Words and History

Nope, not about Orwellian thought control, well except maybe tangentially. Nope, 's about uh, words. Language generally. And history.
  • I have previously mentioned the stupidity of the Mexican-American Ahnenerbe movements, like MEChA, that claim the American southwest is "Aztlan", and assert some right of ownership over it. Hey guys, virtually none of you are Colhua-Mexica, so why are you deliberately identifying yourselves with people who would enslave, sacrifice, and eat you? If this territory had belonged to them, they would've gotten it the same way they got all the rest of their land: conquest, just like the US did. And the US was much more polite about it, see, e.g., the Gadsden Purchase.

    Apparently some of the idiots assert that they're going to retake "Aztlan" (their definition of it), and even tie themselves to the Occupy Somewhere movement by saying "Occupy Aztlan." You go right ahead and do that, nonoalcah*. Some of us live near people who still have Emergence narratives (which is what Aztlan actually refers to), and we can tell ya, returning through the place of the emergence is the same thing as dying.

  • Speaking of people who say stupid things about Indians, a site about the Maya syllabary tried to spin that script's multiple redundancies as a good thing. Uh, no, dude, that is a bug, not a feature: a script should be as simple as remotely possible. The only people who manage not to have syllabaries be cumbersome are the Japanese, the Cherokee, and (most of) the peoples who use Aboriginal Syllabics. Because, generally, their languages don't have much in the way of biliterals. Mayan languages have those, which makes a syllabary a poor choice. Just as poor a choice, by the way, as it was for Babylonian, Hittite, or Mycenaean Greek—all of which also wrote in syllabaries.

    Incidentally, remember those X-Files episodes with "ancient Navajo texts"? And that "Navajo medicine man" played by a blatantly Great Lakes-region guy? Yeah, those were written in Cree Syllabics. You can write Navajo in Aboriginal Syllabics, actually— the Carrier language (now written in Roman) is in the same group and could be made to serve, with a little modification—but seriously, Navajo doesn't have any "texts" in the "written down" sense. And their oral tradition doesn't have much that can be interpreted in a Von Daniken Ancient Astronauts manner. Gods coming down out of the abandoned temples of Anasazi ruins to speak to them, sure, but no Ancient Astronauts.

    Also, seriously, has anyone even seen a Navajo? There's no excuse, they're the biggest tribe in the country. And they don't look like that guy.

  • How, you ask, do I know you can write Navajo in Carrier? Please, I should think you'd know by now: because I've done it. Apache too (they're really close, think Spanish and Portuguese close).

    'Tis a hobby of mine, coming up with ways that people can write their language in scripts other than Roman. Hungarians, I feel, ought to use the rovás (their runes)—hey, Hungarian has 2 million more native speakers than Greek, and the Greeks don't feel weird about having their own alphabet. Also, whoever invented the runes noticed the "gy" sound is actually closer to a d, and so it's a d with an added stroke. I'll bet money that "gy" is spelled that way in Roman because most literate Hungarians did all their writing in Latin, and "gi", in Ecclesiastic Latin, is a similar sound (but Hungarian needed its "gi" for words like "giliszta").

    I also think Mongolian should be written in Mongolian (Cyrillic, too, is overused), Uyghur in Uighur (same goes for Arabic), and the Scandinavian languages can go ahead and write in one of the Younger Futharks, if they like. Turks could write in the Turkic 'runes,' too, though the way Turkish politics is going they're probably gonna reintroduce Ottoman Arabic spellings any day now. English and German should, however, stick with Roman—but I do think the Germans oughtta go back to Fraktur.

  • Speaking of Hungarian runes, remember that Elvish language I made from Proto-Uralic roots? Yeah well I'm also writing it in Rovás. It's ideally suited for that language group, after all. Actually you can get by with only a subset of the Rovás letters, not only did Proto-Uralic have fewer sounds than Hungarian, the runes also use different letters for some sounds depending on the vowel-harmony of the preceding syllable.

