speak their own languages only locks them into their poverty and backwardness. They are far better off forgetting their native languages, learning English, and becoming indistinguishable members of the dominant society.

    It is hard to answer criticisms like this. Any encouragement of indigenous languages makes you into a “linguist”, who is more interested in language than people. If such people choose to abandon their native languages for quite practical reasons (like making a better life for themselves), who are you to stop them, Mr Linguist?

    Zuckermann’s suggestion that maintaining or reviving native languages helps the mental health of speakers is an interesting one. The article had only vague hints about whether this claim had any basis in reality, but it seemed to me that, if true, it would negate the views of those who believe that indigenous, minority languages are useless, and that assimilation to the mainstream is far more economically and psychologically beneficial to indigenous groups.

    Arguing that people need to be “assimilated” for their own benefit is, it seems to me, just finishing off the work of earlier administrators, educators, and churchmen who did their level best to destroy these languages and cultures. The ones who need educating are the majority, who often have narrow, intolerant attitudes that hasten language death. I note that recent news broadcasts in Australia speak approvingly of attempts to teach indigenous languages in schools. One even pointed out that white kids at one school were learning alongside indigenous people and were using the language. Perhaps an over-rosy presentation of the situation, but community attitudes can make a big difference.

    I once spoke to a young indigenous woman in Australia who was trying to revive her local language. She was distressed that indigenous Australians who attended international meetings of indigenous people from around the world were the only attendees who no longer had a native language to speak. I have also heard that speakers in indigenous communities in Australia do welcome people who can help revive their language. Discouraging this kind of thing, as assimilationists are wont to do, is just hammering another nail in the coffin. And isn’t necessarily for their benefit at all.

  59. Hear, hear.

  60. @ktschwarz: That’s not a “debunking.” That’s just some guy saying it’s not true, because he knows of some exceptions.* But nobody claims all rivers flow toward the equator, just that there is a marked tendency to do so. If you don’t believe that tendency exists, try counting the flow directions of the world’s major rivers; there is a real equatorial tendency there.

    While the planet is oblate, the Earth’s geoid surface (with the mountains, etc. smoothed out) is still not an equipotential of the gravitational plus centrifugal forces. It is, in fact, quite easy to map out the local acceleration g (and thus the shape of the planet) as a function of latitude with a pretty crude gravimeter.
    Nothing more accurate than a pendulum clock combined with a stopwatch is required.

    * His assertion that people think this because south is down on maps is so moronic I do not know how to respond to it.

  61. I thought the universal English-speaker method for remembering right and left was to hold your hands in front of your face thumbs touching, an d the one that made an L was left.

    It’s hard for me to believe my mental health has been damaged by the fact i dont speak whatever long-dead Swiss, p-celtic and Jutish dialects my ancestors once spoke. They assimilated. There`s an essentialist view of “indigenous” at play in the idea that it would be good for the people involved, even though assimilation didn’t damage the enormous numbers of us whose folks assimilated. We can only talk about “white people” today because assimilation worked so phenomenally for them.

    I like the idea of languages surviving, because i like languages. But i very much doubt it’s helps the participants any more than, say, taking cooking classes with friends, or joining the rabid fraternity of ManUre fans. And the potential downside of adopting an identity that is isolating seems pretty clear. Still, hobbies that bring people together are healthy, and if some folks choose the hobby of language resuscitation, good on them!

  62. About that language diversity index.

    Maybe it would help, if distances between speakers are taken to account. More precisely, the probability to pick up a same-language speaker from far away should count for less.Then a village with it’s own language will get a relative boost in the score and large monolingual parts of a nation wouldn’t suppress it too much. Russia still will be relatively undiversed by this measure, there are plenty of people leaving in Moscow, but at least same-language speakers from Saratov wouldn’t count for as much.

    On the other (I believe it’s north-north-west) hand, geographic distances do not count for as much in the Zuckerbergozoic era. Maybe a true depreciation factor should be by degree of separation.

  63. Ryan, what works for you doesn’t necessarily work for other people. You can “very much doubt it helps the participants any more than, say, taking cooking classes with friends,” but by and large you are absolutely wrong. This is not the voluntary assimilation of immigrants. This is the forced assimilation which was the lot of those who avoided genocide. For many people in Australia, North America and elsewhere, assimilation means digging your own spiritual and often physical grave. Language revitalization is a part of climbing out of that grave.

    I wish the paragraphs starting with “For Zuckermann, there are three reasons why people should support language revival…” The image of the kindly, wise White defending his grateful, helpless flock is outdated and repulsive.

  64. [reported opinion] They [native Americans] are far better off forgetting their native languages, learning English,

    Astonishing. As if learning some native/other language somehow ‘uses up’ your brainpower or cultural adaptiveness for speaking English/being American.

    Never having visited the U.S., and therefore only having met Americans who know stuff like there are other countries than Canada/Mexico (and those three other Mexicos) and other languages than French/Spanish, I get the strong impression there are large numbers of non-travelling Americans who are as pigshit ignorant as your President. Of course the Jay Leno shove-a-microphone-in-someone’s-face-and-ask-dumb-questions-get-dumber-answers sort of programme only reinforces that. Am I being unfair?

  65. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Try visiting Santa Barbara sometime! The coast there runs east-west, which really screws up your imagined geography.

    When I visited Santa Barbara I didn’t pay much attention to compass points, but you remind me of an example that is far closer to me (infinitely closer, in fact) than Toronto or Santiago. In Marseilles the coast follows a north-south axis, but it took me quite a long time to grasp that, especially as maps of Marseilles usually put east at the top. So I found it odd that the part of it where I live is referred to as les quartiers sud despite being in what seems to be the east.

  66. ktschwarz says:

    Penny is not “some guy”, she’s a geologist and paleontologist, and her reference is to a geology professor. As for counting flow directions: of Wikipedia’s top ten longest rivers, only two flow toward the equator — the Amazon (mostly east, slightly northeast) and Mississippi — and I see no obvious trend farther down the list either. Do you have a reference in support of the claim of equatorial tendency? I looked and found only more geologists saying it doesn’t exist.

    The geoid is exactly an equipotential of the combination of gravity and centrifugal force — that’s the definition of geoid. You can do gravimetry with a stopwatch *now*, but Maupertuis couldn’t in 1735; that was when Harrison was just building his first sea clock.

  67. David Marjanović says:

    I think this was discussed before, but some Indo-European languages carry traces of a system that assumes that you are facing east, (In other words, that you are “oriented”.) So the word for south is related to the word for right and so on.

    I don’t know of any IE languages doing that, but Mongolians face south, rather understandably turning their back on the taiga.

    assimilation to the mainstream

    can only work out if the majority lets you assimilate. If there’s any hint of racism in the society and you look different from the majority, you’ll be treated differently no matter if you have a language of your own.

    We can only talk about “white people” today because assimilation worked so phenomenally for them.

    Correct, but that was an extremely slow process. In Neolithic Germany, hunter-gatherer-fishers continued to roam between the fields for two thousand years with very limited interbreeding with the farmers.

  68. January First-of-May says:

    As for counting flow directions: of Wikipedia’s top ten longest rivers, only two flow toward the equator — the Amazon (mostly east, slightly northeast) and Mississippi — and I see no obvious trend farther down the list either.

    Wait, only two? I’d probably need to take a look on the list…
    …no, 2 is correct, though only 4 clearly flow away from the equator – Nile, Yenisei, Ob, and Rio de la Plata (Yangtze, Amur, and the Yellow River meander in a general direction of “east”, and the Congo crosses the equator twice).

    Expanding the list to 20, we find six more rivers going toward the equator (Mekong, Brahmaputra, Tocantins, Volga, Indus, Euphrates), three more rivers going away from the equator (Lena, Mackenzie, Murray), and one uncertain case (Niger), for a total score of 8-7-5 in favor of “toward”.
    Down to 30: Madeira, Purus, Sao Francisco, Salween, Rio Grande, and probably Danube go toward the equator, while Yukon, Syrdarya, Saint Lawrence, and Lower Tunguska go away from the equator, for a total score of 14-11-5.
    Down to 40: only the Araguaia and Ganges flow toward the equator, while the Vilyuy flows essentially east (I’m not sure which direction it should be counted for), for a total score of 16-18-6 (now in favor of “away”).
    Finally, down to 50, the score appears to be tied at 22-22-6 (I will not bother listing the individual contributing rivers). It does sound much like there’s no obvious trend to me…

    (I might try to figure out what’s going on at 100, or even to the full 184 of the Wikipedia list, but not right now.)

  69. the one that made an L was left — and you know it’s an L because the thumb is pointing right. But I’m sure it works for a lot of people who otherwise have problems with left and right, which might indicate that letter recognition is using systems in the brain that distinguish left and right intrinsically. (On the other hand, as someone else said, young kids very often have problems distinguishing d and b, so at the very least there would have to be something age dependent about the workings of those systems — or it’s more a problem in production. On the third, I think that I have to think about d/b when reading text upside down (as you do) because they look wrong, but it feels like that could easily be trained away).

  70. John Cowan says:

    She was distressed that indigenous Australians who attended international meetings of indigenous people from around the world were the only attendees who no longer had a native language to speak.

    I can only suppose that there were no North Americans there.

    I thought the universal English-speaker method

    I literally never heard of that method before today. I wish I had had; it would have helped a lot back when I literally didn’t know one from the other. It should work for Dutch and German links, Polish lewy, Slovak ľavý, and Serbo-Croatian and Slovene levi/lijevi too.

    I’ve quoted Tómas Sæmundsson several times before (or rather Tolkien quoting him in translation), but here it is again:

    Languages are the chief distinguishing marks of peoples. No people in fact comes into being until it speaks a language of its own; let the languages perish and the peoples perish too, or become different peoples. But that never happens except as the result of oppression and distress.

    The second sentence is at most a tendency, but the third sentence is all too true. No amount of immigration can destroy a language in its home territory.

  71. On describing missing teeth when you only have a compass reference:

    English speakers have the exact opposite problem and deal with it in the same way described by Owlmirror.

    “If you come in the door and face the registers, the produce is on your right.”

  72. >but that was an extremely slow process. In Neolithic Germany, hunter-gatherer-fishers continued to roam between the fields for two thousand years.

    I find you extraordinarily erudite on a wide range of issues and almost always reliable. But your implied claim here to know the language habits and cultural identities of hunter-gatherer-fishers after the influx of Neolithic farmers is dubious to me.

    We know relatively little about the waves of identity that washed over Germany in the 30 centuries before the border crises of Rome), but in places like Britain what you’re glossing as a slow process that created white people took in at minimum, h/g to megalithic farmer to Beaker/horse culture, possibly full stop for two millennia, though I very much doubt it, to Roman back to Celtic to Germanic invader, which in turn led to assimilations to the dialects of various overlords, to a Norman melange that led to English.

    >but by and large you are absolutely wrong. This is not the voluntary assimilation of immigrants. This is the forced assimilation

    I’m not unaware of what happened. Among the reasons I believe Elizabeth Warren’s claim of native ancestry is that my family has a similar, if somewhat more hoary myth, rooted in Pennsylvania in the late 1700’s rather than Oklahoma roughly a century later. I can’t think of a reason my grandmother would have invented such a story in the early 1970’s when she was 60, even if there was an allure in such identities for many young people at that time.

    But no one is being forced at this point, and there is a reason that the vast majority of people who are in the situation you describe do not bother with such things. I said I have no problem with those who do. I give them no advice except good luck. I don’t discourage them.

