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A blog by a linguistic anthropology PhD student devoted to languages, language endangerment and revitalization, archaeology, history, culture, and just about anything else that might grab my interest.

Last Build Date: Wed, 05 Oct 2016 15:23:35 +0000


Sun, 25 Sep 2011 20:14:00 +0000

Serpent and egg

While working on my dissertation, which partly involves what has come to be called Mississippian culture (ca. 1000-1700 CE), I have been investigating iconography and archaeology linked to this culture. Some of you may have heard of or seen the Serpent Mound of Ohio, dating from ca. 1050 CE (see diagram of it below):

While many archaeologists still debate its actual meaning, I have found an interesting correlation between this image and the Biloxi language, a dormant Siouan language once spoken in the Lower Mississippi Valley. In Biloxi, the word for 'star' is iNtka (the N here represents nasalization of the prior vowel /i/), which literally breaks down to iNti 'egg' + -ka 'ATTRIB' suffix, or a suffix meaning 'like/somewhat', thus 'egg-like'. This correlation between a star and an egg is intriguing.

And what does a star, or egg, have to do with a serpent? Well, in the Mississippian world, a world which the Biloxis were once part of, a serpent, or, in particular, a rattlesnake, was associated with rulership or monarchy, much like the cobra was associated with ancient Egyptian pharaohs and the dragon was associated with the ancient Chinese emperors. Further, the serpent was associated with the Underworld. Ideas of the Underworld and Above World were associated with priests or otherwise powerful people who had access to esoteric knowledge not generally available to the common people. The association of a serpent from the Underworld to an egg, representing the stars (heavens), or the Above World, is thus powerful imagery for Mississippian aristocracy, who, along with priests, had knowledge of all things in the Underworld, the Above World, and the Earth in between. (This imagery, by the way, goes back probably well even before the Adena cultural horizon of Ohio, ca. 500 BCE-200 CE.) A good look at the Ohio Serpent Mound diagrammed above thus appears to show a serpent, or snake, perhaps giving birth to creation and the universe in the form of an egg, a creation to which any great ruler in the form of a God-Monarch would wish to align themselves.

But the story doesn't end in Ohio. Look at the topmost photo below of an image at the Blythe Intaglios in the desert of southern California associated with the Mojave peoples (perhaps among others):

Note anything similar to the Ohio Serpent Mound, such as the apparent snake with coiled tail and large head, or perhaps wide open jaw expelling an egg? (Unfortunately the dating of these intaglios is unclear, but currently they are placed between 1000-1500 CE.) If this correlation between two monumental depictions of a serpent and egg on two ends of the North American continent holds, this would suggest the apparent migration of a Mississippian cultural icon to the California Southwest, proving long-distance transcontinental trade and the long-distance migration of Mississippian cultural elements well into the West.

Tue, 05 Jul 2011 18:28:00 +0000

Migration of a Word?

We all know that geese and other types of birds migrate, right? But words can also migrate from place to place. For example, several similar-looking words for 'goose' appear in several Native American languages of the Gulf Coast and Southeast: Natchez (isolate) laalak, Tunica (isolate) lálahki, Yuchi (isolate) shalala, Chickasaw (Muskogean) and Mobilian Jargon (Muskogean trade language or pidgin) shalaklak, and Karankawa (isolate) la-ak. Farther west, in California, there are: Yana (Hokan) laalaki, Nisenan (Maiduan) lalak, Mutsun (Ohlonean) lalak, Rumsen (Ohlonean) lalk, Pomoan (Hokan) lala, and Southern Sierra Miwok (Miwokan) langlang. Such long distance similarities are often attributed to onomatopoeia(1), which may indeed be the impetus for its origin, but "some resemblances are remarkably precise even if one allows for onomatopoeia" (Haas 1969). And the story of the migration may not end in the Americas: what's even more intriguing is that in the Vogul (Uralic) language of Central Asia there is a similar word for goose, lak. To stretch things even further, in Persian (Farsi), the word laklak means 'stork,' a bird appearing somewhat similar to a goose.

Is this linguistic proof of migration from Central Asia to North America, down along the Pacific coast of California and across to the Southeast? It is hard to say, but it is interesting that the similarity of these words for 'goose' extends in such a fairly well defined geographical pattern down western and across southern North America. Certainly it might indicate a well defined trade and communications network between the West Coast and the Southeast perhaps via the Colorado and/or Gila and Rio Grande Rivers. The term's origin may well extend right over into Siberia and Central Asia, perhaps leaving a linguistic footprint of one possible former route of human migration. More research needs to be done on this.

(1)onomatopoeia: refers to a word or name representing the sound or noise made by an object; in English, for instance, cocka-doodle-doo is onomatopoeic for the sound a rooster makes (the equivalent of which is ku-ku-ru-ku in Spanish).

Haas, Mary. 1969. The prehistory of languages. The Hague: Mouton de Gruyter.

Tue, 31 May 2011 05:55:00 +0000

Exodus Lost

I would like to recommend this book written by my friend Stephen Compton. Here is my review of it:

Exodus Lost is a page-turner for anyone interested in anthropology and history. I highly recommend this fascinating, educational read by a scholar refreshingly willing to think "out of the box."

This book can be ordered through Amazon and is also available for Kindle.

Mon, 30 May 2011 20:42:00 +0000

Biloxi 'moon' and Chinese 'star'

It sometimes happens when you study different languages of the world that what seems to be a strange coincidence pops up, which then leads me to wonder if it REALLY is coincidence or due to some ancient connection. The Biloxi word for 'moon' and the Chinese written character for 'star' is a case in point.

I have analyzed the Biloxi word for 'moon,' nahinte, into its component parts as (i)na 'sun' + (h)iNte 'egg,' thus 'sun-egg.' (The Biloxi word for 'star' is iNtka, which I analyze as iNte 'egg' + ka 'like' (attributive), or 'egg-like.') The association of moon or star with egg seemed odd at first until I began learning Chinese writing and found that the (Simplified) Chinese character for 'star' 星 (xing1) incorporates the character for 'sun' (top) and 'seed/seedling' (bottom) (Lee 2003: 133). There is not much difference semantically between egg and seed, since they both convey the idea of a container for offspring or dissemination (and thus creation).