    Thought I'd use the Indo-European protolanguage for the humans—hey, since it's a D&D game, it's just gonna be used for place and personal names, it's not like I have to sit down and learn the 27 ways to conjugate the athematic centrifugal imperfect, or whatever. Not sure what I'll write it in; I had thought Germanic runes (I know the Elder Futhark as automatically as I know the ABCs), but what about Linear B? The interesting thing about Linear B, and the as-yet mostly undeciphered Linear A, and the Luwian hieroglyphs, is we can't tell their ancestry, and they sorta resemble each other...also, all the languages they're used for (though we can't tell with Linear A) appear to be Indo-European.

  • It's entirely possible that, along with Egyptian hieroglyphs, Chinese hanzi, Sumerian cuneiform, and the Maya script, there may have been a fifth alphabet, on this planet. There are some intriguing similarities between the Linears and Luwian, and the symbols Marija Gimbutas flattered lavishly with the name "Old European 'script'" (they're almost certainly proto-writing, not actually a script)—"Old European" may well represent, if it's related to those three L-beginning scripts, a stage like the little scratched-in cow-heads and tally marks that every other script starts with.

    And then, everyone who used it might've said "Screw this, this Proto-Sinaitic business lets you write a consonant at a time, without having to figure out how to write 'sphynx' syllabically. We'll just use some of those extra Hs for vowels." And they chucked it aside in favor of an alphabet derived, ultimately, from Egyptian.

  • So I'm changing my D&D setting, because I honestly couldn't come up with any adventures for the one I'd been doing. Its linguistic features remain intact, except I'm basing my Dwarvish on Proto-Afro-Asiatic (yeah, like Tolkien did)—but not their society (unlike Tolkien). Also using gods and subraces of my own invention, rather than the usual D&D high/gray/wood/dark elves, worshiping Corellon Larethian and Lolth, and hill/mountain/deep/gray dwarves, worshiping Moradin and Laduguer (forgot the duergar god, didntcha?).

    Between my researches into Proto-Languages and the fact I've always found it easier to write adventures of the Howard/Leiber type than the Tolkien type, I thought I'd do a sorta antediluvian, Hyborian Age type of thing. The main human cultures are based on Indo-European, and also either Chinese (with Proto-Sino-Tibetan as a language) or maybe Mesoamerican (except probably also with Proto-Sino-Tibetan vocabulary, because have you tried finding Proto-Uto-Aztecan dictionaries?—let alone Proto-Mixe-Zoquean, which is what we think the Olmecs actually spoke). And then, thanks to something my sister said RE: the Ice Age and Chrono Trigger, while I was reading Sora no Otoshimono, I thought I'd have the part of "decadent civilization" played by people in a flying city, who talk Sumerian. Why Sumerian? Because their civilization was born decadent—the very fact they didn't have the excesses of Rome or China's worst periods is because they never had as much verve as the Romans or Chinese.

  • Research into the Yi syllabary and the Geba and Dongba scripts of the Naxi, just now, brings up some interesting stuff. Dongba is related to Chinese, only it never moved beyond the "you already have to know the story" phase of proto-writing. But apparently its characters have a great deal of commonality with the Oracle Bones script, the first form of Chinese writing.

    See, the Oracle Bones script dates to the Shang dynasty, which is around the time the ancestors of the Naxi migrated westward (they used to be neighbors of the Han Chinese; they now live near the border with Burma).

  • It might be a good idea to investigate similarities not only between Linear AB, Luwian, and "Old European", but between those scripts (and proto-script) and the Indus Valley glyphs.

    I confess, knowing what I do about Hindu Nationalism, that I am suspicious of the gent in India who claims to have discovered that not only is it writing (is it now?), but he can read it, and identify it as Indo-Aryan. Don't get me wrong: I'd love it if it was true, that's why I said we should investigate the possibilities I just mentioned—remember what language group I'm writing in right now. But I don't believe what you're seeing in the Indus Valley is writing, in the sense Roman, Cyrillic, or Devanagari are, and I sure as hell don't believe he can decipher it without bilingual texts. Also, bud, let's see your notes, hmm?

  • Maybe Tifinagh, for those Afro-Asiatic speaking dwarves? Tifinagh's for writing Berber, they've got most of the same sounds. And it looks runey. Runey's good.

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