    They are now in the situation that many Irish were in 150 years ago. Recent language loss, some of it forced, followed by economic deprivation, in some cases nearly as severe as it was for the Irish. I look around at my many Irish-American neighbors and doubt that their loss of Gaelic is a problem for them. In most cases, it helped them meet their spouses, whose background is not Irish. The children of my friend Olawale know no Igbo. I can’t see that this is harming them. The melting pot works, when pursued with even a modicum of good faith. In the context of the melting pot, some Irish now try to learn Gaelic. That’s not so different, really, from those Navajo and Ojibwa trying to save their languages. It’s a good thing. A nice thing. But to raise it to a cultural necessity is actually a criticism of the lives of most people in that situation. I’ll hear that that isn’t true, but here is Bathrobe, in the comment I was responding to:

    >The ones who need educating are the majority, who often have narrow, intolerant attitudes that hasten language death.

    I can abide by the quote from Sæmundsson. “Let the language perish, and the peoples … become different peoples.” Yes.

    Peoples are almost always in the process of becoming different peoples. The valence of this is less clear than current politics would have us believe.

  73. David Eddyshaw says:

    let the languages perish and the peoples perish too, or become different peoples.

    Unless this is interpreted in such a way as to make it tautologous, I think it ain’t necessarily so: the matter is very culture-bound. For example, there are quite a lot of groups which have given up their original languages for Hausa but who would very reasonably maintain that they are by no means ethnic Hausa because of that. The language is quite separable from the culture.

    On the other hand, in the Kusaasi area the idea that language equals ethnicity is firmly entrenched, with several very similar languages called by different names entirely because the speakers don’t regard themselves as part of the same ethnic group (and the converse too, to some extent.)

    European examples of both attitudes are easy to think of.

  74. J.W. Brewer says:

    For a “people” to survive in the sort of pristine essentialist form beloved of nationalists, it cannot tolerate too much exogamy. Making sure your children lack the linguistic resources to carry on a conversation with prospective mates outside the “people” is one plausible exogamy-discouraging strategy. Having your “people” be so despised by the local dominant majority that they consider it shameful or taboo for their kids to marry yours can work equally well, of course.

  75. That’s not so different, really, from those Navajo and Ojibwa trying to save their languages. It’s a good thing. A nice thing. But to raise it to a cultural necessity is actually a criticism of the lives of most people in that situation.

    You’re conflating two very different things. I don’t think anybody’s saying there’s some sort of moral duty to force yourself to try to learn/revive an ancestral language that’s no longer of practical use (though many of us do think those who do so are to be praised, and those who mock them are jerks); what people are saying is that before it gets to the stage when the language is no longer of practical use, it is immoral to try to force people to give up their language. I frankly don’t think those two concepts are that hard to keep separate.

  76. Also, I have distant but documented Cherokee ancestry (my g-g-g-grandfather George Washington Dodson, b. 1779, married Elizabeth Fagan, b. 1785, who was half-Cherokee), but I don’t talk about it for obvious reasons. Nobody wants to hear about white people’s distant Cherokee ancestry.

  77. Insofar as “assimilation of” vidually-identifiable minority groups provides them benefits, they come from relatively basic understanding of the majority culture; e.g. having a good enough command of English (today effectively essential even for those of us who are not minority groups). Nothing about this requires abandoning their markers of identity and existence as a separate culture.

    (It will, quite likely, however require abandoning several “deeper” cultural ideas about the organization of society and people’s individual rights and obligations in it. Eradicating any traditions along the lines of human sacrifice or cannibalism will be a good starting point, but there are also less obviously horrible traits that will regardless clash with peaceful coexistence in a modern civilized society.)

    Assimilation into “whiteness”, taken literally, is relatively young really, plus also a lot more localized than people think; this has never been the major axis of societal stratification in most of Europe, only in its American etc. colonies. Which I think is what Ryan is also pointing at in the first place. (I would however assume he did have a few ancestors who would too have been better off knowing their “ancestral” p-Celtic — at the point when this was only one to two generations ago, not in distant history.)

  78. I want to acknowledge the replies above, and any that come, without commenting, because I don’t want to be a troll on a difficult subject. I do look forward to reading those who agree and disagree.

  79. Feel free to respond; as long as you don’t get heated and start attacking people, which I don’t think is likely from your past input here, I doubt anyone will find you trollish. It is indeed a difficult subject, and there are no easy answers.

  80. per incuriam says:

    a system that assumes that you are facing east, (In other words, that you are “oriented”.) So the word for south is related to the word for right and so on.

    I don’t know of any IE languages doing that

    In Irish it’s reasonably transparent (in Gaelic too, I think).

  81. AJP Crown says:

    I don’t talk about it for obvious reasons. Nobody wants to hear about white people’s distant Cherokee ancestry.

    I vaguely heard something about Elizabeth Warren but I don’t trust her because she used to be a Republican so I didn’t pay much attention. I don’t know why Americans have found yet another race thing to be touchy about (sorry, “ethnicity”) and distract them from serious stuff like voting, public health, housing & education. I would certainly be fascinated to hear about your Cherokee ancestry.

  82. I’d be interested as well, if there’s more to the story. You already mentioned more about it than I know of my possible Native American ancestor.

    Mine comes at a dead stop in the family tree that someone put together. “George Clark m. ?” That’s the entire story. That and that my grandmother claimed the heritage. It’s plausible. But there is absolutely no other supporting information that anyone who was alive in my lifetime communicated. It made me more aware of things as a kid, perhaps was the reason I re-read Mary Sandoz’s Crazy Horse bio over and over, hopefully made me more sympathetic, but no, it has no relevance to my plight in the world or to how anyone would understand me.

    I almost never mention my distant ancestor. I’m sure zero of my friends are aware of it. But it seems relevant in a discussion of assimilation. My reading of works like Middle Ground suggest that such relationships were fairly mutual from the point of the view of the families involved (though perhaps not from the point of view of the young woman, as marriages may often have involved some abridgment of female consent in those days, and still do in some cultures.)

    I do want to mention that Elizabeth Warren’s situation is at least somewhat different than “the distant Cherokee ancestry of white people.” She seems to have had a recent ancestor, alive in her mom’s time, who did identify as Cherokee, and was identified that way by others, despite his having had relatively few great-grandparents who were Cherokee.

    But this would be true of many who are fully recognized as Cherokee today. Famously, John Ross, the Cherokee leader who attempted to negotiate with Pres. Jackson, and to advance the Cherokee cause with other political leaders who were much more sympathetic, was 7/8ths Brit.

    I suspect what is left out of that history is that Ross wasn’t necessarily the pre-eminent Cherokee leader, so much as the one Cherokees felt would be the most successful interlocutor with Anglo-Americans. But I don’t believe there is any dispute of the fact that he was considered Cherokee by both Anglos and Tsalagi.

  83. SFReader says:

    ᏣᎳᎩᏍ ᎯᏬᏂᏍᎩ?

  84. By the way, for anyone wondering about the influential work on Native American/Anglo American interaction, Middle Ground, here’s a pretty useful review of some of the theory and historiography. I didn’t finish the review b/c I need to get back to work, so I’m not vouching the politics of the review. It just popped up at the top of google, and seemed to be in the spirit of “eilu v’ eilu devrim elokim Chayim.” The halakhah will go with the Imaginative Conservative for taking the time to explicate various sides.:
    https://theimaginativeconservative.org/2012/07/the-middle-ground-historical.html

  85. David Eddyshaw says:

    the word for south is related to the word for right and so on

    In Irish it’s reasonably transparent (in Gaelic too, I think)

    Welsh too: extremely transparent, in fact (embarrassingly, that only just occurred to me.)

  86. I don’t know why Americans have found yet another race thing to be touchy about (sorry, “ethnicity”) and distract them from serious stuff like voting, public health, housing & education. I would certainly be fascinated to hear about your Cherokee ancestry.

    It’s not that mysterious: too many white people like to parade touches of exoticism like having a Cherokee ancestor (always Cherokee for some reason, and often imaginary) or a black friend, and actual Native Americans and African Americans understandably get tired of being used as props in that way. I’m afraid all I know about my Cherokee ancestry is what I mentioned in that comment — I’d like to know more, but I’m not sufficiently invested in genealogy to find out.

  87. In the temperate Northern Hemisphere, rivers that flow South are not necessarily more common, but they are more prominent in the human world because they are more navigable, and they lead into useful ocean ports. North bound rivers have a problem with Spring floods: the snow melts in the South, the river fills up, and then the flood hits the Northern downstream ice and overflows. By contrast, a South flowing river will often have a more orderly ice melt. Also, if you start barging South just before the river ices over, you’ll probably make it; not so if you barge North. And if you do manage to get your cargo down to the mouth of the North flowing river, you’re in the Arctic Ocean.

    So, although for many Minnesota farmers the Red River is closer than the Mississippi, a whole lot more grain goes to New Orleans than to Hudson Bay.

    .

  88. David Eddyshaw says:

    Can’t say I go a bundle in this “Middle Ground” idea if it’s pressed into service to create a sort of moral equivalence between the invader and the invaded, which frankly looks like a danger if not the psychological mainspring of the enterprise. It’s natural to want to mitigate the crimes of your ancestors (indeed praiseworthy, up to a – very early – point.)

    It’s possible to accept that invaders were not all equally aggressive, violent and contemptuous of the invaded, without pretending that the fact that many invaders were not wholly evil people (plainly true) makes the whole enterprise morally OK. It wasn’t OK, and it’s not ahistorical moral relativism to say so loud and clear.

    I would be more impressed with the moral bona fides of this movement if it were the work of actual middle-grounders themselves (maybe it is; can’t tell from the article.)

    Sounds like Ryan actually knows about this. Am I misjudging what’s going on here?

  89. SFReader says:

    White Americans may have a little Native American ancestry (usually about what Hat has if not more distant), but the important thing is – Native Americans have way more white ancestry (in fact, in Latin America almost all of the US Indians would have been called Mestizo).

    So you are all related anyways (African Americans are 20% white – Soviet racial maps list them as a mixed African-European race).

  90. AJP Puritan says:

    Lots of people have an imaginary ancestor who came over on the Mayflower and founded Massachusetts without my getting tired of being used as a prop.

  91. Heh.

  92. David Eddyshaw says:

    Yes: what impressed me about Hat’s pedigree was not so much the Cherokees but the fact that he can trace it back to an American of 1779. Doesn’t that make you an aristocrat in American terms (or am I simply falling for hurtful stereotyping?)

    [My own traceable family history in the paternal line peters out in the eighteenth century with a John Hithersay, forefather of all Eddyshaws (however spelt), who would appear to have been either uncertain of his own name or to have had – doubtless shady – motives for obfuscating his origin. Or to have had a really impenetrable regional accent of some sort.]

  93. January First-of-May says:

    Ukrainian compass directions are, of course, very transparently solar (i.e. the words for north, south, east and west are exactly the same words as midnight, midday, (sun)rise and (sun)set, and are clearly decomposable in the latter meanings). I vaguely recall that there are a few other European languages that work that way.

    Russian shares the east-west/rise-set duality with Ukrainian, though it doesn’t quite use the same words for both; the Russian word for “north” appears to be of Indo-European origin, and apparently nobody is quite sure where the Russian word for “south” comes from (beyond Proto-Slavic, where it already meant “south”), but it doesn’t seem to have any relation to any other directional terms either.

     
    EDIT: as for the family history, I never really bothered actively looking beyond the late 19th century; it’s likely that at least in some of the lines I could have taken it much farther if I did actively look (and perhaps some day I might if I ever have that kind of money).
    In particular, I don’t know anything about my paternal line beyond the third generation (i.e. great-grandfather), which doesn’t even get it out of the 20th century.

  94. SFReader says:

    America has very good genealogical records. If you have ancestors who came before 19th century, chances you can trace them to the point of arrival in America – 1677 for our host.

    It’s European records where the problem is.

  95. Yes: what impressed me about Hat’s pedigree was not so much the Cherokees but the fact that he can trace it back to an American of 1779. Doesn’t that make you an aristocrat in American terms (or am I simply falling for hurtful stereotyping?)