What does this mean? I'm not sure, except that I can't help but think that this may be more than mere coincidence. Creation narratives (often called 'mythologies' in our Western world, minimizing the validity of anything not originally written down) often show similar themes across Eurasia and the Americas. Could this link between moon, star, and egg/seed represent some ancient cultural belief that may have originated in Central Asia? Were stars considered the 'eggs' or 'seeds' of creation of the Universe?

Lee, Philip Yungkin. 2003. 250 essential Chinese characters for everyday use, Vol. 1. Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing.

Mon, 30 May 2011 20:08:00 +0000

I'm back!

After a long hiatus of being quite busy with Ph.D. program research and projects, I am back. It has been an exciting year of language study. I got up to the second level of intermediate Uyghur. Unfortunately, I cannot go any further, since KU does not offer advanced-level Uyghur courses. (Perhaps a trip to Xinjiang or Kazakhstan is in order?) I have also started taking Mandarin Chinese lessons through a private tutor--my first foray into studying a tone language!

As for my student status, I am now Ph.C. (Ph.D. Candidate), more popularly known as ABD (All But Dissertation). This after completing three Field Statements, three parts of a Comprehensive written exam plus an oral exam/Dissertation Proposal Defense. Now I begin writing the dissertation, which is titled, "The Lower Mississippi Valley (LMV) As A Language Area." Essentially I am comparing the LMV language contact area ca. 500-1700 CE, researching evidence of contact among the several languages of the area, including Biloxi, Tunica, Atakapa, Chitimacha, Natchez, and Choctaw/Chickasaw. (The LMV can be compared to better known language contact areas, or Sprachbunds, such as the Balkans area of Europe, South Asia, Norteast Africa, and the Amazon.) I will also incorporate some archaeological and narrative evidence into the language contact research.

More on this as things evolve!

Sat, 01 May 2010 16:14:00 +0000

Pyramids in the PlainsAlthough I am primarily a linguist by profession, I have taken more than a mere passive interest in archaeology, especially since archaeological evidence, like linguistic evidence, can reveal much about history we only thought we knew.  Recently I went to the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) conference in St. Louis.  While at the conference, I took part in a group tour of Cahokia.  About 1,000 years ago, ca. 1050 CE, Cahokia was the largest city north of Mexico, larger than London at the time, estimated to have had a population of at least 10,000 and more if one includes the extensive surrounding network of farmsteads and villages.  Cahokia was “about the size of an average ancient Mesopotamian city-state” (Pauketat 2009:26).  Not until the early 1800s, when Philadelphia’s population surpassed 20,000, was there a city as large as Cahokia north of Mexico (Pauketat & Bernard 2004:12).The first Euroamerican accounts of Cahokia came from Henry Marie Brackenridge, a young lawyer who corresponded with former president Thomas Jefferson.  In a letter of 1813, Brackenridge stated that he was “astonished and awestruck at the number and size of the earthen pyramids clustered in a several-square- mile area in and opposite the French-American gateway city of St. Louis” (Pauketat 2009:27).  Brackenridge stood atop one pyramid.  He saw that “pyramids trailed off to the north-northwest along the banks of Cahokia Creek” (ibid.) and, when he decided to follow yet another line of pyramids leading off to the east, the path led him “into the midst of the ruins of an ancient city, with large symmetrical pyramids everywhere” (ibid.).  He wrote: “I was struck with a degree of astonishment, not unlike that which is experienced in contemplating the Egyptian pyramids” (Brackenridge 1962/1814).  This ancient city, with pyramids as awe-inspiring as those of Egypt, was Cahokia.Stairway up Monks Mound pyramidOne of the primary archaeologists to conduct excavations in the Cahokia region, Timothy Pauketat, led our tour.  Our tour began by crossing the mighty Mississippi River over to East St. Louis where we made our first stop.  Both central St. Louis (the pyramids of which were removed in the nineteenth century) and East St. Louis were part of the Cahokian metropolitan complex.  East St. Louis was once connected by a path, or causeway, to “downtown” Cahokia.  At the East St. Louis site, we observed several archaeologists busy conducting excavations.  We observed the excavated foundation of one of the settlement’s houses and the deep interior of a storage pit that once held grains for the community’s inhabitants. Our next stop was at Grossman, a village between East St. Louis and Cahokia.  We parked in a shopping center parking lot to quickly observe the remnants of small mounds along a nearby highway.  All traces of the town itself are now obliterated by the modern world.  Next was a stop on a residential side street in another town to observe the remnants of more small mounds at the site of Pfeffer.  According to Pauketat, the house foundations excavated in this area showed that they were not permanent—they were built and rebuilt over a period of decades and were uniquely aligned toward lunar standstills.  Our next stop was the site of Emerald, which lies along a narrow road in rural Illinois.  The site is currently private property with a house lying next to a large hill, which was Emerald’s largest pyramid, now covered over with trees and vegetation.  A couple of smaller mounds were barely distinguishable as small bumps a little farther along the side of the road. After Emerald we finally went to the Big Daddy of ancient North American cities: Cahokia.  At one time there were more than 200 packed-earth pyramids, habitually refe[...]

Fri, 22 Jan 2010 19:41:00 +0000

Some Observations of Rumsen Ohlone Grammar  
paper published online

My paper titled, Some Observations of Rumsen Ohlone Grammar has been published online in the Kansas Working Papers in Linguistics (KWPL).  Here is the link:

Thu, 07 Jan 2010 04:13:00 +0000

Mississippian and Maya cosmology The Hand constellation and the Milky Way As I have been working on a Biloxi ethnography (still in progress) and researching both MIIS1 and Maya mythology and cosmology, interesting similarities occur between the two. For instance, it is interesting that both cultures focus on Orion's Belt as having major cosmological significance in relation to creation, life, and death. In Mississippian cosmology this is reflected in the Hand constellation, where Orion's Belt forms the wrist of the cut-off hand (various Plains myths refer to a celestial chief's arm or hand being cut off and left to dangle in the sky) facing downward in the night sky (Lankford 2007). In Maya cosmology, Orion's Belt is referred to in the Popol Vuh, the Maya creation story, as both the 'three stones of creation' and the 'hearthstones' (Freidel et al. 1993).  The fact that the stars of Orion's Belt were important to ancient Native Americans is evident in the pyramidal layout of Teotihuacan's three largest pyramids: Pyramid of the Moon, Pyramid of the Sun, and the Temple of the Feathered Serpent, which seem to match quite well the celestial configuration of Orion's three Belt stars. Of course, interestingly, the three pyramids of Egypt's Gizeh also seem to match this configuration!  Similarly, both cultures refer to the peculiar movement of the Milky Way in the night sky. The 'rising and falling sky' motif was apparently prevalent throughout the US Southeast (among at least the Chitimachas, Alabamas, Cherokees, Choctaws, Shawnees) (we can probably safely add Biloxis here), the Plains (Foxes, Poncas), and the Southwest (Navajos) (Lankford 2007: 204), represented in mythology and apparently based on the nightly movement of the Milky Way.  The Milky Way moves from a near vertical position, in which  Mayas refer to it as the 'cosmic tree,' to a nearly horizontal position, in which Mayas refer to it as the 'sky canoe.'  This is the celestial canoe carrying the Two Paddler Gods who set the 'Three Stones of Creation' (Orion's Belt, Ak 'Ek, or Turtle) in place, from which First Father, or the Maize God, is reborn, thus creating a new universe (Freidel et al. 1993).  The Canoe then 'sinks' on the western horizon at dawn, the time of the birth of creation (ibid.). The Hand constellation is said to mark the location of the Portal to the Otherworld, at least in Southeastern mythology. Within the Hand constellation "lies a galaxy (Messier 42) visible as a fuzzy star that is understood to be a hole in the sky, a portal" (Lankford 2007: 197). "Today, [Alnitak, Saiph, and Rigel in Orion] are said to be the three hearthstones of the typical Quiché [Maya] kitchen fireplace, arranged to form a triangle, and the cloudy area they enclose (Great Nebula M[essier] 42) is said to be the smoke from the fire" (Tedlock 1985: 261 in Freidel et al. 1993: 79). The Southeastern Hand constellation portal may indeed be the same portal into which the Maya king "Pakal falls on his sarcophagus lid and out of which beings of the Otherworld emerge" (Freidel et al. 1993: 87). The Hand-and-Eye motif of the MIIS. Could the 'eye' symbol represent 'see' while the 'hand' symbol represents the constellation? This may represent the idea of a god or gods seeing or looking down onto the earth from the Hand constellation, wherein lies the portal, possibly also represented by the eye, between earth and the Otherworld. Similarly, the Milky Way plays similar roles in both cultures as a 'Path of Souls' used by the dead to journey into the Otherworld. In fact, the Mayan term for 'death' is 'och be, literally meaning 'enter the Road [of Souls],' meaning the Milky Way. There is a "quite similar understanding of the Milky Way among Siberian groups" (Lankford 2007: 212) suggesting "an impressive time-depth" (ibid.) for this association of the Mil[...]

Sat, 02 Jan 2010 03:47:00 +0000

AvatarOK, if you haven't seen this movie yet but plan to, you may want to skip down to the Na'vi Language part of this entry, since I do give my thoughts on the movie itself here in this first part.You can read movie critics galore critiquing this movie, so I will not do much of that here.  But I will graciously offer my opinion overall: the movie is cinematographically (that's a long word!) excellent (especially in 3D), and the dialogue is so so.  And, of course, I found the artificial language created especially for this movie quite interesting, but I'll come back to that below in its own separate entry.As a linguistic anthropologist whose interests and passion lie in the preservation and documentation of already dormant or moribund languages and cultures, I find the movie wreaking with what has become known as "Noble Savage Syndrome," as exemplified in the words of Alexander Pope in his 1734 Essay on Man:Lo, the poor Indian! whose untutor'd mind Sees God in clouds, or hears him in the wind; His soul proud Science never taught to stray Far as the solar walk or milky way; Yet simple Nature to his hope has giv'n, Behind the cloud-topp'd hill, a humbler heav'n; Some safer world in depth of woods embrac'd, Some happier island in the wat'ry waste, Where slaves once more their native land behold, No fiends torment, no Christians thirst for gold! To be, contents his natural desire; He asks no angel's wing, no seraph's fire: But thinks, admitted to that equal sky, His faithful dog shall bear him company.The analogy to the nineteenth century US with its European colonization and the abhorrent treatment of indigenous peoples, up to and including forced removal and all-out genocide, is very evident throughout the movie.  The only major difference, of course, is that the movie has a Hollywood happy ending, utterly insulting to any Native Americans watching.  American Indians did not in reality, unfortunately, have any Jake Scully defecting from the genocidal European and Euro-American war machine hellbent on Manifest Destiny to save the day and bring an end to what the movie calls the "Time of Sorrow."  This time of sorrow is short-lived in the movie and soon ends, but, lest we need to remind ourselves, such sorrow never ended for our indigenous peoples who still suffer the multi-generational effects of several centuries of European and Euro-American racism, cruelty, and genocide.But if you can manage to overlook another obvious Hollywood attempt at assuaging our "white guilt," then the movie is fairly good and entertaining.Na'vi LanguageFirst Tolkien's Elvish, then Okrand's Klingon, and now Frommer's Na'vi! Perhaps there will be a future for us linguists and linguistic anthropologists in the creation and development of artificial languages for sci-fi movies.  In this latest sci-fi hit, the indigenous peoples of the planet Pandora are given a real (invented) language with real vocabulary and grammar.  Paul Frommer, the USC professor who invented the language, tried to make it sound "alien" yet pronounceable.  Probably the most notable sounds are the ejective p, t, and k, which appear in some Native American languages, including Mayan.  Frommer was not the first linguist to examine Amerindian languages as models for inventing an artificial language.  Okrand, a linguist who got his PhD at UC Berkeley with his dissertation on Mutsun Ohlone (a close cousin of Rumsen), admitted that the Ohlonean languages were the inspiration for some of the sounds and grammatical aspects he put into Klingon.Click here for a short YouTube report on the Na'vi language.  Perhaps there will be a dictionary and grammar forthcoming?[...]