    Oh, I can trace the Dodson line back to the 1680s, when brothers Richard and Rufus Dodson took advantage of a land grant from Charles II to move to Maryland (apparently from somewhere in the vicinity of Abingdon), but that’s not aristocracy even in American terms, just land-hungry yokels on the make.

  96. John Cowan says:

    For example, there are quite a lot of groups which have given up their original languages for Hausa but who would very reasonably maintain that they are by no means ethnic Hausa because of that.

    Doubtless: the Irish are not English. But what would the non-Hausa-speaking ancestors have thought of their linguistically assimilated descendants? Would they see them, with Saemundsson, as a different people? Terms like shoneenism and (in the U.S.) acting white suggest that they might have.

    For a “people” to survive in the sort of pristine essentialist form beloved of nationalists, it cannot tolerate too much exogamy.

    In the Viking Age, the Norse seem to have treated their sons as 100% Norse despite a very high rate of exogamy-by-capture.

    “whiteness” […] has never been the major axis of societal stratification in most of Europe, only in its American etc. colonies.

    That’s because (in America at least), there was very little social stratification beyond aut liberi aut servi, which quickly got tied to skin color as a convenient marker. Class stratification didn’t arrive in force until the 19C or so.

    she used to be a Republican

    Warren has always been a free marketeer, but she belatedly discovered that the Republican Party is not the party of free markets but of monopoly. (This has been true since about 1865, but it takes time for people to see the cat.)

    such relationships were fairly mutual from the point of the view of the families involved (though perhaps not from the point of view of the young woman

    Or of course vice versa, as in the notorious intermarriage between those two well-known ethnoi, the Montecchi and the Cappelletti. Where the parents and the children are in fact in agreement, we simply don’t hear much.

    I suspect what is left out of that history is that Ross wasn’t necessarily the pre-eminent Cherokee leader, so much as the one Cherokees felt would be the most successful interlocutor with Anglo-Americans.

    From Le Guin’s commencement speech:

    The difference between our politics and that of a native Californian people is clear in the style of the public discourse. The difference wasn’t clear to the White invaders, who insisted on calling any Indian who made a speech a “chief,” because they couldn’t comprehend, they wouldn’t admit, an authority without supremacy — a non-dominating authority.

  97. David Eddyshaw says:

    that’s not aristocracy … just land-hungry yokels on the make

    I’m not seeing a meaningful distinction here …

  98. Heh. Fair point, but such yokels tend to take a few generations to become aristocrats. In the Dodson case, they just kept moving generally westward and stayin’ alive.

  99. SFReader says:

    the Irish are not English

    I wonder how much English ancestry the Irish really have.

    Religious difference dates only from 16th century, but English colonization began in 12th century. So there must have been a lot of intermarriage, especially around Dublin area.

  100. J.W. Brewer says:

    I have a quite distant cousin who uses his genealogical research chops to debunk various pleasing family legends about our ancestry (in the sector where our family trees overlap and no doubt he covers other branches of his tree that don’t overlap with mine). He has in fact debunked to his own satisfaction: a) legends I had heard but already doubted; b) legends I had heard and had no reason to doubt; and c) legends I had never heard of before learning he had debunked them to his own satisfaction (in that case, the purported legend that such and such four-greats-grandmother who’d popped up in Upper Canada c. 1800 had been an illegitimate daughter of the then-Duke of Devonshire).

  101. SFReader says:

    Traditional Russian ethnology maintained that the American population is comprised of the English-speaking majority who are rightly called Americans and unassimilated immigrants.

    “Whiteness” concept is just an attempt to exclude large population groups (namely the African Americans, but also Native Americans and significant portion of the Hispanics) from that American majority.

    I realize that this is not a popular position, but this is the reality if we apply traditional European criteria.

    American blacks are not a different ethnic group, they are not even a minority, but part of the majority by standards of any normal country. Same goes for almost all Native Americans, Hawaiians and many other so called minorities.

    Let’s prove this by Russian example – imagine there is a racially mixed group who are native Russian speakers since 17th century, are Orthodox Christians and have Russian surnames and lived in Russia for three or four centuries and intermarried with Russians significantly so that now they have 20% ethnic Russian ancestry.

    In Russia, such group would be classified as Russians, not an ethnic minority.

  102. David Eddyshaw says:

    @SFReader:

    I don’t follow you: surely in Europe, too, “minority” as a term is in no way limited to “unassimilated immigrants”; unless, indeed, minorities are declared (regardless of the reality) to be unassimilated immigrants in order to delegitimise their claim on the rights of citizenship?

  103. SFReader says:

    In China, too…

  104. SFReader says:

    In Europe, centuries old ethnic minorities usually speak different language from the majority and they obviously belong to different culture or religion.

    Usual policy for the European governments is to assimilate them into the majority, not to exclude them. Except for the Nazi and Fascist governments, of course.

  105. In Russia, such group would be classified as Russians, not an ethnic minority.

    Tell me, how do Russians feel about Russian Jews?

  106. David Eddyshaw says:

    But what would the non-Hausa-speaking ancestors have thought of their linguistically assimilated descendants? Would they see them, with Saemundsson, as a different people?

    I don’t think this question as it stands reliably differentiates between cases where there has been a language change and where there hasn’t. I suspect all my ancestors regardless of their various languages would mutter into their beards about their degenerate descendant(s), and language would probably be the least of it.

    I fully accept that language loss can and does go hand in hand with severe cultural damage of all kinds. All I would maintain is that this is not invariable. The Hausa-adopters in fact vary among themselves: quite often adopting Hausa has gone along with adopting Islam and concomitant quite far-reaching cultural changes (Russell Schuh’s brillliant grammar of Miya goes into some detail about a case in progress); but quite often it’s happened with groups which define themselves very much in terms of opposition to Hausa-speaking Muslim hegemony. The Brits exploited and encouraged this (I linked to a paper about this a while ago: it’s fairly easily googleable with the words “Hausa Speaking Pagan Force”, which is such an enjoyable string to google that it would seem a shame just to add the link again.)

    I should perhaps clarify that though “ethnic Hausa person” (Bahaushee) is a thing, historically the Hausa are really a culture and an associated language, rather than a “tribe” who define themselves by real or imagined common descent. Parts of the package are quite recent: although Muslim Nigerians tend to get edgy on the point, there are still non-Muslim ethnic Hausa, and there used to be a lot more before the colonial period. The old god of Kano still has a sacred hill he dwells on, and there is still a Hausa spirit possession cult, bori.

  107. SFReader says:

    Jews are obviously distinct from Russians by religion.

    Anyway, the assimilated Russian Jewish group isn’t even three generations old – no comparison with American blacks whose ancestry in America is as old as of “whites”

  108. One can always make distinctions, but allow me to point out that 1) if you’re going to play the “assimilation” game, blacks were just as unassimilated as Russian Jews until around the same time, and 2) lots of Jews converted (e.g., Mandelstam) or were not the least religious (e.g., Trotsky) without, somehow, being seen as non-Jews.

  109. SFReader says:

    Wait, you mean English wasn’t native language of the African Americans until the WWII?

    Because Russian didn’t become native language for majority of Russian Jews until then.

    They spoke a German dialect instead.

    That’s how foreign they were…

  110. David Eddyshaw says:

    Maybe this reflects different concepts of ethnicity: the Russians (of one kind) would be like the Hausa (or the French), envisaging themselves as a culture with a language that goes with it; Americans (of one kind), like Germans, would suppose that they are a tribe, connected by common descent.

    Neither bodes well for minorities. It’s as well both concepts are, in fact, false, and that plenty of Russians and Americans (and Germans and French and Hausa) can call bullshit on them.

  111. January First-of-May says:

    Let’s prove this by Russian example – imagine there is a racially mixed group who are native Russian speakers since 17th century, are Orthodox Christians and have Russian surnames and lived in Russia for three or four centuries and intermarried with Russians significantly so that now they have 20% ethnic Russian ancestry.

    In Russia, such group would be classified as Russians, not an ethnic minority.

    Pretty sure some of the Siberian ethnicities would qualify, actually… Yakut?

    (Most of the other examples I could think of are either much more assimilated than that, or much less assimilated than that. “Cossacks” could work, I suppose, but only if you think that Ukrainian is a dialect of Russian.)

  112. SFReader says:

    None of the Siberian ethnicities would qualify (Yakuts still speak their own language and remain very different – one of the least assimilated groups probably)

    A few racially mixed groups which would were actually classified as Russians by Tsarist, Soviet and current governments – people of Russkoe ust’ie, Kamchadals, Gurans, etc.

  113. Bathrobe says:

    that’s not aristocracy even in American terms, just land-hungry yokels on the make

    Hmmm. If you suddenly dropped in my estimation, would that make me a snob? 🙂

  114. John Cowan says:

    Let’s prove this by Russian example – imagine there is a racially mixed group who are native Russian speakers since 17th century, are Orthodox Christians and have Russian surnames and lived in Russia for three or four centuries and intermarried with Russians significantly so that now they have 20% ethnic Russian ancestry.

    In Russia, such group would be classified as Russians, not an ethnic minority.

    Okay, but now suppose that the Russian this group speaks is only partly mutually intelligible with Standard Russian, and in particular preschool children are very hard for other Russians to understand because they have not yet gone to school to learn the standard. Also suppose that much of that 20% ancestry is the result not of marriage of any kind but of rape, under a law that not only permits it but says that the ethnicity of any resulting children is determined solely by the status of the mother. Does that change the conclusion?

  115. SFReader says:

    If “hard to understand dialect” criteria is accepted, two thirds of England’s population wouldn’t be, well, English…

  116. SFReader says:

    I am not saying that African Americans aren’t different, it’s just that these differences are artificially exaggerated by racist and racialist propaganda.

    They are different, but hardly much more than white Southerners who unlike African Americans briefly had their own country and even fought against the United States.

  117. Bathrobe says:

    For a “people” to survive in the sort of pristine essentialist form beloved of nationalists, it cannot tolerate too much exogamy.

    This seems like a straw man to me.

    This kind of nationalism does exist. Modern Mongolians are very much like that. An admixture of foreign blood (especially Chinese) means you are no longer “pure Mongolian”. But this definition is based on the fallacy of “pure blood” and excludes a lot of people from “Mongolness”, people who are culturally and linguistically Mongol. This is a running sore between Mongolians and Inner Mongolians.

    But even the Mongolians practice exogamy since there is a traditional requirement that a bride should be found from outside your own area, that is, another part of Mongolia — although this is not traditional, either, more a product of modern borders. These were secured within living memory through population exchanges between China and Mongolia, at times splitting up families.

    But since this kind of nationalism is, I suspect, a fairly modern thing, I can’t see that it is relevant to this discussion.

    On a different tangent, I remember it being claimed that you can’t do conventional historical linguistics in upland South East Asia because people were multilingual and groups practised exogamy, with some groups even switching between languages as a result, given that they knew more than one language.

    This is somewhat different, however, from what has happened in the past few centuries, when the proselytising zeal of Europeans (white Christians) was directed to rooting out or converting other languages and cultures around the world from a conviction of their own superiority (generalisation, of course, but the thrust is right). Add in the racism of many of those European groups and you get the situation that we have now: thousands of dead languages, devastated cultures, and cultural and racial groups pushed into marginal status. It was a veritable Holocaust, and you can’t just dismiss this with “oh well, languages come and languages go”.

  118. J.W. Brewer says:

    It is certainly true that most American blacks have more in common (not only via partial shared ancestry, but ethnoculturally) with old-timey WASPs than either group does with the descendants of quote unquote white immigrants of the Ellis Island era and more recently, but the ethnic/political dynamics of the U.S. over the last century-plus have for better or worse usually not been premised on that commonality. OTOH the musical synthesis achieved in the 1950’s et seq. between the shared vernacular musics of American blacks and American (southern, non-posh) WASP’s did pretty much take over the world.

  119. David Marjanović says:

    But your implied claim here to know the language habits and cultural identities of hunter-gatherer-fishers after the influx of Neolithic farmers is dubious to me.

    I know nothing about their language habits, and didn’t mean to imply that I did. Culture I would expect to be severely impacted by presence or absence of farming, even though, again, I have no idea of any details.

    But my point was the origin of white people: first, Western Hunter-Gatherers and Anatolian Neolithic Farmers mingled, then the resulting Early European Farmers mixed with people from the steppe. The first step took 2000 years, during which genetically distinct WHG continued to exist. The WHG had quite dark skin and dark hair; apparently they looked like people in southern India do today, except that all of the five or so WHG who have been sequenced thoroughly enough to tell had blue eyes. The ANF/EEF seem to have looked like the very darkest Mediterranean people today (and originally lacked blue eyes); the Indo-Europeans from the steppe were a bit lighter (and also originally lacked blue eyes); and then selection for lighter skin continued – I would guess up until the spread of lactose tolerance.

    (The splattering sounds you may hear in the distance are exploding Nazi heads.)

  120. David Marjanović says:

    I remember it being claimed that you can’t do conventional historical linguistics in upland South East Asia because people were multilingual and groups practised exogamy, with some groups even switching between languages as a result, given that they knew more than one language.

    …Why would that make historical linguistics impossible? Sure, the region is full of the usual language contact phenomena, but those are all known from elsewhere, too. Even the ancestry of Bái, which consists of layers upon layers Chinese borrowings almost all the way down, is not hopeless to figure out.

  121. January First-of-May says:

    A few racially mixed groups which would were actually classified as Russians by Tsarist, Soviet and current governments – people of Russkoe ust’ie, Kamchadals, Gurans, etc.

    Russkoye Ustye is… basically a lost colony, of the kind that shows up in science fiction. I can’t even think of a good analogy from anywhere else in OTL history.
    In other words, I think they always were Russians in the first place, and if they are racially mixed now it’s because they intermarried with the local Yakuts.

    No comment on Kamchadals (I thought the natives are still around, and apparently they are, but only barely); I didn’t know that the Gurans were a thing and had to look them up, but again, I think that’s intermixing in the other direction (they’re essentially the Siberian version of Mestizos).

  122. John Cowan says:

    On the contrary, I’d say it is hopeless. Bai could be: the most divergent Sinitic language overlaid with layers and layers of Chinese loans, or the closest relative of the Sinitic branch ditto, or a Loloish or Qiangic language heavily overlaid etc., or an unknown Tibeto-Burman language ditto, or a completely unknown language completely overlaid etc. There’s no principled way to tell: “infinite are the arguments of mages.”

    Tawra vs. Idu in northeast India.

  123. That’s the origin of a white-skinned phenotype. The origin of “white people” as a concept coterminous with Europe is about 80 years old at least in my country, primarily a product of World War II and the buddy fils it inspired.

    The Springfield ace riot of 1908 was one of the few in.a northern state and one of the few that blacks “won.” It was a conflict defined by party and ethnicity in which white northern Anglo Republicans and blacks were allied against Irish, other Catholic and white southern Democrats. The Republican dominated militia, closely allied to the GAR and the GOP, with black regiments but no Democratic leaning units, put down the white insurrection killing several.

    This axis, blacks and northern Anglo whites arrayed against Irish, Catholics and southerners, was and in many ways still is one of the defining features of the United States. How can one understand Huck Finn without recognizing that Huck was about as much an outcast as Jim, a stereotypical orphan son of a drunken Irishman. Yet most don’t get it today, and focus entirely on Jim, cuz Hick’s just a white kid, right?

    If this post is incoherent please blame 50% on its being composed in an iPhone. The other half is my normal befuddlement with what I’m trying to say.

  124. Gah! Buddy fils and ace riot = buddy films and race riot.

  125. Bathrobe says:

    I think SFR’s analysis is reasonably accurate. My impression (as a non-USian who has only been there 2-3 times) is that the US is a melting pot, and you are accepted if you assimilate (or at least subscribe in general) to the mainstream culture and are white. Less so if you are not white, although this has gradually changed over time — the allergy to the term “Oriental” among ethnic East Asians might be due to the discrimination that they faced and may still face.

    The big exception is the blacks, who were specifically excluded from membership of the mainstream because of their race. Some have identified this not as a system of “race” but a system of “caste”, a hangover from slavery.

    Indigenes are the other exception but the history there is more convoluted. Other groups, like Hispanics (being relatively recent, particularly in current numbers), and Indians, etc. are perhaps on the cutting edge of the expansion of acceptability.

    I’m willing to be trounced on these generalisations by our North American commenters.

    As for Russia, SFR’s analysis seems somewhat too benign. Yes, unlike North Americans, the Russians do not appear to have a large, racially differentiated slave caste. But for the rest they appear to resemble North Americans. Stereotypes of Russians include that they are culturally arrogant (par for the course for European culture in general), religiously intolerant (esp. against Islam), and racist (at least that is how they are viewed by Chinese who have lived in their midst). And like Americans, I suspect their acceptance of non-whites wasn’t instantaneous but took place over time.

    So you get this kind of person: https://www.quora.com/Do-Native-Siberians-feel-closer-to-Native-Americans-East-Asians-Central-Asians-or-Northeastern-Europeans/answer/Sayan-Zoriktuev (Sayan-Zoriktuev’s answer to “Do Native Siberians closer to Native Americans, East Asians, Central Asians, or Northeastern Europeans”. Perfectly assimilated. All very idyllic.

    The road to assimilation was less harmonious than might be imagined. The Buryats were colonised and many studied in the West of Russia in the 19th century and became intellectually Russian. Despite this, they became nationalists for pan-Mongol culture, translated many works from Russian into Mongolian (not Buryat — the decision to take “Mongol” off the Buryat name was made in the late 1950s), and were opposed to the Russian conversion of public lands into private lands (which, of course, favoured Russian settlers). They mostly met sticky ends at the hands of the Stalinist government.

    Thanks to Russian language policies (choice of standard language, change of script, etc.), Buryat was divorced from Mongolian and has been completely Russified. An example I picked up from a paper lamenting the Russification of Buryat is this: (1930): Buryaad ulasay niygem, Ulas tүryn asuudalnuudyn talaar bug Hural bolohodo zasagay gazaray zүghөө yurynhelegshe, sayduud orolsobo. (1998) Buryaad respublikyn social politicheske asuudalnuudyn talaar conferences bolohodo pravitelstvyn zүghөө president ministrnuud orolsobo. This kind of change doesn’t come about just by “language contact”. Buryat is now dying.

    No, it’s not as simple as straightforward generalisations of “This is how it is in our culture” make out.

    I’m willing to be trounced on these remarks by our Russian commentators.

  126. Bathrobe says:

    you are accepted if you assimilate (or at least subscribe in general) to the mainstream culture and are white

    Having read Ryan’s comment, I realise this was vastly overgeneralised. In Australia, too, the Irish and Catholics were excluded from the mainstream. It’s only in relatively recent times (during my lifetime, I think) that Catholicness has become much less stigmatised than it once was. And the boundaries are still shifting. Just based on my own personal perspective interracial marriages seem to have been pretty frowned upon even in the 1950s. Now they are reasonably common and not many people care.

  127. SFReader says:

    Racism is an European import in Russia, relatively recent at that.

    Adherence to Orthodox Christianity was what made someone accepted as a Russian, not race, not ethnic origin nor even language.

    Even ethnic Russians were excluded, if they no longer belonged to the official church(like millions of Old Believers), but foreigners of any race were accepted if they converted and made some effort to assimilate (and sometimes even if they didn’t).

    I think we discussed a Russian novel (by Leskov?) about peasants in northern Urals who weren’t actually ethnic Russian, but nobody even noticed this, so little it mattered – Orthodox, have Russian names and surnames, can speak and understand Russian – who cares if they speak another language at home.

  128. SFReader says:

    I am serious about language – in the empire, Ukrainians were officially classified as ethnic Russians even though they spoke a different language only partially intelligible with standard Russian.

    Funny enough(but following a certain logic) Catholic Ukrainians and Belarussians until the very end of the empire were counted as Poles despite speaking same language as their Orthodox neighbours.

  129. Bathrobe says:

    I was speaking more of the colonial accretions (Central Asia, East Asia) than the old parts in the West.

    People tend to think of overseas colonies when colonialism is discussed. Hence the word “colonial-style”, referring to the eastern seaboard, in the US. But the expansion west in the US and east in Russia was also colonialism, of a slightly different kind. “Winning the West” was massive colonialism. The old lawless towns you see in Western movies were also “colonial”, although they are never referred to as such.

  130. John Cowan says:

    Russkoye Ustye is… basically a lost colony

    Teh Germans of Central Texas come to mind, as do lots of Polynesian islands.

    I’m willing to be trounced on these generalisations by our North American commenters.

    Sounds Oll Korrect to me, to a first approximation anyway.

    But for the rest they appear to resemble North Americans.

    I have tried to make this point to many Russians I know (it has, of course, a good side as well as a bad one). I don’t remember any of them accepting it.

  131. SFReader says:

    Well, yes, both Americans and Russians are culturally European, in many ways, the Americans are more of an outlier than Russians.

    This was concealed for a while by development lags and later by Communism.

  132. SFReader says:

    Romanians/Eastern Romance speakers are descendants of a lost colony – Roman province of Dacia evacuated in late 3rd century AD.

    Some ethnic groups in Burma are descendants of garrisons of the frontier posts of the Pagan empire who were left behind when the empire was overrun by Shans and Mons in 14th century.

  133. SFReader says:

    Americans, Russians and South Americans are all culturally European, naturally they resemble each other a lot- common cultural origins and similar circumstances.

    I’d say, Americans are more of a cultural outlier than Russians compared to the European mainstream.

  134. January First-of-May says:

    Teh Germans of Central Texas come to mind, as do lots of Polynesian islands.

    Lost colonies, as such, aren’t that rare in history – Cajuns are the first example that comes to my mind.

    The unusual status of Russkoye Ustye that I struggled to find non-science-fiction analogies for is the part where further colonization waves of (essentially) the same origin eventually caught up, creating a situation where the older lost colony could be considered a wayward part of the same nation/ethnos as the surrounding(-ish) newer colonies, while still being clearly distinct.

    (I fully expect the regulars here to start coming in with loads of examples anyway – very possibly obvious ones that I’ve missed – but offhand I can’t think of any.)

  135. >Yes, unlike North Americans, the Russians do not appear to have a large, racially differentiated slave caste.

    The Mayor of my city, the former President of my country, the many African American professionals of my office, all speak to the boffo silliness of that statement.

    Things aren’t phenomenal for many black people in the US, but using that description in the present tense is pretty far beyond the range of ludicrous.

  136. My wife’s family, from Oklahoma, has a tradition of having some Cherokee ancestry. We have photos of some of these people, and they do really look like Native Americans. But my wife had her DNA done and there is no native American in it. But that only shows the female line, so it doesn’t completely rule out the family tradition.

    However the results also said that she is 0.5% Congolese.

    Now whenever our African-American neighbours drop in, they say “You need to be with your people”.

  137. Bathrobe says:

    large, racially differentiated slave caste

    Ok, on the surface a ridiculous statement. However, I was speaking historically; it was not meant to suggest that the U.S. currently has a “black slave caste”. I was suggesting that the current situation in the U.S. traces back to the discriminatory treatment of blacks as a group within U.S. society. Russia does not appear to have such a large, clearly demarcated subgroup (although some have suggested the Jews).

    What the U.S. does have is a distinct and distinctive black culture that appears to be more resilient (and culturally vibrant) than many other cultural minorities in the U.S. The U.S. also has a “Black Lives Matter” movement, which suggests that some non-black people don’t think that they do. My point was that this is a result of the peculiar historical status of blacks within the U.S.

  138. SFReader says:

    Perhaps it’s better to think of blacks as a caste like in India.