Fri, 01 Jan 2010 20:13:00 +0000

Rumsen Folklore

It occurred to me that I didn't post information on the Rumsen (Ohlone) folklore article I got published in the Journal of Folklore Research in December 2008.  Here is the abstract:

Sadly, it often happens that languages and cultures become dormant with no written record of their existence, of how the people perceived their world, and how they described it through their folk stories. Such would have been the case of the now dormant Rumsen Ohlone language of California were it not for the tireless dedication of linguist John P. Harrington. He spent years collaborating with the last native speaker of Rumsen, Isabelle Meadows, to discuss her culture and her folk stories. Among the cultural gems that arose from these discussions are the two narratives published here. Both stories feature the trickster figure, Coyote. The first tells of a visit by a sea monster, which causes Coyote's wife to die of fright. The second describes a battle of wits between Coyote and Hummingbird. Both stories give us, through the original Rumsen language, insight into the culture and sense of humor of the Rumsen people, whose descendants still inhabit the central coast of California.

A PDF version of the article can be purchased for $13.50 directly from the Journal via this link:

In relation to this, one of the stories from this article will be published in the upcoming online edition of the Kansas Working Papers in Linguistics (KWPL) that also includes a brief Rumsen grammatical sketch based on the grammatical aspects of the Rumsen version of the story.  This will be free and downloadable from the Working Papers link (on the left) on the University of Kansas's Linguistics Department website.  My two prior papers on Biloxi are also free and downloadable anytime from this site.

Fri, 01 Jan 2010 19:40:00 +0000

Uyghur language - Uyghurche - ئۇيغۇرچەIn this coming Spring semester, I will be taking my first class in the Uyghur language.  Uyghur (oo-ee-ghur) is spoken primarily in Xinjiang 'new dominion' (also called Chinese Turkestan) in the northwestern portion of the People's Republic of China (PRC).  There are also speakers in neighboring Kazakhstan,  Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan1.  Uyghur is a Southeastern Turkic language.  It is related to Turkish.  (Turkish is spoken in Turkey, while other Turkic languages are spoken across central Asia, including Uyghur, Turkmen, Tatar, Uzbek, Kazakh, and Kyrgyz.  Just remember that, while Turkish is a Turkic language, not all Turkic languages are Turkish.)  While Uyghur has several million speakers, it is considered a "threatened" language due to the infiltration and imposition of the PRC's primary official language, Mandarin.  (This is not unlike the situation here in the US with the imposition of our official language, English, upon Native Americans, for example, whose languages and cultures for the most part, if not already extinct, are close to it.)Uyghur-speaking region of western China, centered around Kashgar.The Uyghurs (often erroneously referred to as 'Chinese Muslims' even on such respected US national media as NPR, which should know better!) are one of over 50 ethnic minority groups of the PRC.  They have inhabited northwestern China, which includes the Teklimakan Desert (Tarim Basin), since about 900 CE.  The famous Silk Road passes through here and it has long been a major crossroads and trade route between West and East.  Its inhabitants have included Tocharians (a possible Celtic group who inhabited the region from about 2000 BCE2), Persians, and Mongols as well as Uyghurs.  Mummies have been unearthed in the Tarim Basin region buried under desert sands for some 4,000 years that are apparently the well-preserved bodies of the blond and blue-eyed Tocharians (see my prior post on this topic), probably originating in northern Europe.  (In fact, many inhabitants of the region still have the light hair and facial features of their Tocharian ancestors.)Red-haired child of XinjiangUyghur and the other Turkic languages are part of the broader Altaic language family, which includes Turkic, Mongolian, Korean, and possibly Japanese.  While Altaic was for a while also believed related to the Uralic languages, including Hungarian and Finnish, but this idea remains controversial.  (The inclusion of Japanese under the Altaic umbrella is also still hotly debated.)  For me, one of the most intriguing aspects of studying Uyghur is from the historical-comparative linguistic perspective of seeing how the language has borrowed from other languages throughout its history.  For example, kitab 'book' and mu'ellim 'teacher' are from Arabic; istakan 'glass' and poyiz 'train' from Russian; dunya 'world' from Persian; much 'pepper' from Sanskrit; pul 'money' possibly from Tocharian (?); and yangyu 'potato' from Chinese.  The meanings of these borrowed words occasionally changed when introduced into Uyghur; the Uyghur word lughet 'dictionary' was borrowed from Arabic, in which the word originally meant 'language.'  Sometimes two borrowed words compete with each other: tëlëwizor (Russian) and dyanshi (Chinese), both meaning 'television.'The letters of the (Latin) Uyghur alphabet are: a,  e, b,  p, t,  j, ch,  x,  d,  r,  z, zh,  s,  sh, gh,  f,  q,  k,  g, ng, l, m, n, h, o, u, ö, ü, w, ë, i, and y.  For English speakers, the hardest sounds to pronounce are the very Scandinavian-like ö and ü, and the three guttural sounds x, gh, and q. Uyghur has been [...]

Tue, 29 Dec 2009 18:47:00 +0000

Christian Lord's Prayer in Biloxi This is a first, tentative attempt at translating the Christian Lord's Prayer from English into Biloxi.  The black font is of course the Biloxi, the blue is the actual traditional English form of the prayer, and the red is my literal English translation of my proposed Biloxi wording:Ąkadi nacįtkaOur father in the skyOur Father who art in Heavenayace xithy name is sacredhallowed be thy Nameithi xi huthy house sacred comeThy Kingdom comeite ǫǫni, amą itka nacįtka hą.thy will to do, earth on and sky inThy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.Nąpi dêê ąkpataaskǫǫ yąkhukąkoday this our bread us give Give us this day our daily breadąksihu kicadkąko ką ksihu ąkicadiour badness thee forget and badness we forgetAnd forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.te wayą kyąduskąkonidesire toward do not us takeLead us not into temptation ksihu kyąhe yąkįpudahikąkobadness from us protectBut protect us from evil.Ithi sąhį, ithi phixti, ithi xixti.  thy house strong, thy house good very, thy house sacred very.For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, įkxwi, įkxwi.always, always.  forever and ever.Amen.[...]