    Some of the lower castes there even differ by skin color being somewhat darker than more privileged castes.

    It’s better analogy than continuing to view blacks as stranded foreigners from another continent – it’s your own people, face it.

  139. AJP Crown says:

    OTOH the musical synthesis achieved in the 1950’s et seq. between the shared vernacular musics of American blacks and American (southern, non-posh) WASP’s did pretty much take over the world.

    No way, Brewer. It was black music that in many different forms took over the world. No synthesis took over the world, except maybe the Beatles’ for less than ten years. All forms, from Jazz through Rap, started as African or African-American music. Black, not white. Southern US WASPs didn’t contribute any more than a whole bunch of other tribes, those who interpreted some form of African-American music and added something of their own. It’s fundamentally a black thing, the music, not a US thing. Coca Cola, now that’s a US thing. Also Abstract Expressionism, Disney cartoons, Superman, Camel cigarettes, hamburgers and Hollywood movies. Be content with those.

  140. It was black music that in many different forms took over the world. No synthesis took over the world,

    Nonsense. Queen, Abba, Metallica, The Smiths, U2, REM, Elton John, and on and on. All those groups draw heavily on European folk, religious and “classical” music traditions. You may not like them, but they are all extremely popular and influential.

    Rock music is bleached R&B and reached its white apotheosis in prog-rock and Krautrock.

  141. AJP Crown says:

    All those groups draw heavily on European folk, religious and “classical” music traditions.

    So what? Nonsense, yourself. I’m discussing the assertion that the shared vernacular musics of American blacks and American (southern, non-posh) WASP’s did pretty much take over the world. What’s that got to do with Queen or Abba? My point is that all rock music derives from some form of black music. It doesn’t all derive from Buddy Holly or Elvis or the one who married his 12 yr old cousin.

  142. It is certainly true that most American blacks have more in common (not only via partial shared ancestry, but ethnoculturally) with old-timey WASPs than either group does with the descendants of quote unquote white immigrants of the Ellis Island era

    American blacks share the same culture as Southern Whites – this seems quite obvious to old New England WASPs, such as myself, who traditionally were not particularly ethnoculturally close to either group. (I would agree that there has been a lot of convergence among all “older” American groups over the past 80 years though). My paternal grand-parents, who were both WASPs whose ancestors arrived in New England in the 17th century, were ethnoculturally closer to the contemporary Swiss, English and Dutch descendants of their common ancestors than they were to Americans of African or Scotch-Irish heritage, despite English being their only language. I think there is lot right about Colin Woodard’s “eleven nations of America” theory.

  143. “My point is that all rock music derives from some form of black music.”

    Even Abba? Anyway, I disagree. I can easily imagine Kraftwerk, Metallica or Dropkick Murphys existing in a world where R&B never became popular. Even the Grateful Dead owe more to Celtic/English folk music than they do to African music. Do you really see a lot of African-American influence in “Bohemian Rhapsody” for that matter? Would I rather listen to Prince or the Talking Heads than any of those bands? Yes I would, but you can’t deny they exist and are popular.

  144. I think we discussed a Russian novel (by Leskov?) about peasants in northern Urals who weren’t actually ethnic Russian

    That was Reshetnikov’s Подлиповцы (The Podlipnayans); we discussed it last year.

    I have tried to make this point to many Russians I know (it has, of course, a good side as well as a bad one). I don’t remember any of them accepting it.

    I’m surprised; the similarity of Russians and Americans (as “young,” innovating peoples still learning and expanding vs. effete old Europeans) is a longstanding cliche, and has been frequently invoked by Russians historically even if it’s probably past its sell-by date in the 21st century. What Russians do have a hard time accepting is the racism and anti-Semitism so ingrained in the culture and so obvious to any outsider (when I visited the Soviet Union I got an earful about the Yellow Peril, the primitive nature of black people, etc., along with suggestions that we should stop squabbling with each other and unite against the colored hordes). That’s why I automatically mention Russian anti-Semitism when the subject of American racism comes up — not to downplay the latter, obviously, but to point out that we’re all living in glass houses.

  145. >>large, racially differentiated slave caste

    >Ok, on the surface a ridiculous statement. However, I was speaking historically;

    That does completely change my reaction to the statement. Pretty important tense distinction though.

  146. AJP Crown says:

    No one said anything took over the world to the exclusion of every other form of music. And there’s no need to bring Queen or Abba into it when there’s Britten, Steve Reich, Ravi Shankar, Phil Glass, Brian Eno, P. Boulez, Berio, Xenakis… Which reminds me

    In order to pay rent, composers frequently take up secondary jobs. Borodin was a licensed chemist, Ives worked in the insurance industry, and the pioneer of minimalist music Philip Glass supported himself by working as a plumber, furniture mover and taxi driver. “I was careful,” the composer explained, “to take a job that couldn’t have any possible meaning for me.” Even after Glass achieved fame and notoriety with his opera Einstein on the Beach in 1976, he still continued to ply his blue-collar trades. Called upon to install a dishwasher, “I suddenly heard a noise and looked up to find Robert Hughes, the art critic of Time magazine, staring at me in disbelief. ‘But you’re Philip Glass! What are you doing here?’ It was obvious that I was installing his dishwasher and I told him I would soon be finished. ‘But you are an artist,’ he protested. I explained that I was an artist but that I was sometimes a plumber as well and that he should go away and let me finish.”

    More about his NY taxi driving here.

  147. That makes me like Philip Glass.

  148. J.W. Brewer says:

    I wasn’t talking about jazz, which has its own story. But the vernacular musics of whites and blacks in the American South co-evolved over a lengthy period of time with influence flowing back and forth. One thing that happened in the 1950’s was some styles of R&B becoming popular with a white audience and being adopted by white performers, but a bunch of other things happened as well that reflected genuine synthesis and innovation – again, flowing both ways. Chuck Berry borrowed a bunch of ideas from country music; Buddy Holly doing a Little Richard song isn’t “bleaching” it — he’s modifying it stylistically the way a jazz musician adapting a Cole Porter tune might have done; the Everly Bros. came out of a very non-R&B style but managed to appeal to the same British teenagers who were digging Little Richard, etc.

    The sound of Kraftwerk is admittedly hard to trace to the American South, unless maybe some of the ex-Nazi scientists that we relocated to Huntsville during the Cold War were already secretly working on music by and for robots. As for Metallica, maybe you can’t hear it in their music, but it’s audible in the bands that influenced them (or perhaps in some instances on the bands that influenced the bands that influenced them). Lars Ulrich claims that one of the pivotal moments of his childhood was seeing (at age nine!) Deep Purple play in Copenhagen in 1973, and thanks to the miracle of the internet we can learn that DP’s setlist that night included a cover of the Memphis standard “Going Down.”

  149. David Eddyshaw says:

    That makes me like Philip Glass.

    What?! A man who virtually comes out and says that plumbing has no meaning for him? I find it hard even to comprehend such philistinism.

    Taxi driving is, admittedly, meaningless. In the full existentialist sense of the term. It is looking into the Nothingness at the core of our Being in Time.

  150. SFReader says:

    Russian anti-Semitism is essentially late 19th century import from Germany.

    Beyond vague anti-Jewish sentiment common to all Christians, Great Russians had no contact with Jews and very little idea what they even looked like.

    Russia acquired Jews like America acquired Mexicans – by conquest. (in four partitions of Poland)

    And in early 19th century, the imperial government imposed Pale of Settlement limiting Jews to newly conquered areas and forbidding their settlement in core Great Russian lands.

    As a result, 99% of Great Russians never even saw any Jews in their entire life.

    I leave you to judge strength of their Anti-Semitism in such circumstances.

    The contact between Jews and Russians was closest in the Soviet era, but soon afterwards the Jews first assimilated and then left for Israel and United States.

  151. SFReader says:

    when I visited the Soviet Union I got an earful about the Yellow Peril, the primitive nature of black people, etc. along with suggestions that we should stop squabbling with each other and unite against the colored hordes

    Sounds like they thought this is what you as a typical American actually would like to hear – maybe they just were trying to be polite…

    Anti-black racism in Russia is of course a 20th century import from America.

  152. AJP Crown says:

    Yes, me too. Philip Glass also worked for Low-Rate Movers; Richard Serra had bought a van and had a furniture removal business on, I believe, West Broadway. I think Spalding Gray & others (Chuck Close?) worked there too.

    David Eddyshaw you’re probably aware of the joke, A cardiologist calls a plumber at ten on a Sunday evening and begs him to come to his home and unblock the toilet. Reluctantly the plumber agrees and at the end of the job hands the doctor a bill.

    “$2,500 for twenty minutes’ plumbing work? That’s outrageous!”
    “Yeah. That’s what I used to say when I was a doctor.”

  153. I leave you to judge strength of their Anti-Semitism in such circumstances.

    Are you seriously denying the strength and widespread nature of Russian anti-Semitism?! “Бей жидов, спасай Россию!”

    Sounds like they thought this is what you as a typical American actually would like to hear – maybe they just were trying to be polite… Anti-black racism in Russia is of course a 20th century import from America.

    This sounds like straight-up trolling, so I’ll ignore it.

  154. David Eddyshaw says:

    As a result, 99% of Great Russians never even saw any Jews in their entire life.
    I leave you to judge strength of their Anti-Semitism in such circumstances.

    High, I suspect. It’s not actual experience of the Other that leads to bigotry. Quite the opposite.

    Here in benighted Albion the surveys are unequivocal: racism is most prevalent in the areas with lowest immigration. Which – in a way – is encouraging, if you think about it.

    vague anti-Jewish sentiment common to all Christians

    Nah. No it isn’t.

  155. David L says:

    ‘But you are an artist,’ he protested.

    Glass could have explained that he was bored with music and, after talking to friends in the visual arts, wanted to try his hand at installations.

  156. SFReader says:

    Anti-Semitism in early 20th century Russia was a fashionable new European idea like Communism or “scientific” racism.

    From Germany as always though France contributed too.

    It was popular among literate lower classes and urban folk who barely knew how to read tabloids, but it remained completely unknown to the illiterate peasants who formed vast majority of Great Russians (unlike Ukrainians and Belarussians who got to see Jews every day)

    An example to illustrate: in 19th century thousands of ethnic Russian peasants from Saratov province converted to Judaism (called by Tsarist authorities the Subbotniki sect), faced persecution for apostasy and eventually emigrated to the Ottoman Palestine. Their descendants still live in Israel, but they assimilated completely.

    It was possible of course because these Russian peasants had absolutely no idea about anti-Semitism or even existence of Jews.

    All they knew is that they wanted to follow the religion of the Old Testament and didn’t care if that made them Jews.

  157. J.W. Brewer says:

    One is reminded of the old joke from Saratov province:

    — I just wanted to say, he said. [Great Russia Proper], they say, has the honour of being the only country which never persecuted the jews. Do you know that? No. And do you know why?
    He frowned sternly on the bright air.
    — Why, sir? [Стефан Симонович] asked, beginning to smile.
    — Because she never let them in, Mr [Дизи] said solemnly.
    A coughball of laughter leaped from his throat dragging after it a rattling chain of phlegm. He turned back quickly, coughing, laughing, his lifted arms waving to the air.
    — She never let them in, he cried again through his laughter as he stamped on gaitered feet over the gravel of the path. That’s why.

  158. David Eddyshaw says:

    I thought it was from Lublin, but of course that wouldn’t make sense. Must have been thinking of Lyublino. Dostoevsky, I expect.

  159. Racism is an European import in Russia, relatively recent at that.

    Russian anti-Semitism is essentially late 19th century import from Germany.

    Anti-black racism in Russia is of course a 20th century import from America.

    I’m getting a rather strong sense of “Why, Russia would be perfect if not for the bad influences imported from other countries!”

    (I do kind of admire the chutzpah of consistently blaming foreigners for any Russian prejudice and xenophobia.)