Wed, 09 Dec 2009 00:41:00 +0000


"The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do."

- Samuel P. Huntington

Thu, 26 Nov 2009 06:23:00 +0000

How to cure a migraineand other ailments in old EgyptI was reading an article from the Journal of Coptic Studies about Coptic medicine practices.  Apparently one of the first Coptic kings, Manaqiusch ibn Aschmun, of whom nothing is now known, ordered the construction of the first Egyptian hospitals.  Also, during this early period in history, ca. 1300 AD, women were among the practicing doctors of Egypt, as mentioned in early Coptic medical documents: TCAEIN EEI EHOUN (tsaein eei ehoun) 'the (female) doctor (who) entered' (the T- prefix is the feminine definite article, thus indicating a female).  The Coptic word for doctor, CAEIN1, goes back to Ancient Egyptian (AE) swnw (sunu); the word for medication, prescription or treatment, PAHRE (pahre), goes back to AE phrt (pahret?).2  Following are a couple of the more interesting treatments (some of the documents appear incomplete or in fragments):For migraine: KOPROC N[EROMPE, LIBANOC, ARCUNIKON ... ;NOOU HI HYMJ (kopros ncherompe livanos arsynikon ... thno'ou hi heimdj xro) 'pigeon dung, incense, arsenic... rub  with vinegar and turn.'For a cold: OUACCWWD ETBE PEHREUMA MN PMAUE ETHORS ECWTM JI NAK ...  NEUVORBIOU, ;NOOU HI NEH ME ] EHRAI HN SENTF SAULO EUO NHREUMA NCECWTM NKECOP (ouassood etve pehreuma mn pmaue ethorsh esotm dji nak ... neuforviou thno'ou hi neh me ti ehrai hn shentf shaulo euo nhreuma nsesotm nkesop) 'A cure for a cold and hard-of-hearingness: Take ... Euphorbium (?), rub it with olive oil.  Give it in the nostril.  The patient will cease being stuffed up and will again be able to hear.'Well, it's up to you if you want to try these treatments at home!From:Kolta, Kamal.  2004.  Krankheit und Therapiemethoden bei den Kopten.  In Journal of Coptic Studies 6, 149-160.(Translation from the original German is mine.) 1 Could this Egyptian word be the ultimate origin of the -cine and -cian suffixes of English medi-cine, physi-cian? 2 The vowel sounds of AE are often still a mystery, since the AE hieroglyphic writing did not indicate vowel sounds, only consonant sounds, as in the scripts of other Semitic languages.  Coptic, written in a version of the Greek alphabet, can often help supply the unknown vowel sounds, however.     [...]

Mon, 23 Nov 2009 04:05:00 +0000

The TochariansCelts in western China?Among the interesting books I read during the summer was one called The Mummies of Urumchi, by Elizabeth Wayland Barber (1999).  She is an archaeologist, linguist, and textile expert all wrapped up in one.  During the 1990s she went to western China to visit the museums of Ürümchi, the capital city of China's Xinjiang province, a.k.a. the Uyghur1 Autonomous Region, also sometimes called East Turkestan.  Her main objective was to examine the mummies that have been retrieved from the sands of the Teklimakan Desert, or the Tarim Basin, found in almost perfectly preserved condition despite being around the same age as their Egyptian counterparts, ca. 2000 BC.  Barber examined not only the physical features of the mummies but also the fabric of their well-preserved clothing.One of the "Mummies of Ürümchi" unearthed in the Teklimakan desertThese mummies are not east Asian in appearance, but rather they exhibit western European physical features, including being tall (men and women often over 6 feet tall) and reddish-blond hair, with their method of textile manufacture and patterns appearing most like those of northern European groups, especially that of the Celts.  Were there truly people of northern European descent living in the deserts of western China?The "Beauty of Loulan" - mummy, bottom, and facial reconstruction, top. There is both archaeological (Caucasoid mummies, fabrics, textiles) and linguistic evidence for it.  Late in the nineteenth century, documents were found in the Teklimakan region (Tarim Basin) written in an Indic (Sanskrit-like) script that, when transcribed and translated, revealed an Indo-European (the large language family that includes Sanskrit, Persian, Latin, Greek, Russian, German, and English) language with close affinity to the Celtic languages.  The language is called Tocharian, known to the Greeks, since Alexander probably encountered them, as tokharoi. Further, artwork of the region dating back to the ninth century reveals paintings of men with Caucasian features, reddish-blond head hair, and prolific facial hair.  That they were converts to Buddhism is revealed not only by the artwork but also by the unearthed documents in the Tocharian language that relate to Buddhist teachings and philosophy. Paintings (ca. 900 AD) showing Tocharians in what is now western China. Note Caucasian appearance and thick facial hair of (Celtic?) Tocharians.  Both paintings portray the Tocharian association with Buddhism.1 Although the Tarim Basin, or Teklimakan, was once a Tocharian and Persian settlement region, the Uyghurs, a Turkic group, often erroneously called Chinese Muslims, have inhabited the region since about the ninth century. [...]