    Anti-Semitism in early 20th century Russia was a fashionable new European idea like Communism or “scientific” racism.

    Pogroms? What pogroms?

    From Germany as always though France contributed too.

    Well, it’s good we know who the really bad people are, corrupting those innocent Russians.

  160. Bathrobe says:

    SFR, you have a lovely way of turning all stereotypes on their heads… 😀

    Do I detect a subtle lampooning of the stereotypical Great Russian? 🙂

  161. Yvy tyvy says:

    I would have to agree with SFReader. No xenos, no xenophobia. Problem solved.

  162. SFReader says:

    I know Russia bashing is in vogue these days, but I am for historical truth – these ideologies are of Western origin and were imported into Russia, because post-Peter the Great Russia was slavishly copying everything from the West, both bad and good.

    Before these Western influences, Russia wasn’t perfect, it just had different vices.

    For example, it was standard practice for Russian armies in 17th century to enslave civilian population on enemy territory and settle them in Russia as serfs (or sell into slavery to Muslim traders).

    This practice ended sometime in 1740s, from now Russian armies would treat civilians just like European armies.

    This certainly was great improvement and it definitely came under European influence.

    But in the same period, Russia also acquired some European notions how colonial wars should be conducted against “savages” and for the first time in Russian military history explicit orders were given for extermination of entire peoples (Bashkirs, Chukchis).

    And so it went – for every good and humane idea brought from the West there would be another, nasty one.

  163. Bathrobe says:

    I did German by correspondence (distance education) at high school. When I finally met my teacher, who turned out to be German (I think, but something nags at me that he might have been Hungarian), one thing sticks in my mind. When I said I liked the Beatles and such, he dismissed it as “African music”. Not having the historical perspective at the time, on either rock music or European intellectual sensibilities, I was rather bemused. Which is why I remember it.

  164. J.W. Brewer says:

    Well, the “classic” pogroms didn’t really get going until circa 1881, almost a century after the partitions of Poland had given Russia sovereignty over the large Jewish population it had previously lacked, so it’s certainly a reasonable question why they began happening then and had not happened earlier. And 19th century Russia was certainly full of imported Bad Ideas as well as autochthonous ones. OTOH that, oh let’s say just for example Marxism was originally a Bad Idea of German origin does not exculpate those ethnic Great Russians who subsequently chose to act on the Bad Idea any more than it exculpates Bolsheviks of any other ethnic background.

  165. SFReader says:

    Not that borrowing really really bad Western ideas happened only after Peter.

    I recall in late 17th century, Russian church lobbied and received government permission to introduce a marvelous new Spanish idea – Inquisition.

    Yep, so a few heretics were arrested, tortured and burned alive in an imitation of Spanish auto-da-fé on the Red Square.

  166. David Eddyshaw says:

    No xenos, no xenophobia. Problem solved.

    Oh, you can always find xenos to be phobic of, if you put your mind to it.

    Those wicked foreigners are always trying to corrupt our pristine purity. With the help of traitors within, they may even succeed for a time. We must be ever-vigilant!

    Alternatively, one may solve the problem of xenophobia by eradicating the xenos. A solution, indeed. No true patriot could object to it.

  167. SFReader says:

    I’ve heard that modern Poland has “Anti-Semitism without Jews”, not sure how it is supposed to function.

  168. Bathrobe says:

    [reported opinion] They [native Americans] are far better off forgetting their native languages, learning English,

    Astonishing. As if learning some native/other language somehow ‘uses up’ your brainpower or cultural adaptiveness for speaking English/being American.

    I will not name the commenter who made these comments, but one of his arguments was that bilingualism has real economic, dollar-and-cent, costs. The costs of translation, etc., etc., etc., etc. Not to mention the intellectual and memory burden it places on children learning two languages at school….

    In the case of China I remember he felt that the cost to the authorities of monitoring online opinions written in minority ethnic languages was not to be sneezed at.

    Given the huge sums the Chinese state is pouring into internal security, this seemed to me to be a distorted view, but still.

  169. SFReader says:

    The pogroms of 1881 are easily explained – Russia had a revolutionary terrorism problem, it got so serious that emperor Alexander II was assassinated after surviving half a dozen attempts.

    The war on terror is always difficult, you don’t know who the enemy is and where he is.

    So it was easier to blame terror on some easily identifiable, alien religious group.

    Jews were an obvious choice for scapegoating.

  170. David Eddyshaw says:

    Jews were an obvious choice for scapegoating.

    Yeah, obvious. And all without a trace of antisemitism!

  171. SFReader says:

    The first thing you should know about 19th century Russia is the gap between government and people which was greater than anywhere else in Europe.

    The government and European educated class had their European ideas (as usual, contradictory) and the common Russian people had their own, completely alien ideas which mainly revolved around “fair” redistribution of land.

    Anti-Semitism was a fashionable idea taken by some portion of the educated class and from time to time by the government.

    But it was as alien to majority of Russians as Marxist socialism or liberal democracy

  172. SFReader says:

    Of course, we could always adopt 19th century Tsarist Russian definition of the Triunine Russian nation and count Ukrainians and Belarussians as Russians.

    The case for historical tradition of Russian Anti-Semitism would be greatly strengthened

  173. David Eddyshaw says:

    Tacitus’ description of Nero’s largely successful attempts to pin the blame for the great fire of Rome on the Christians points out that this worked because the Christians were already unpopular among the pagan Roman population because of their supposed nefarious practices.

    How exactly would governmental blaming of Jews for terrorism ever have gained enough traction among the far-from-elite perpetrators of pogroms if they had not already been prepared to treat Jews as enemies?

    You invite us to join you in a fantasy world where pogroms are conducted by people who aren’t actually antisemitic at all. It’s extraordinary.

  174. Yvy tyvy says:

    I know Russia bashing is in vogue these days

    I don’t get the sense that the Languagehat commentariat limits itself to singling out the bigotry of any one nation in particular.

  175. SFReader says:

    You are missing the obvious – pogroms occurred within the Pale, in areas where the Jews actually lived and where the ethnic Russians were a minority or completely absent.

    Obviously there was Anti-Semitism in the Ukraine, Belarus, Bessarabia, but it was mostly non-Russian Anti-Semitism.

    Ethnic Russians did take part in some pogroms, but it should be stressed that they all were recent colonial settlers who absorbed local Anti-Semitic sentiment.

    They are hardly representative of the Great Russian population in general.

  176. David Marjanović says:

    I think the latest word on Bái is this: it’s either a Birmo-Qiangic language practically relexified from Sinitic, or it’s simply just another Sinitic language, and the latter is the null hypothesis.

    That Eastern Romance is a survival in Dacia has been questioned; it may have formed later and south of the Danube, and then expanded when its speakers became sheep herders.

    The unusual status of Russkoye Ustye that I struggled to find non-science-fiction analogies for is the part where further colonization waves of (essentially) the same origin eventually caught up, creating a situation where the older lost colony could be considered a wayward part of the same nation/ethnos as the surrounding(-ish) newer colonies, while still being clearly distinct.

    The speakers of Yola and Fingalian in 19th-century Ireland come to mind.

    suggestions that we should stop squabbling with each other and unite against the colored hordes

    De Gaulle: “one day the Russians will acknowledge that they’re white”.

    As a result, 99% of Great Russians never even saw any Jews in their entire life.

    I leave you to judge strength of their Anti-Semitism in such circumstances.

    Study upon study in the EU and the US shows that xenophobia is indirectly proportional to experience with different people. It’s easiest to fear & loathe people as a monolith if you have no evidence other than hearsay that they’re really human.

    vague anti-Jewish sentiment common to all Christians

    Nah. No it isn’t.

    It used to be. WWII in general seems to have eliminated it quite successfully in western Europe, and the Second Vatican Council managed to remove it completely from Catholicism in western Europe; today, all antisemitism in western Europe seems to be Nazi-style, independent of religion. This is not the case in the US, where Nazi-style antisemitism was simply added to religious antisemitism and has merged with it in quite unsettling ways.

    I’ve heard that modern Poland has “Anti-Semitism without Jews”, not sure how it is supposed to function.

    Easy: fear & loathe the Jews in all other countries, believe they rule the EU and perhaps the UN, expect them to conspire against Poland and so on and so forth.

    one of his arguments was that bilingualism has real economic, dollar-and-cent, costs. The costs of translation, etc., etc., etc., etc.

    This comes up in the context of EU bureaucracy again and again. The costs of translation are real, and they’re a drop in the bucket – translation is cheap compared to anything else.

    a marvelous new Spanish idea –

    I must say, I honestly did not expect the Spanish inquisition.

  177. David Marjanović says:

    Yay! We can edit comments that contain a link now without making the comments disappear!

  178. the costs are real … and they’re a drop in the bucket

    I have it on good authority that NASA constitutes 78% of the US federal budget. Something should really be done about this.

  179. J.W. Brewer says:

    Certainly a country with as diverse a population as the Romanov domains had by 1881 would have had no potential shortage of *other* out-groups to scapegoat (blame the Jesuits, blame the Chechens, blame the Latvians …). But on the other hand pre-1881 Russian history certainly had no shortage of setbacks and catastrophes of the sort where “let’s-scapegoal-the-Jews” could have been the response with equal plausibility, so one is still left wondering why the same genre of pogroms had not arisen earlier and what, if anything, had changed.

    SFR correctly notes the irony that defending the honor of the Great Russian people in this regard is greatly aided by a narrower definition of Russianness than many Russian nationalists historically advocated.

  180. SFReader says:

    If you want an example of genuine Russian xenophobia and racism, it’s pretty obvious.

    Russians, both the commoners and the elite, traditionally disliked Germans and related Western Europeans.

    Since 13th century at least.

    Very strong, really intense feelings were involved. There was no crime which ordinary Russians wouldn’t believe the Germans were capable of.

    In every military mutiny, the first thing soldiers did was to kill all German officers and especially doctors.

    Oh, how German doctors were hated in Russia. Rumours said the German doctors deliberately spread cholera and plague, of course no one believed that they actually treated Russians.

    And there were anti-German pogroms too.

    But nobody is interested in studying them, only the last wave of anti-German pogroms during the WWI received some attention.

    While the Russian tsars being ethnic Germans themselves (since 1762) didn’t condone anti-German sentiment, it was always very popular among the elite.

    Not that Russians are unique – anti-German xenophobia is the norm for all Eastern European countries.

  181. SFReader says:

    a narrower definition of Russianness than many Russian nationalists historically advocated

    Triunine Russian nation existed potentially, as a nation-building project to be implemented.

    It wasn’t any less feasible than idea of a German, French, Italian or British nation – all these 19-20th century nation-building projects succeeded and managed to merge groups as or more diverse than East Slavs into a single nation.

    Imperial Russian government hadn’t had the time to finish – it was replaced halfway by a government which couldn’t care less about united and indivisible Russia – they were more concerned about world revolution.

  182. Bathrobe says:

    Why are there so many German loanwords in Russian? Just as many as French, I suspect.

  183. Cerberus says:


    Zuckermann’s suggestion that maintaining or reviving native languages helps the mental health of speakers is an interesting one. The article had only vague hints about whether this claim had any basis in reality, but it seemed to me that, if true, it would negate the views of those who believe that indigenous, minority languages are useless, and that assimilation to the mainstream is far more economically and psychologically beneficial to indigenous groups.

    Regarding this, I like what David Marjanović said in: “If there’s any hint of racism in the society and you look different from the majority, you’ll be treated differently no matter if you have a language of your own.” In countries, which historically made visual characteristics the central marker of identity, assimilation doesn’t work for physically distinct groups. For such groups, merely adopting the dominant group’s language and culture cannot make them a member of the mainstream, and consequently their psychological state is likely worsened by attempting to assimilate. I’d wager identity crises play an important part in social delinquency and suicide: better to be a full member of aborigine society, than to be half a member of mainstream society.

    But groups like “whites” in America have generally lost the ability to ethnically distinguish one another based on appearance, and are taught by society that they belong to the same group for all intents and purposes. Assimilation is consequently both easier and more likely to be total. Hence, fewer risks of mental malaise, and better long-term dividends. If Americans really wish to better assimilate their immigrants, as might be indicated by their choice of president, then perhaps they should look into this prickly issue, first.

  184. AJP Crown says:

    JW: But your comment was:

    the musical synthesis achieved in the 1950’s et seq. [i.e. and what followed] between the shared vernacular musics of American blacks and American (southern, non-posh) WASP’s did pretty much take over the world.

    Some big 60s white names – Dylan, the Band, the Dead, Joni Mitchell – were influenced by folk music from all over the place; almost as much from the white American south as from black gospel, probably.

    And I’ll grant that white men like the Everlys and Elvis were very popular in the late 50s and they influenced people, and that Buddy Holly crashed and the music died. But 60s rock music came directly from the music of Robert Johnson and the Chess artists (Bo Diddley, Willie Dixon, Chuck Berry, Buddy Guy, Howlin Wolf and Muddy Waters) because Eric Clapton, Mick, Keith & Brian, John & Paul, Eric Burdon & Chas Chandler and all the rest were getting that music directly from Chicago. No white American artists were involved. So without white America we would still have the Beatles, Stones, Cream, Hendrix, Led Zep, The Who, Yardbirds and Animals. We would also of course have Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, James Brown, Billie Holliday, Bessie Smith, Eartha Kitt, Nina Simone, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding and the rest of Motown & Stax and half of Atlantic…

    So it seems a bit much to credit southern American Wasps (I resent giving them all caps) with anything that would explain world music domination. They played no bigger part than any other influence. I can only imagine what Nina Simone would have to say.

    I wasn’t talking about jazz, which has its own story.
    It’s creators and greatest practitioners without whom it wouldn’t exist are all black. That’s the point.

  185. J.W. Brewer says:

    AJPC: Who do you think was playing bass on those Stax records and those Aretha Franklin records? As for the Band, their one non-Canadian explained the situation (to an artiste from New York city, who thus might as well have been European, so clueless was he about the mysterious America in between the Hudson and the Sierra Nevadas) thusly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jMSGB98sJEs

  186. John Cowan says:

    assimilation doesn’t work for physically distinct groups

    Obvious counterexamples: Bulgaria, Singapore, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Brazil, and my home world, No Mean City.

  187. @AJP Crown: You were convincing me until you mentioned Eric Burdon. The Animals were great, but they were also basically s group of Englishmen in double-breasted suits, performing electric blues versions of Tin Pan Alley songs.

  188. J.W. Brewer says:

    One recalls the late Lester Bangs’ rather bitchy putdown of Eric Burdon: “like many short people, he looked to scale the heights, to become in the few years allotted to him something he was, at birth, not: a Negro. Whether he ever succeeded is a question best left to medical research; in any event, it is particularly irrelevant since Negros themselves turned into black people and Eric seems not to have been able to make the transition.”

  189. AJP Crown says:

    Yes, all true about Eric Burdon (though surely everyone wore suits back then?) I saw him on video playing recently at a private do in California and he was no black man, but he did seem to be a disarmingly nice guy. John Mayall and Alexis Korner would have been better examples of white men playing the blues. You shouldn’t knock folk music from Canadians, JW. I’ll just mention KD Lang,* Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Kate & Anna McG and Leonard Cohen. If The Band was good enough for Bob, it’s good enough for me, though I knew Africa’s Music From Li’l Brown for years before I even heard Music From Big Pink.

    Respect for the Muscle Shoals rhythm section and Booker T’s white guy Duck Dunn etc., but if I was going to mention a bass section that wasn’t Jack Bruce & Ginger Baker it would be Sly & Robbie. Ska, Bluebeat and Reggæ is another example of negro-music-that-had-nothing-to-do-with-white-Americans influencing the world.

    *Is it mere coincidence that the New Left psychiatrist RD Laing was an associate of the Royal College of Music or did Lang assume her K.D. out of respect for R.D?

  190. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Hmm.The Animals are one of the few groups that I remember from when I were a lad — The House of the Rising Sun, anyway.

  191. Bathrobe says:

    NASA constitutes 78% of the US federal budget. Something should really be done about this

    Wasn’t there a Dan Brown book about this?

  192. David Marjanović says:

    I forgot yesterday:

    When I finally met my teacher, who turned out to be German […], one thing sticks in my mind. When I said I liked the Beatles and such, he dismissed it as “African music”.

    Data point: the Nazis called jazz Negermusik (as a reason to ban it, of course).

    Obvious counterexamples: Bulgaria, Singapore, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Brazil, and my home world, No Mean City.

    Welp, those must be places where racism was never introduced (Mexico, Peru – colonized in a time when religion was the important thing and all Christians were expected to be equal) or works differently (Brazil, AFAIK).

    I have it on good authority that NASA constitutes 78% of the US federal budget.

    Just to be sure: that’s sarcasm, right?

  193. Obvious counterexamples: Bulgaria, Singapore, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Brazil, and my home world, No Mean City.

    Counter-counter example – Mexico and Peru are very stratified societies, and there is a lot of subtle and sometimes unsubtle discrimination against the pure-blooded descendants of the pre-Columbian inhabitants and in favor of people who look “European”. I wouldn’t say the two groups have entirely assimilated.

  194. J.W. Brewer says:

    Those Canadians can be wily infiltrators, sneaking across borders and disrupting the purity of other cultures. Take for example Nova Scotia born-and-raised Hank Snow, who eventually made his way down to Nashville and not only had as many or more big hit records as many actual Southern white Americans of the era, but somehow became the first Nashville figure to have the Rolling Stones record one of his compositions (“I’m Movin’ On,” which the Stones did in ’65 although there are bootlegs showing it was in their repertoire earlier than that). Perhaps Mick/Keef/Brian et al. did not realize he was Canadian?

  195. David Eddyshaw says:

    Those Canadians can be wily infiltrators, sneaking across borders and disrupting the purity of other cultures

    A shadowy cabal of Canadians controls most of the world’s banking and media. Wolves in sheep’s clothing. Some of them even make difficulties about speaking English, which frankly speaks for itself.

  196. They’re as bad as Hungarians.

  197. Yvy tyvy says:

    Just to be sure: that’s sarcasm, right?

    Naturally.

  198. SFReader says:

    I stopped taking Canadians seriously after learning where they film Just for Laughs: Gags

  199. David Eddyshaw says:

    @SFReader:

    It’s all part of the plot. They want you to see them as quirky and harmless. Do you think it’s an accident it’s been syndicated all over the world?

  200. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    They’re as bad as Hungarians.

    I knew a Hungarian scientist who was probably the last sincere communist in Hungary (he referred to the entry of the Red Army as the liberation, with no implied sarcasm). He told me that on one occasion he met a well known Oxford scientist who had fled Hungary in 1956, and who refused to speak Hungarian with him, claiming that he couldn’t.

    The wife of one of the professors in my department in Birmingham was from an aristocratic Hungarian origin. She was very pleased that a Hungarian-Canadian visitor I had (who had left in 1956) could speak to her in Hungarian. Afterwards I said to my friend that surely no one forgets their native language. He replied that, on the contrary, he knew plenty of Hungarians in Toronto who had completely lost their Hungarian.

  201. David Eddyshaw says:

    On the other hand, when I was a student I lived downstairs from a 1956-cohort Hungarian who, impressively after twenty years residence in the UK, knew no English whatsoever, and lived in a world of Hungarian expats who helped him out where needed.

    We communicated by playing Nine-Men’s-Morris. Being Hungarian, he always won.

  202. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Against that, in about 1965, when everyone still remembered 1956, I met a young woman of about 20 at a party, the sort of young woman around whom a group of men quickly gathers. She spoken an English that was virtually indistinguishable from the way a young Englishwoman of her age and class would speak. Everyone was amazed when she said she was Hungarian and had known no English before she arrived in England in 1956.

  203. AJP Crown says:

    otooh, it’s a fact that Hungarians are the most polyglot people on the face of the planet, Lénárd Sándor  being a fairly well-known example.

  204. Stu Clayton says:

    They don’t have much choice in the matter, given that the Hungarian language is a bit … unusual.

    In his WiPe article, we see how difficult it is to render into English:

    # His first sduding was as a private lessons at home because he couldn’t stand being at school. #

    Hat once introduced me as a Hungarian.

  205. SFReader says:

    “The painter Philip de László moved to England in his youth and lived there till the end of his life. He married a distinguished English lady. He didn’t really seek the company of his compatriots… neither his wife nor his three sons ever learned Hungarian. Whenever he invited over any of his artist colleagues in London, such as our sculptor Mr. Strobl, he immediately apologized: he would speak English because he had completely forgotten his native tongue.

    One night, however, our Mr. Strobl was woken up by the knock of an elegant valet. Mrs. de László was summoning him, for her husband had suddenly taken ill and kept speaking in some unknown language; in vain he had been addressed in English, but still wouldn’t answer. The master sculptor hurried there but, unfortunately, arrived too late.

    His old friend wasn’t able to speak any more, not even in his native tongue, to which he found his way back after so many decades, in the hour of his death.” (c) Kato Lomb

  206. Hat once introduced me as a Hungarian.

    Oh, come on, admit it, you’re Hungarian. There’s no shame in that.

  207. David Eddyshaw says:

    The name Isztű Kelejtőn is a dead giveaway, after all.

  208. John Cowan says:

    A shadowy cabal of Canadians controls most of the world’s banking and media.

    True, true, but they are defenseless against the gimlet ears of the Hattics who have learned the three ways to spot a Hidden Canadian.

    learning where they film Just for Laughs: Gags

    Some few episodes are shot in Mexico, but the great majority are 100% Canadian content. There are many international versions that present les gags starring their own countrymen, to be sure. It’s hardly Americans’ fault that the U.S. TV industry won’t pay for distinctively American gags but recycles the Canadian version.

    To offset all the notoriously brilliant Hungarians (many of the Hebrew persuasion) in the other post, there is the opening of George Gamow’s popular book One, Two, Three, … Infinity:

    There is a story about two Hungarian aristocrats who decided to play a game in which the one who calls the largest number wins.

    “Well,” said one of them, “you name your number first.”

    After a few minutes of hard mental work the second aristocrat finally named the largest number he could think of.

    “Three,” he said.

    Now it was the turn of the first one to do the thinking, but after a quarter of an hour he finally gave up.

    “You’ve won,” he agreed.

    Of course these two Hungarian aristocrats do not represent a very high degree of intelligence[1], and this story is probably just a malicious slander […].

    [1] This statement can be supported by another story of the same collection in which a group of Hungarian aristocrats lost their way hiking in the Alps. One of them, it is said, took out a map, and after studying it for a long time, exclaimed: “Now I know where we are!” “Where?” asked the others. “See that big mountain over there? We are right on top of it.”

    Perhaps this reputation arose from the rule of aristocratic endogamy plus the fact that few other Europeans are capable of understanding even the slightest bit of Hungarian, so they had no choice but to be completely endogamous. The Habsburgs, though not of course authentically Hungarian, certainly set an example.

    I do like the word probably in Gamow’s tale. He was from Odessa, which apparently was like being from NYC: it gives you title to look down on anyone except perhaps another Odessan, regardless of ethnicity.

  209. Are these, by any chance, originally Graf Bobby stories?

  210. I have a deck of playing cards I got from the American Physical Society, or maybe the American Institute of Physics, with a prominent scientist on each card. Gamow was one of the jokers.

  211. >three ways to spot a Hidden Canadian http://languagehat.com/the-catcher-and-the-abyss/#comment-113264

    It comes as a surprise to me that anyone but a small child or maybe an exotic lost South Dakotan from the 1930s would pronounce spaider.