Wed, 18 Nov 2009 04:22:00 +0000

Will the Coptic Language Rise Again? Portion of an article appearing in Egyptology News and RantRave. Some people agonise over endangered species. My pet cause is endangered languages. When I hear that a dialect is dying out or that young people aren’t passing on an obscure language, it saddens me. It is one thing to examine shards of pottery or fragments of a manuscript found insulating a wall. It is another matter entirely when people alive today represent and advocate a point of view that fell from political dominance. When I hear about the descendants of British Loyalists proudly proclaiming their ancestry, it makes my own country’s history come alive with the freshness and immediacy of current events. It is for this reason that I so enjoy Alistair Cooke’s history of America. To me, the proper way to study the past is to recreate the crossroads at which past generations once stood, to wonder anew about truths received as a part of collective memory. It is generally believed that Coptic is an extinct language, alive only in the prayer books and scriptures of Coptic Christianity, which is one of the major branches of the Christian faith tradition. Coptic is the language of ancient Egypt. Unlike Arabic , it is not Semitic but Afro Asiatic.1 In its earliest from, it was written with hieroglyphics. Later, it was written with a phonetic alphabet which is mainly Greek but has added characters for sounds not found in Greek. The Islamic conquest of Egypt involved harsh repression of coptic as a spoken language. Indeed even today, the adherents of Coptic Christianity endure civic liabilities in Egypt that are unimaginable in the west. The most commonly believed time line of the Coptic language lists the mid 1600’s as the time in which the last speaker of this language died. Now there are reports that the language may still be spoken, still a living language. The most solid report of Coptic language survival comes from the Coptic Monastery of St. Anthony in the Red Sea Mountains about 110 miles southeast of Cairo. According to the “redbooks” web site, the monks in this monastery speak Coptic among themselves as a language of daily business and discourse . The article notes as follows. “Amazingly, the monks who live here still speak Coptic, a language directly descended from the language of the ancient Egyptians.” Of course, what really makes a language alive is when families pass it on to children, or better still, when villages perpetuate an endangered tongue. Such reports about Coptic are not numerous enough for those who wish the language well. Despite this, there is a report of an extended Egyptian family that speaks Coptic among themselves, including even the detail of a woman who got strange looks when she spoke it on her cell phone. The Daily Star of Egypt reports ‘ “Mona Zaki is one of only a handful of people that continue to use the language in everyday conversation. She speaks a colloquial form of Coptic with her parents and a few relatives that dates back 2,000 years.______________________________________________ I also hope that Coptic will revitalize and be successful.  It would be a shame for the rich language and culture of the Egyptians to forever end up, like so many others, in the dustbin of history.  - DaveFootnote:1  I must respectfully disagree with the author here.  Semitic is part of the Afro-Asiatic family.  Egyptian is related to Arabic, Hebrew, and Akkadian.[...]

Tue, 17 Nov 2009 22:29:00 +0000

El Mirador

One of the largest ancient Maya cities, and home to possibly the world's largest pyramid.

Click here to see CNN story on this ancient American metropolis.

Sat, 14 Nov 2009 20:21:00 +0000

Ancient Mound Destruction City leaders in Oxford, Ala. have approved the destruction of a 1,500-year-old Native American ceremonial mound and are using the dirt as fill for a new Sam's Club, a retail warehouse store operated by Wal-Mart. This is proof that ignorance and racism against Native Americans persists to this day. This story represents the continuation of a 500-year-old Eurocentric racist idealism that basically says that nothing created by the American Indians is worth saving or even acknowledging. It's the continuation of an ethnocentric Euro-American attitude that says American history only began in 1492. Never mind the fact that American Indians had established civilizations on our continent thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans on its shores. Part of the reason for this historical denial is the Western propensity to think that if a language and culture weren't written down then it certainly never achieved any level of 'civilization,' that such 'preliterate' people were mere nomads wandering through an 'unspoiled wilderness' chasing bison and gathering plants, nuts, and berries. But let's set the record straight: oral tradition is thought to be much more accurate than written tradition, less subject to manipulation and deception. And oral tradition forces feats of memorization and the learning of complex mnemonic devices the likes of which we, in our modern 'porta-brain' society of laptops and Blackberries, can scarcely hope to appreciate or imitate. Added to this of course was the U.S. government's policy of genocide and forced assimilation of American indigenous peoples, a policy which necessitated the spread of propaganda declaring Native Americans vastly inferior to 'civilized' Europeans. It is this propaganda of Manifest Destiny which still persists to this day. This story reminds us that indeed there continues blatant disrespect for the nations that came before us on this continent. The Mississippian civilization, traditionally dated from ca. 950 A.D. to ca. 1550 A.D., constructed thousands of pyramidal mounds along the Mississippi River from Wisconsin to the Gulf of Mexico and all across the southeastern U.S. Many of these flat-top mounds contained civic or religious buildings on their summits, or the houses of the highest-ranking elites.  (Mississippian civilization is noted for being highly socially stratified, like Mesoamerican societies, with sharp class divisions.  These were highly aristocratic agrarian societies, not more egalitarian hunter-gatherers.)  Nobody now knows how many Mississippian mound cities or towns there actually were, since, in the nineteenth century, the soil of many unoccupied mounds was used for rail bed ballast (Kehoe 2002: 170) during the construction of the nation’s railroad system. Mounds were dismantled and built over with impunity, even though one large one, destroyed in 1869 for rail ballast and upon which modern St. Louis was built, “contained a tomb chamber described as having a ceiling of logs and plastered walls and floor,” many bodies lying in rows, “torsos covered with thousands of shell beads ... conch shell spine pendants, marine shell beads, ... and a pair of small copper masks (pendants)...” (ibid.: 173-74). Another large mound in Spiro, Oklahoma, was so filled with artistic riches, including thousands of pearl beads, blankets, conch shell gorgets, effigy pipes, repoussé copper plates, figurines, earspools, and copper hairpins (La Vere 2007), that the Kansas City Star named it a “King Tut Tomb” in North America. The second largest mo[...]