    Or are you implying there are American dialects that say incider.

    At any rate, spider and inside her don’t rhyme in mine. So far not that I don’t even know which should be mispronounced to get me there.

  212. Bathrobe says:

    So what is the difference in pronunciation between “spider” and “beside her”? Is it the vowel? Or the /h/?

    I find “beside her” very hard to say if you insist on pronouncing the /h/.

  213. David Marjanović says:

    Canadian Raising: spider gets the raised [əɪ̯] or whatever it is, side keeps [ɑɪ̯].

    if you insist on pronouncing the /h/

    As I only recently found out, that almost never happens in English; /h/ is strongly tied to the onsets of stressed syllables.

  214. Let’s prove this by Russian example – imagine there is a racially mixed group who are native Russian speakers since 17th century, are Orthodox Christians and have Russian surnames and lived in Russia for three or four centuries and intermarried with Russians significantly so that now they have 20% ethnic Russian ancestry

    The best examples for this are surely the modern Chudes, whose ethnic identity has been whittled down to nothing else than calling themselves “Chudes” rather than “Russians” (though you can still see from genetics and substrate vocabulary that they used to be a Uralic people). Insofar as they are considered Russians by mainline Russians, this is a point in favor of the claim…

    Some areas of Karelia would however qualify also, though we need for that the loophole where bilingualism in Russian suffices.

    I am not saying that African Americans aren’t different (…) They are different, but hardly much more than white Southerners

    One man’s modus tollens is another’s modus ponens: I would agree that America is home to (at minimum) three cultures/nations that could be at a pinch called Blacks, Southerners and Yankees. People from the last in particular are prone to insisting on the opposite, but you can find without too much looking plenty of people from the two others who are very sure about being a distinct culture.

  215. John Cowan says:

    /h/ is strongly tied to the onsets of stressed syllables.

    Which, given that it is much more prominent in native words than in borrowings, means that /h/ is mostly found at the beginning of words, with the exception of frozen compounds like ahead < on head. But for whatever reasons the (phonologically) weak pronouns /jə(r) / jə(r)z/ /i/ /ɪm/ /ə(r)/ /əm/ for your(s), he, him, her, them are not properly taught to anyone despite being completely standard. The weak forms /mi/ for my and /ən/ for one are no longer standard; per contra, /ɪt/ for hit (cognate with Dutch het[1]) has completely displaced the strong form in both speech and writing except in a few highly recessive dialects. The form /sɪn(t)/ for saint as a prefix, as in /ˈsɪndʒɪn/ ‘the given name St.-John’, is no longer productive and is lost altogether in North America.

    [1] This is the neuter pronoun; the neuter article was originally dat as in Low German, pronounced ‘t and later incorrectly re-expanded as het. In my view, the Yorkshire form of the definite article, t’ in dialect writing, is cognate with this and should be written ‘t as in Afrikaans, rather than being connected with the.

  216. David Eddyshaw says:

    The form /sɪn(t)/ for saint as a prefix, as in /ˈsɪndʒɪn/ ‘the given name St.-John’, is no longer productive

    It is for me, at least. I pronounce prefixed “St” as /sənt/ always, except for peculiar cases like the personal name St John. Any newly minted saints get the same pronunciation, so it’s surely productive. I don’t think it’s just me.

  217. AJP Crown says:

    Not just you. I’m sure most people in Britain say sinjun except in special cases like Ian Saint John the Liverpool footballer. The late Norman St John-Stevas made up his name in the manner of Frank “Lloyd” Wright by persuading people to use his middle name as a double last name (Mies van der Rohe started out as merely Herr Ludwig Mies; Le Corbusier was originally M. Jeanneret, arguably as good a name to my ear) and then became Lord Sinjun of Somewhere or other, phasing out his father’s Greek ‘Stevas’ completely. That’s the Tory party for yer.

  218. David Marjanović says:

    the (phonologically) weak pronouns /jə(r) / jə(r)z/ /i/ /ɪm/ /ə(r)/ /əm/ for your(s), he, him, her, them are not properly taught to anyone

    Let me just confirm that (as of 20 years ago). The reduction was never mentioned, and when I came across it eventually, I thought it belonged to general h-dropping.

  219. @AJP Crown: Frank Lloyd Wright’s mother’s family was surnamed Lloyd-Jones, so he did have, in a meaningful sense, a dual last name. Of course, he was also a notorious troll, who liked to make outlandish requests, to see if anyone would argue with them.

  220. J.W. Brewer says:

    I think “St.” with that reduced vowel only works when prefaced to saints whose proper names have first-syllable stress and have names that have been domesticated into Anglo-American onomastics. sənt /sɪn(t) doesn’t sound very natural to my ear for e.g. “St. Eudoxia” or “St. Frumentius.” (Or, to be topical, St. Elpidophoros.)

  221. David Eddyshaw says:

    @JWB:

    I think I would have /sənt/ for Eudoxia, Frumentius and Elpidophorus just the same (it’s a bit difficult to be certain once one’s attention has actually been drawn to the matter.)

    Non-initial stress may be a thing, as you suggest; but I’m pretty sure that at least in my idiolect unfamiliarity with the saint in question is not a significant factor, so at the very least it’s productive for at least a phonologically demarcated subset of saints’ names.

    This may just mean that I am old enough to remember most of these people being canonised, of course,

  222. dainichi says:

    > /h/ is strongly tied to the onsets of stressed syllables.
    > /i/ /ɪm/ /ə(r)/

    I’m curious if non-rhotic linking-r users would pronounce /r/ in phrases like “for her” and “for him” with the weak pronouns used. From my memory, they don’t (or at least not all of them). I also think many would pronounce the /h/ there as sort of a hiatus-avoidance strategy.

    So I think for most speakers, unstressed-syllable-onset /h/’s are still phonemic, although they behave kind of like French aspirated h’s (you know, the ones which aren’t aspirated, nor even pronounced, but are phonemic).

    Of course, some people say “an historian”, so…

  223. Bathrobe says:

    I’m curious if non-rhotic linking-r users would pronounce /r/ in phrases like “for her” and “for him” with the weak pronouns used.

    Most definitely. There are undoubtedly people who articulate ‘for her’ with the /h/ pronounced, even in unstressed position, but that is a result of trying to ‘speak clearly’ (genteel correction). Perhaps this is even becoming common amongst the young. But in casual speech, unless there is conscious avoidance of /h/ dropping, when the pronoun is unstressed the /h/ is dropped and the /r/ kicks in.

    ‘For them’ (for ’em) is also subject to this.

  224. AJP Crown says:

    he did have, in a meaningful sense, a dual last name

    Rather than being a jolly little troll what Frank did have in a meaningful sense was an inflated sense of his own importance compared to more significant architects. His mother is Anna Lloyd Lloyd-Jones, and Lloyd Wright isn’t hyphenated, so unless you’re saying that the Lloyd- in Lloyd-Jones is silent, he must have inherited the other one (i.e. it’s his middle name). And I don’t approve of the architect’s emphasis in pronunciation on Lloyd. In a real, non-made-up name it would have been on Wright.

    Please, please give up this pretense that you’re from Texas, Stu. How would you know the language if you hadn’t grown up in a small town in Hungary?

  225. Trond Engen says:

    My wife recently told me about Frank Lloyd Wright’s evil twin Frank Lloyd Rong. Are you suggesting it’s the other way around?

    My mother-in-law has a good friend whose maiden name was Aall Wright.

  226. Stu Clayton says:

    Crown, it would have had to be Hetven, since I’m now seventy and still oozing charm.

  227. Of course, some people say “an historian”, so…

    That always annoys me. If you don’t pronounce your haitches, of course you say “an ‘istorian,” but otherwise, knock that shit off. (I speak, obviously, as a curmudgeon, not as a linguist.)

  228. Stu Clayton says:
  229. John Cowan says:

    Has anyone seen these so-called twins together? I see no reason to suppose that Wright is not also Rong (as in Jekyll and Hyde). By the way, Utterson (the lawyer who narrates the story), when he determines to discover the truth about Hyde, says to himself “If he be Mr. Hyde, I shall be Mr. Seek.”

  230. AJP Crown says:

    If loving you is rong,
    I don’t wanna be Wright.

    Before its construction people thought the Guggenheim was rong (round in a rectangular city) but it turned out to be all Wright. Surely the best named architect is Rem “I’ve absolutely never thought about money or economic issues” Kool-House.

  231. J.W. Brewer says:

    Re the dispute upthread about the relationship if any between Abba and the music that came out of the American South in the 1950’s and then spread around the world, may I suggest checking out this clip starting around 3:35 where a rock and roll band that flew all the way from Japan to NYC to be an opening act for an elderly punk-rock legend at a small/hot/sweaty/subterranean club on the Bowery this past weekend launches into their version of “Dancing Queen.” Most of the rest of their set would fit a more puristic definition of rock and roll, and it struck me that their particular blend of punk, metal, and glam stylings (and also its omission of certain other stylings that could plausibly have been thrown into the mix but weren’t) reminded me of the ’80’s Finnish band Hanoi Rocks. And it turns out that this band’s frontman (the eponymous Haruhiko Ohshima) has indeed previously collaborated with one of the alums of Hanoi Rocks. And certainly it is no weirder for Japanese musicians to appreciate and learn to play in this style than it is for Finns. (If any Hattics want to know what the back of my head looks like, it is occasionally in frame when the camera pans out a bit.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ICpPlXwi7HA

  232. AJP Crown says:

    I heard hints of Dylan and Lou Reed at different times in his singing but nothing much of the American south. Still, it was an interesting version and goes to show that if Abba’s music and Elton John’s had been played by someone a bit cooler, say David Bowie, it would probably have more respect. 35 mins to see the back of your head is a bridge too far. So unless you were the balding guy in the plaid shirt or the thoughtful blondish one on the right with specs, I’m no more informed than I was before.

  233. elderly punk-rock legend
    Which one was that?

  234. AJP Crown says:

    I think it must be Walter Lure, who played with Richard Hell & others in the ’70s and went on to become an investment banker.

  235. Walter Lure, who played with Richard Hell & others in the ’70s

    Notably in the Heartbreakers; he was on their only studio album, L.A.M.F., with the immortal “Chinese Rocks.”

  236. J.W. Brewer says:

    I think “blondish” is probably a misreading of “brown hair with an increasing admixture of gray” under suboptimal lighting conditions, but it would be churlish to quibble with “thoughtful.” Apparently before being a frontman/guitarist, Haruhiko Ohshima was a drummer, and later in the evening he sat in on drums with Walter’s band for one song. But yeah, to get a voice that sounds overtly like it either came from Phillips County Arkansas or is faking it convincingly, you probably need to get past the guys these guys were directly influenced by to their own influences (and maybe another link or two of transmission beyond that). For a further illustration of how many years it has been since the halcyon days of 1977, Walter pointed out a fellow over to the side as being a special guest of honor, on account of being not the son, but the grandson, of Walter’s onetime colleague Johnny Thunders
    (+1991).

  237. *feels old*

  238. J.W. Brewer says:

    And to hat’s point in fact this was, you might say, a nostalgia-cash-in gig where instead of stuff from their more recent albums Walter and the Waldos played every single track from LAMF, with occasional brief digressions about whether the official songwriting credits were or weren’t accurate. (Walter asserts, at least at present, that Dee Dee deserves 100% of the credit for Chinese Rocks, regardless of what the record-label suits and/or copyright lawyers have subsequently said.)

  239. AJP Crown says:

    it would be churlish to quibble with “thoughtful.”

    Then the guy in the plaid shirt may have been Woody Allen. Quite a celebrity crowd you travel with, Brewer.

  240. It just occurred to me that we should get Brewer and zythophile together.

  241. AJP Crown says:

    For a couple of pints, yes. “The bowler’s Holding, the batsman’s Willey.” What’s happened to Zytho?

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