Sun, 08 Nov 2009 18:29:00 +0000

A Coptic (Egyptian) Magical TextYes, yes, I admit, it has been a long time since my last post. But my time offline has been productive. I have, in fact, begun learning Coptic, the 'modern' form of ancient Egyptian, and the official language of the Copts, the Egyptians who converted to Christianity early in the first millennium AD.Just some notes on the following passage and on the language: Coptic is highly agglutinative, meaning that words often consist of a root plus one or more (usually more!) affixes, primarily prefixes. An interesting thing about Coptic is that verb conjugations are not suffixed but are prefixed to the verb. Also, the definite and indefinite articles are always prefixed to the noun, e.g., prome (p[e] 'masc def article' + rome 'man') 'the man'; the feminine definite article is t[e], thus tsxime (t[e] 'fem def article' + sxime 'woman') 'the woman' (the e of the articles often drops out before the noun). (The x here is pronounced like an h, although perhaps a bit more guttural.) Coptic incorporated many Greek words during the time of Greek rule over Egypt, so those of you familiar with Greek may notice some of these, e.g., soma 'body', sarks 'flesh', and tavos 'tomb.'The translation is that of the author; the transliteration into the Roman alphabet from the Coptic is mine. I can't help but wonder what the poor Pharaouo did to deserve such a curse upon him! pmour etpe pmour epkah pmour epaeir pmour epestrewma pmour etchefmoute pmour eprei pmour epo'oh pmour enhalate pmour e peksoure epiot pmour entauror TC pe XC nheitf hijn pshe mpestis nheitf pmour epsashf n shaje nta-hiliseo'os jo'os ejn tape net toua'av ete nai ne newran Psuchou, Chasnai, Chasna, Ithouni, Anashns, Shourani, Shouranai. Mare pmour etnma'au1 shope hijo psoma nho'out nfaraouo men tefsarks ntetnsho'oye mos nthe noushe auou ntetna'as nthe noutoeis hijn tkoupria nnepefset dos nnefto'oun nneftisperma nnefkenonia men Touaien tsheinKamar men la'au nsxime oute ho'out oute tefnei shanta osh anok alla marefsho'oue npsoma nho'out nfaraouo psheinKirantales nnef kononia men Touaien tsheinKamar nthe nourefmo'out efkei hnou tavos ennefaraouo psheinKiranpoles neishkeinonia men Touaein tsheinKamar. Aio aio, taxei taxei. O spell of the sky, O spell of the earth, O spell of the air, O spell of the firmament, O spell of the Pleiades, O spell of the sun, O spell of the moon, O spell of the birds, O spell of the father’s ring, O spell with which Jesus the Christ was bound upon the cross, O spell of the seven words which Eliseus uttered over the heads of the saints, whose names are these: Psuchou, Chasnai, Chasna, Ithouni, Anashns, Shourani, Shouranai. May that spell be upon the male organ of Pharaouo, and his phallus, may ye dry it like wood, and may ye make it like a rag upon the dunghill. May his phallus not become stiff, may it not erect, may it not produce seed, may he not have intercourse with Touaein, the daughter of Kamar, or with any woman, wild or tame, until I myself call out; but may it dry the male organ of Pharaouo, the son of Kiranpales, may he not have intercourse with Touaein, the daughter of Kamar. Like a dead man lying in a tomb. May not Pharaouo, the son of Kiranpolis be able to have intercourse with Touaein, the daughter of Kamar. Yea, yea. Quickly, quickly! 1 ma'au means 'mother,' but this doesn't appear anywhere in the author's translation (?). The ' equals a glottal stop. Appearing in the American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, Vol. 56, No. 3, 1939, 305-7. From documents in th[...]

Tue, 24 Feb 2009 03:15:00 +0000

“The Linguists” to air this week on PBS (Week of Feb. 23)

By Michael Conner, AATIA

Scientists estimate that of 7,000 languages in the world, half will be gone by the end of this century. On average, one language disappears every two weeks.

“The Linguists” follows David Harrison and Gregory Anderson, scientists racing to document languages on the verge of extinction. Their journey takes them deep into the heart of the cultures, knowledge and communities at stake.

In Siberia, Harrison and Anderson seek to record the Chulym language, which hasn’t been heard by outsiders for more than 30 years. The linguists encounter remnants of the racist Soviet regime that may have silenced Chulym for good.

In India, tribal children attend boarding schools, where they learn Hindi and English, a trade, and the pointlessness of their native tongues. Similar boarding schools for tribal children existed in the US through most of the 20th century. Harrison and Anderson travel to the children’s villages, where economic unrest has stirred a violent Maoist insurgency. The linguists witness the fear and poverty that have driven youth from their native communities.

In Bolivia, the Kallawaya language has survived for centuries with fewer than 100 speakers. The linguists trek high into the Andes to unlock its secret.

The Linguists preview (trailer)

This PBS show apparently airs in Lawrence this Thursday, Feb. 26 at 9:00 PM. Check your local PBS listings for exact date and time in your area.

Sat, 14 Feb 2009 03:31:00 +0000

Here we go again

This time it's Oklahoma

I just received this via the Siouan List. Such a bill is a slap in the face to those of us who commit ourselves to the preservation and revitalization of indigenous languages in the United States and around the world. It shows racism is still rampant in our country. Native Americans were forcibly moved to Oklahoma (formerly known as Indian Territory) by the thousands (remember the Trail of Tears) and now, on top of that, they're being told their languages are not good enough to be considered equal to English, the European colonial language that has been shoved down their throats (while literally having their mouths washed out with soap or being beaten for speaking their native languages) for centuries.

Here is the email that was forwarded:

Senator Sykes (R-24, Newcastle), SJR30 English Only bill will be heard before the Senate General Government Committee on Monday, February 16th at 10:00 a.m. This bill provides for a constitutional amendment declaring the English language to be the official language of the State of Oklahoma.

The Cherokee Nation opposes this legislation. Oklahoma tribes have come together to fight against the English Only legislation. Other professional groups in health, education, business and clergy have joined efforts to stand against this proposed legislation.

Oklahoma has been blessed with more than 35 Indian nations, each of which has a unique culture. Part of that culture comes from the richness of native languages, which have been spoken here for centuries before Oklahoma became a State. Part of Oklahoma's identity to the world is our rich tribal heritage and we should use our diversity to promote our state. The English Only initiative symbolizes injustice and discrimination. Why have an official language to show such narrow-mindedness?

It sends the wrong message to our youth, telling them that their native language isn't seen as valuable. Academic studies have shown that children who are fluent in more than one language perform better on standardized tests than children who speak only English. We should look to encourage language diversity among Oklahoma's citizens.
I wish Native Oklahomans and anyone who values multiple languages and cultures success in blocking passage of this bill.

Sun, 25 Jan 2009 20:03:00 +0000

English words from Mohegan - Kikátohkawôkansh wuci Mohiksuyôtowáwôk Some English speakers might be surprised to know that several fairly common English words come from Mohegan or other closely related Eastern Algonquian languages. This should probably not come as a big surprise since Mohegans and their neighbors were among the first Native Americans encountered by Europeans in the New World. An encounter with a new culture on a new continent with new types of flora and fauna and new traditions usually leads to the "borrowing" of words from the indigenous culture and language into the newly arrived, in this case European, foreign one. Many indigenous words were adopted by the Spaniards, the French, and the English from American Indian languages, such as chocolate, persimmon, tipi, tobacco, kayak, abalone, muskrat, pecan, opossum, hominy, succotash, muck-a-muck, and malamute (Cutler 2002). Here are some Mohegan words that have come into English in one form or another. Can you identify them without looking at the answers below? páhpohs (pah-poos) skôks (skoNks) mahkus (mah-kus), pl. mahkusunsh sqah (skwah)mos (moos) tôpôk (toNboNk), pl. tôpôkansh Did you figure them out? Here are the answers: papoose (baby), skunk, moccasin (shoe), squaw, moose, toboggan. 'Moccasin' and 'tobaggan' probably look more familiar in their Mohegan plural form. 'Skunk' is actually singular in Mohegan, although it probably looked like plural to English speakers with the s at the end, so it lost the final s in English to look more singular to English speakers. And even though, curiously, 'squaw' became a rather derogatory word in English, in Mohegan it means just 'woman', pure and simple. Reference: Cutler, Charles. 2002. Tracks that speak: the legacy of Native American words in North American culture. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. [...]

Sun, 25 Jan 2009 05:21:00 +0000

And now for an update...

Happy 2009! What better way to start the new year off than with a new government and president who is actually intelligent and can speak in complete, coherent sentences. Everyone expects miracles from Obama in his first few days in office, but, hey--it took at least 8 years for us to get into this mess and will take time to try and undo what can be undone. I'm glad to see that Obama is already undoing some of Bush's legacy. I'm only sorry that he is not pursuing an investigation of the last "administration" to bring to light all the dirty deeds of the last 8 years. But anyway, thank goodness that's over!

I only have one course this semester, a linguistic typology course. Besides this, I have research hours which I will be using to write my first of three 30-40 page field statements, which are required before beginning the dissertation. The first statement, which will be on Eastern Algonquian stem structure and compound formation, is due in May.

It was a rather productive, if rather bland, winter break. I reviewed the proof of my article "Rumsen Folklore: Two Tales" for the Journal of Folklore Research (JFR) and made a few last-minute corrections. It should be in print any day now, and I await my two copies of this issue of the Journal to arrive in the mail. I also wrote another article which should hopefully be included in the next edition of the Kansas Working Papers in Linguistics (KWPL). This article is titled, "Some Observations of Rumsen Ohlone Grammar," and is a brief grammatical sketch of Rumsen based on one of the folktales from my article published in the JFR (in which I did not include grammatical notes).
Little has been written on Ohlone grammar in general, and nothing on Rumsen in particular, so I felt getting these grammatical tidbits in print (at least electronically) was important.

I hope to go to the Siouan and Caddoan Linguistics Conference in Lincoln, NE this coming June, so I may have to come up with a topic for another article on Biloxi. Hopefully I can get some grant money in order to present it and pay a portion of trip expenses. Not sure what to write about yet, however.

I've also been working on the Biloxi ethnography or ethnohistory (not quite sure what to call it yet). This is to be included with the new dictionary and hopefully will be published at some point, some day.

That about covers the latest.

Thu, 27 Nov 2008 17:29:00 +0000

The Maya Cosmic Prophecy 2012: From Sensation to Sensibility

Maya Scholars in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador and North America have been watching with amusement and dismay as self-styled experts proclaim that ancient Maya prophets foretold an earth-shattering happening to occur December 21, 2012. This predicted phenomenon gets described in contradictory but always cataclysmic fashion--as an ecological collapse, a sunspot storm, a rare cosmic conjunction of the earth, sun, and the galactic center, a new and awesome stage of our evolution, and even a sudden reversal of the Earth's magnetic field which will erase all our computer drives. One even predicts the earth's initiation into a Galactic Federation, whose elders have been accelerating our evolution with a "galactic beam" for the last 5000 years. In sum, the world as we know it will suddenly come to a screeching halt.

These predictions are alleged to be prophecies by so-called "Ancient Mayans" whose "astronomically precise" calendar supposedly terminates on that date. According to such accounts, these mysterious Maya geniuses appeared suddenly, built an extraordinary civilization, designed in it clues for us, and then suddenly, inexplicably, vanished, as if they had completed their terrestrial mission. These same experts claim special credibility for the Maya prophecies by asserting that these historic sages, with their possible extraterrestrial origins, had tapped into an astonishing esoteric wisdom.

Could any of this be true? Is this a cosmic, or comic, prophecy?

Mark Van Stone, a REAL anthropologist and Mayanist, writes of the REAL meaning of December, 21, 2012, according to the Maya calendar:

This is a slide show, so don't be daunted by the number of pages. There is a lot of background info on the Maya calendar.

Fri, 10 Oct 2008 21:40:00 +0000

To think this today (Peten jungle, Guatemala)... ...used to be this (El Mirador, Guatemala)......which looks a lot like this (Cahokia, Illinois)...As part of my course on Classic Maya Civilization, we are actually learning about some pre-Classic Maya cities that have only recently come to light in the Peten lowlands of Guatemala. Perhaps the first large Maya city was located here, now called El Mirador. The middle picture above is an artist's conception of the ancient city based on current archaeological evidence. It is thought that perhaps up to 100,000 people may have lived here in the Maya city. The city was built of limestone and its monumental structures were painted red and white. Keep in mind the ruins of this once breathtaking Maya city date to ca. 300 BC, well before the Classic Maya civilization of great kings and monuments that we've known about for some time. That means that, indeed, Maya civilization dates back far earlier than we once thought, and their civilization achieved monumental grandeur much earlier than previously thought.What's even more intriguing, although this comparison is still considered outside the mainstream perspective of most current anthropologists, is that large earthen monumental structures similar to the those of the Olmec and the stone structures of the Maya were present in North America's Mississippi Valley dating back to nearly 4,000 BC (Watson Brake, Louisiana). This begs the question: Did the ancestors of the later Olmec and Maya civilizations live in the Mississippi Valley before migrating south into Mesoamerica (Mexico and Central America)? Anthropologists have long tried to imply Mesoamerican influence upon the Mississippi Valley and Southeastern U.S., but it seems, more and more, we are being presented with evidence to the contrary: the Mississippi Valley may have influenced Mesoamerica. [...]